Prior to West Orange’s baseball game against Winter Park on Feb. 24, the Warriors took the time to honor an important figure in the West Orange community: former head coach Gary Guthrie.
Guthrie, affectionately known as “Guthero” to many of his players, coached in West Orange County for many years. At Ocoee, he led the Knights to a state championship in 1973 before moving to West Orange. During his tenure with the Warriors, he led the team to a district championship in 1979 and one win away from going to the state championship.
After he retired, Guthrie moved to rural Lake County to live a peaceful life. Having recently turned 80, he was content to live out his golden years in peace until he received an invitation to throw out the first pitch for West Orange’s game against Winter Park.
But there was an extra surprise waiting for Guthrie when he arrived. Several players from the 1979 team were there to greet their old coach, many of whom had not seen him in decades.
Glenn Tyndall was one of 10 former players who showed up to the ceremony. The former right-fielder had not seen his former coach since the mid-1980s — not long after he graduated from West Orange. Despite the almost 40-year gap between meetings, Guthrie was frozen in time to him when the group met up at the ball field.
“We all went over and gathered, talking about what’s going on with us now and reminisced about the old days,” Tyndall said. “It was a fun night. I know he was touched by the fact we were there. There was no way we were going to miss that opportunity. He’s frozen in time for most of us going back 35-40 years ago.”
Tyndall spent two years at Evans High School before being redistricted to West Orange. At his first tryout for the baseball team, his swing didn’t feel right as he took batting practice. Guthrie called him over to the batting cage and worked with him for 15 minutes.
“I hit left-handed, and my plant foot was my left foot. I was doing things wrong with it,” Tyndall said. “I go back out on the field for more batting practice, and the first pitch thrown to me was a home run. That was awesome. He saw that I did not have my back foot planted properly, and after working on it, it was awesome.”
It was just one of the many things about Guthrie that made him such a beloved figure to his players. Although many of them were not afraid to say he was willing to drop the hammer when he needed to, he had everyone’s respect at the same time.
Joe Worsham was the principal at West Orange from 1984 to 1991, but his friendship with Guthrie went back to their days of coaching at Ocoee. Worsham was the basketball coach at the time when Guthrie was the baseball coach.
“He was a good friend to me during those days,” Worsham said. “He’s very deserving of being honored.”
Another former player, outfielder Ed Boyd, was also present to catch up with old teammates and see his old coach. He recalled a pregame warm-up before the Warriors’ game against Bishop Moore Catholic during which the team warmed up without a baseball.
“The other side was looking at us like, ‘What the heck are they doing?’” Boyd said. “It was absolutely hysterical to look back on now, but we all went through warm-ups without a baseball. That was one of the ways Gary would get us ready for the game.”
Boyd and Tyndall, along with fellow outfielder Mark Laney, made up one of the most dynamic defensive outfields in the state during their time together and were part of the reason the team came one win away from reaching the state championship in 1979.
“If we had one more pitcher, we probably would have made it,” Boyd said. “But he knew how to pick talent.”
Dennis Forbes, 1979 team captain, couldn’t attend the ceremony, because he was in the process of moving from Bristol, Tennessee, to Jacksonville. However, he had many memories to share about that team and the coach who brought it all together. But the one thing he loved the most was spending time with the group of guys who became some of his best friends.
“Every time we all get together, it’s something special,” Forbes said.
Forbes’ cousin Val Rodriguez played third base for Guthrie on the Ocoee High School state championship team in 1973, a championship that made the coach “baseball royalty” in West Orange County.
When former player Drew Butler was diagnosed with cancer, Forbes arranged a golf outing in his honor. When he reached out to see who could come, almost every player from that team came. Butler later died, but it showed that the bonds forged on the ball field run deep.
“The bond of that shows we were a band of brothers on the baseball field,” Forbes said. “Time has stood still when we get back together. It’s like we were kids again. Gary was a mentor, but he was also a friend.”
That friendship carried over during that historic 1979 season. Guthrie’s father had passed away during that season, and the entire team came to the funeral in a sign of solidarity with their head coach.
“I know that meant a lot to him, and it’s one reason why that team holds a special place in all of our hearts,” Forbes said.
But on that night at the ball field, it was like old times. One of the players made a joke asking if he was going to get it over the plate. Jay Lake, another former player, said Guthrie looked him in the eye and guaranteed he would do it.
“And sure enough, he did,” Lake said. “That got a laugh out of all of us.”