March 9, 2007. I can remember it like yesterday. I was a 23-year-old who was just 13 games into his career as the Assistant Director of Athletic Communications with the VCU Baseball team.
It was a beautiful Friday night at Brooks Field in Wilmington, N.C. and the Rams had just opened up a critical CAA series against the Seahawks by pounding them, 13-3. I was headed to the bus ready to enjoy a happy coaching staff postgame.
As I walked onto the bus and handed the boxscores to Coach Keyes, Coach Stiffler and Coach Haynes, I was greeted with, “Why are we bringing you along if you’re not going to fight for our players?”
I must have looked like a deer in headlights to Coach Keyes. I was shocked. We just won 13-3 against the one of the favorites to win the league, why is he so upset?
Let’s rewind a bit… VCU went into the bottom of the ninth with a 13-1 lead. The leadoff hitter for the Seahawks, Jonathan Batts, hit a ball up the middle that a young, freshman by the name of Richard Gonzalez got to, but was unable to make a play on. The initial ruling in the pressbox was an error on Gonzalez. UNCW Sports Info guru Tom Riordan had discussed the play with a few of us in the pressbox and that was the majority vote. (I never admitted it to Coach Keyes, but I saw the play, but wasn’t paying full attention because I was too busy trying to finish up my game story since the game was already out of hand.)
Fast forward to the bus and there I was having no clue how to respond to Coach Keyes. He challenged me to fight for our guys on every play, that’s what my job was. At that moment, I had no clue what he meant.
(Sidenote: After discussion with both coaching staffs the next day, the play was changed to a single. Gonzalez went on to have an all-conference career and played on the Puerto Rican National Team this year.)
Nearly six years later, I look back and see that moment as one that played a critical role in who I’ve become today as a member of Ram Nation.
It was one of a million lessons that I learned from Coach Keyes. He sometimes had a different style of dealing with life, but he was incredibly insightful, caring and tremendous friend. He had an undeniable passion for baseball, his players and VCU Athletics as a whole. The only thing he loved more than those three things was his family.
As I became better acquainted with Keydog, I saw the softer side of him, particularly when I had my first in May of 2011 and Coach Stiffler had his son a couple months later in September of 2011. I can remember having Connor, my son, in the office and Coach Keyes making him laugh and I remember a specific conversation later when he was telling me about having Coach Stiffler and his wife, Jen, over to the house for dinner and how great their son, Wade, was during it. He may not have known it, but he was teaching me how to be a better father, showing me not to take for granted every moment I have with my family.
Coach Keyes had a lot of similarities with my college coach at York College of Pennsylvania. They did things in a matter that as 18-22 year olds we hated. We didn’t understand all these rules and never understand the things that we said or the things we did. But yet, years later, so many former players look back and everything makes sense.
Keydog loved to compete and was willing to do whatever it took to win. He always got the most out of his players, finding just the right buttons to push at the right time.
There are so many good coaches that affect the lives of all of their student-athletes, but it’s the truly great ones that affect the lives of everyone that they come in contact with. That was Paul Keyes. A coach, not only on the baseball field, but in life.