COACH BOB BURNS stands with his final Kennett baseball team at the official unveiling of the sign naming the field after him. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
May 14, 2012NORTH CONWAY — In his time at the helm of the Kennett baseball team, coach Bob Burns has experienced pretty much everything there is to experience. He's won championships, he's reached the 500-victory plateau, he's coached a future Major League pitcher and he's moved to the top of the wins lists for the state of New Hampshire.
And now, he has a field named for him.
The Robert Burns Sr. "Coach" Varsity Baseball Field was officially dedicated on Saturday, May 12, prior to the Eagles' game against Plymouth.
The current crop of Eagles unveiled the new sign, which was created by the Conway School District maintenance department and featured a likeness of Burns along with a baseball and bat.
"We are here to celebrate 42 years and counting of leadership of Kennett baseball," said school board member John Skelton in starting the ceremony. "And thank you to Plymouth for shifting the game so we can enjoy this beautiful day together."
The afternoon also featured a speech from Plymouth coach Tom Underwood, who has also been coaching for 40 years.
"Between us, we have 82 years of coaching," Underwood said. "But I need to point out that Bob is the senior member of the pair."
Underwood noted that one thing that he always respected about Burns, in addition to his longtime commitment to the Kennett athletes and baseball program, was his love for family.
"He always asks how my wife and kids were because he genuinely cared," Underwood said. "That's a side of Bob that not everyone sees."
Underwood continued his praise of his longtime rival.
"You are a gentleman and someone I have the utmost respect for," Underwood said. "Plymouth vs. Kennett is always something I looked forward to because they'd always be competitive matches."
After Underwood presented Burns with a crystal from the Plymouth program, the longtime Eagle coach came to the microphone.
"There are many thank yous in order," Burns said.
He first thanked his family, including his wife, Linda and his four kids, then thanked all the principals, athletic directors, assistant coaches, superintendents, captains and even the many umpires, who he had a special mention for.
"They've all proven to be that the strike zone is a lot like snowflakes," Burns said. "No two are alike.
"Present company excluded of course," the longtime coach said to a chorus of laughs.
And he thanked all the players who have donned the Kennett uniform over the course of more than 40 years.
"After 40 years, I have round there are three things more important than baseball," Burns said. "God, family and friends.
"But don't get me wrong, baseball is a real strong number four," Burns said.
The coach then invoked the words of baseball great Lou Gehrig in his retirement speech at Yankee Stadium.
"Because of all you here today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," Burns said.
The sidelines were lined with many former players and fellow coaches who joined in wishing Burns success in his upcoming retirement.
Among those in attendance was the owner of Merlino's Steakhouse, Rick Luciano, who was a member of the Class of 1972 and was on Burns' first team at Kennett.
Luciano had the distinction of being the winning pitcher in Burns' first-ever career win.
"He couldn't have gotten to 500 without that first one," Luciano said with a smile.
The former Eagle, who was a teammate of longtime Kennett softball coach Peter Ames on those first teams, pointed out that Burns has been a big part of his life since his high school days.
"He baptized my youngest son and presided over my mother's funeral," Luciano said. "He's been involved in my family since day one."
After the game, which the Eagles won by a 25-8 score, Underwood praised his opposing coach.
"He's a great, great man," Underwood said. "They're going to miss him here.
"He's a legend in his own time," Underwood continued. "Getting to 500 wins and more than 40 years is tough to do. He's always number one on my list. I wish him luck in whatever he pursues."
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126