DENNY HUGHES IS
a lucky man.
He's doing what he loves to do, coach baseball. He's done it for more than 30 years at various levels.
"It's a passion," said Hughes, head coach of the Westminster Blue Jays. "I've always been a student of the game; I like watching the game, and coaching fundamentals and techniques. I like picking things apart.
"I like watching these guys work hard and hopefully, I can give them something they can take to the field that will help them become more successful, and make it more enjoyable for them.
"That's really rewarding for me."
And if you think that's rewarding ...
How about being able to coach your son in college?
Danton Hughes, a junior, plays baseball at Westminster.
Okay, how about being able coach your youngest son in college?
Deion Hughes, a freshman, plays baseball at Westminster.
And what about coaching college baseball with your oldest son?
Dane Hughes is Denny's top assistant at Westminster.
All in the Family, indeed.
"The only way I could sum it up is by saying this is a dad's dream," Denny said. "It's as much fun as I've ever had.
"To work with them, coach them, and work with Dane as a coach, it's just unbelievable. I don't know if envy is the right word, but I would think there would be a lot of people who would love to do what I'm doing.
"I don't take a second of it for granted, that's for sure."
Like father, like son(s).
"I couldn't ask for anything more," Danton said. "It just makes the college baseball experience even better than it would have been.
"And it's definitely easier for my mom to cover baseball games, too. She can watch everybody at once."
More on the Hughes' family to come, as in --- did Denny and his wife, Carole, get stuck on the "D" page in the baby-name book?
IF YOU'VE PAID
any attention at all to baseball in Central Missouri the past three decades, you've heard of Denny Hughes.
In eight years as head coach at Helias, he led the Crusaders to a mark of 137-38 and three consecutive state championships, 1987-89. During that stretch, Helias won a state-record 55 straight games and made its mark in the national rankings.
He's now in his second year with the Blue Jays.
"In high school, believe it or not, the players don't really think they know it all," said Hughes, 55. "But you get some kids in college that sometimes think, 'That's not the way we did it.'
"But it's still a game, it's still baseball. You still have to make the plays."
In Hughes' first year at Westminster, the Blue Jays didn't make enough plays, going 15-23 overall and 11-13 in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC).
"Last year," Hughes said, "we had guys who were content to play close games. And if we lost, that was okay.
"So we had to change those expectations; we had to learn how to play to win. That's not something you change overnight."
Maybe not overnight, but it certainly changed in a year.
This season, the Blue Jays went 22-9 --- the school's first winning record since 2008 --- and 17-6 in the SLIAC, earning Westminster the No. 2 seed in this week's conference tournament in Highland, Ill.
Besides learning how to win, two other factors played big roles in this turnaround --- the Blue Jays hit better and pitched better.
This ain't' rocket science.
The team batting average last year was .260; this year, it's .332.
"Our hitting up and down the lineup has been pretty good," Hughes said.
Here's further of evidence of that --- the team leader in RBI is Justin Whitaker with 29. Five other players have between 21-26.
"You've got to have some timely hitting and it seems like one of those guys have always come up with the timely hit," he said. "That's another big difference between this year and last year."
And the pitching --- a staff ERA of 5.57 last year; this year, 3.79.
"That's a pretty good turnaround, Hughes said. "We have two senior pitchers (Kevin Moritz, 6-2, 2.23 ERA; Tyler Ten Eyck, 7-1, 2.30) who've been great leaders for us."
Of the team's regular starting eight, however, there's only one senior and two juniors. The other five are freshmen and sophomores.
"We're excited about the season we've had; I think it's promising for us, encouraging," the coach said. "But we're so young. To say we still don't have a lot of work to do would be a big understatement."
Deion Hughes leads the team with four saves, and he plays in the outfield when he's not pitching. He's hitting .333 with 35 hits, six doubles and 25 RBI.
Let's compare those numbers to Danton, the starting shortstop --- .330, 35 hits, six doubles, 24 RBI.
No kidding. Oh, brother.
"That's pretty crazy," dad said. "It's been pretty neat to watch."
Danton, however, suffered a separated shoulder during a play at the plate last week and is out for the season.
"He's handling it very well," Denny said, "but it's a tough thing for him."
LET'S GET BACK to the name game.
Obviously, you would have thought Denny and Carole decided on the letter D and stuck with it in naming their sons.
Not so. Just a coincidence, believe it or not.
"There was no plan on the D's," Denny said.
Here are the origins --- from trucks to whiskey to a disagreement --- starting with Dane.
"We were going to a Cardinals game, passing a big rig," Denny said. "There was a Dane mud flap on it and Dane Iorg was playing for the Cardinals. We both liked the name."
Dane's middle name is Rawling, named after the baseball company.
"I was at the YMCA working and a kid by the name of Dant always came through when I was doing registration for different things," Denny said. "I really liked that name and my wife did, too.
"After he was born, I asked the lady, the mom, where she'd come up with the name, Dant, because I'd never heard it before. She said it was the name of a whiskey.
"I thought, 'oh, no.'"
Middle name, Taylor, after the sporting goods company.
"My wife liked the name Deion and I said 'absolutely not,' because Deion Sanders was around, and he's one of my least favorite athletes of all time," Denny said. "Well, you know how that goes, if you don't like something and they do, then it becomes what they want."
Middle name, Michael ... for no particular reason.
"My mother-in-law said we had to have a typical middle name," Denny said.
So there it is, the story of D for a Class A family ... and a family that's anything but typical.