Bulldogs recall 'master motivator'
The bus had just arrived on The Citadel campus from Miami, where the Bulldogs had shocked the college baseball world by advancing to the 1990 College World Series.
As Citadel players staggered into the locker room after spending all night on the bus, they were greeted by the words coach Chal Port scrawled on the blackboard:
"Don't take the World Serious."
It was typical of the crusty Port, a pithy reminder to keep things in perspective and to enjoy the ride. Gettys Glaze, a pitcher on that team and now a successful Charleston businessman, remembers those words when times get tough.
"That was his attitude," Glaze said. "He was saying to us, 'Enjoy the time you are here. If you take the world serious, it will probably get to you."
Port, who won 641 games during 27 seasons as The Citadel's baseball coach, died early Saturday morning at the age of 80 after an extended illness.
He led Citadel teams to five NCAA tournament appearances and seven Southern Conference championships, and capped his career with a stunning run to the College World Series in 1990.
But as word of his passing spread Saturday, the men who played for him and worked with him talked not about games won, but lives impacted.
"The number of lives that coach Port influenced can't be measured," said Citadel coach Fred Jordan, who played for Port from 1976-79, then succeeded him as the Bulldogs' coach in 1992. "He was my mentor and a master motivator. I drew from what he taught us on a daily basis, and I still do. He was just a tremendous teacher. And he was so smart, he would teach you something without you realizing he was teaching you."
Born in 1931 in Mifflintown, Pa., Port played baseball and football at the University of North Carolina, spent time in the Milwaukee Braves' minor league system and served in the Air Force in the Korean War, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
He came to The Citadel as a football and baseball coach, and for a brief time, former Citadel basketball player Pat Conroy played baseball for Port.
"Chal Port was the best coach I ever had," the famed novelist wrote in his memoir, "My Losing Season."
"And his love of his boys poured out of him the way it always does with the best of the breed."
Paul Plunkett, who played catcher for Port from 1970-73, said that love continued even after players graduated -- and all but three of his players did graduate over 27 years.
"He was a mentor in my life, a guy who I looked to for ideas throughout my whole career," said Plunkett, a senior associate athletic director at The Citadel. "For all Citadel baseball players, we never left his mentorship. We always brought things to him, talked to him and appreciated his advice."
Port was 58 years old and near the end of his career when his 1990 team knocked off mighty Miami in the NCAA Atlantic Regional to make the College World Series. There, the Bulldogs became a version of "America's Team," upsetting Cal State-Fullerton, 8-7, in a thrilling 12-inning game keyed by Anthony Jenkins' dramatic slide into home plate.
LSU eliminated the Bulldogs, 6-1, and Tigers coach Skip Bertman paid stirring tribute to the Bulldogs.
"They're America's team, touched by Abner Doubleday himself," Bertman said. "A real field of dreams."
Tom Hatley, who played for Port and was his assistant for six years, said the CWS season "meant the world" to the old coach.
"When all your hard work comes together like that, it was fulfilling for him," said Hatley, baseball coach and athletic director at James Island Charter High School. "He told many coaches after that season, if you are having a rough time, believe in yourself and do what you know is right."
Richard Wieters, a Citadel All-American in the 1970s and father of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, said Port's influence lives on today in the players coached by Jordan.
"A Citadel player from back then is like one from now," Wieters said. "They've all been taught the same way, the same things right from coach Port to Fred."
Port was as good at telling stories as he was at winning games and influencing young men.
"Probably the wittiest, funniest man I've heard talk," Jordan said. "He could make a joke, but if you listened closely, he was teaching you something, too."
Port retired after leading the Bulldogs to one last SoCon title in 1991 with a record of 641-386-2. He's a member of halls of fame at The Citadel, the state of South Carolina, Charleston and the American Baseball Coaches Association. In 2005, a skybox at Riley Park was named "Chal's Porch" in his honor.
Walt Nadzak, who was The Citadel's athletic director during the College World Series season, called Port "the Casey Stengel" of college baseball, recalling the famed Yankees and Mets manager.
"His mannerisms, his relationships with the players, it's the spitting image of what Casey Stengel did," Nadzak said. "There was a bravado there, but behind the bravado, a heart of gold."