ESSEXVILLE, MI - Three decades worth of Essexville Garber baseball players still chide Roger Pfundt for breaking clipboards and fungo bats.
And forever cherish him for building character, strength and a winning baseball team.
The sometimes-volatile, always-intense coach wouldn't bend on the belief that heart and hustle were requirements - not recommendations - for success in baseball and beyond. And for 26 seasons, he demanded an everyday, all-out effort that set Garber baseball apart.
"I have a hard exterior, but I'm a marshmallow inside. The players know that about me - now," he said. "They tease me on Facebook about things I did or things I said.
"But I see they've become good fathers, good husbands, with good families. And that's what makes me feel good. Those players gave more to me than I ever gave to them. They gave me a life I enjoyed."
Pfundt, who directed the Dukes to powerhouse status with 13 conference championships, six top-10 state rankings and a 494-242 record, takes his place among his hometown's legends with induction into the Bay County Sports Hall of Fame.
He joins the 25th anniversary induction class that is being honored at the Hall of Fame banquet Sunday, Oct. 4 at the DoubleTree hotel and conference center in downtown Bay City. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased by emailing email@example.com.
Pfundt was a product of Bay City's West Side, growing up playing ball at Southwest Little League, Bay County Pony League and T.L. Handy High School. Although the 1962 graduate never started a game in high school, he earned a spot on the team Western Michigan University as a walk-on pitcher, showing the grit and determination that would serve him well for years to come.
He returned home in 1966 to pitch Greater Bay City to the Northeast Michigan League men's baseball championship, defeating a team filled with his former high school teammates in the title game.
"My determination was second to none that day, pitching against the high school guys I wasn't good enough to play with," he said. "I had fire in my eyes that day."
That fiery persona would become the trademark of Garber baseball from 1973-98, when Pfundt replaced Frank Kettonen as varsity coach.
"Frank said 'You'll never win a baseball championship in this town.' He figured there were too many silver-spoon kids to win," Pfundt said.
"Think about it. Our yearbook was called the Aristocrat. Our mascot was a Duke. That just makes you think about a pompous attitude. That wasn't going to work for my baseball team. We were going to get down and dirty."
Pfundt, who also served as a football coach and U.S. history teacher at Garber for more than 25 years, carved out his niche with the Garber baseball team. With the support of longtime athletic director Joe Todey and longtime JV coach Gary Stefaniak, he led the construction of a new diamond and the building of a new program.
By his sixth season, Garber was a championship program. The Dukes went on to rattle off 13 championships in the Northern B Conference and Tri-Valley Conference in an 18-year stretch.
"I had to set a tone, and I ruffled some feathers setting that tone," Pfundt said. "But once I established a reputation, everything fell into place. People knew if you play for Pfundt, you're going to practice hard, work hard, expect to win - and you will win."
That reputation helped turn Garber into a baseball machine, cranking out yearly winners and producing a steady stream of college prospects.
"Growing up around town, you wanted to some day play varsity baseball at Garber for Coach Pfundt," said Jon Jeczmionka, the 1987 Garber grad who is now head baseball coach.
"His passion for baseball and wanting to win is what carried over to the players. We were serious about ball, and we had hopes and dreams and aspirations. And it was nice to have a coach who shared that passion."
That passion often spilled out in the form of tongue-lashings, monster laps and broken fungos and clipboards as Pfundt rarely hid his feelings when the team wasn't meeting his standards.
"What he brought every day was intensity," said Chris Kokaly, a 1991 graduate who went on to play at San Jose State. "As a player, you had to bring it because you didn't want his scorn. He would light you up if you played with lack of hustle or intensity.
"He was so intense that it made you focus every day. It was definitely an old-school approach, but he got the most out of his talent because of it."
While the players were sometimes intimidated or fearful of their high-demand coach, most came to appreciate what he brought to the table and the long-lasting lessons he imparted.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Pfundt. He's a very good man," said Ron Henika, the 1979 Garber product who played seven seasons of professional baseball. "He was very firm and expected a lot out of you. But if you worked hard, you would always be on his good side.
"People looked at him as a very stern coach, but he was a good coach. He was there for the kids. He wanted to win and he gave us the winning attitude."
Today, Pfundt and wife Judy - also a fixture at the Garber baseball diamond for 25 years - reside in Mesa, Arizona. At 71 years old, the former coach is often approached by local players for tips with their game.
And being a coach - whether breaking things or building them up - is what Pfundt has always done best.
"I was a timid kid who was lost coming out of high school," he said. "A higher power took my hand and said I could be something when I thought I was nothing. A higher power showed me that I could be a coach. And I am forever grateful for that chance."
Source : https://www.mlive.com/sports/bay-city/2015/08/roger_pfundt_turned_garber_duk.html1289