BY JEFF FALK
Travis Thome is wise between his ears. Lyle Krall is young beyond his years.
One could say that together they are a ‘grand’ coaching complement.
There have been plenty of instances of fathers and sons coaching together in Lebanon County. And the locale has had its fair share of brothers coaching together. There have even been instances of fathers and daughters coaching along side one another.
But never has there been an instance of a grandfather and his grandson coaching the same team, at least not at a level as competitive as the Lebanon County American Legion baseball league.
Yet Krall and Thome aren’t just some horse-and-pony show. Their unique paternal coaching arrangement really seems to be working for Richland.
“I haven’t really given it much thought,” said Krall, who’s in his 80s. “It came sooner than I thought. He wanted to come here. He said he wanted to help coach. I didn’t even think I had to ask him. He kind of took charge, and that’s fine with me. But I never thought I’d have a grandson helping me coach at the legion level.”
“How many guys are still coaching in their 80s?,” said Thome, who’s in his mid 20s. “His longevity is the only reason this is even possible. He doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all. His passion for the game will be there until he steps down, or the good Lord says he’s not coaching any more. It’s unique, but at the same time, when it’s time for baseball, that’s my focus. He is my grandfather, but we’re there for a purpose. But when I do get a chance to look back on it I’ll think, ‘Yeah, that was pretty awesome’.
“He knows the game inside and out,” continued Thome. “He’s been around it for a very long time, at almost every level. His passion for the game is amazing. Whatever his age is, it doesn’t really matter, because of his love for the game. I’d be surprised if he ever missed a legion game for any reason. That’s his commitment to the game of baseball.”
The dean of all Lebanon County coaches, Krall has been heading the Richland American Legion baseball program for the past 36 years. Though his background isn’t that extensive,
Thome is not without experience himself.
In 2012, he became one of the youngest Lebanon County residents ever to head a college baseball team when he helped re-found the Eastern Maine Community College program. This spring, Thome served as an assistant coach for Arcadia’s Division Three college club.
When Thome expressed an interest in helping coach Richland this summer, Krall saw it as an opportunity to take a step back. He playfully refers to Thome as Post 880’s head coach, and himself as the program’s ‘general manager’.
“I’m trying to move back into the area,” said Thome. “I was coaching in the Philly area this spring at the Division Three level, and I decided not to return. I want to stay in coaching. I love it. I enjoy it. And my pop was still coaching Richland. He’s the general manager, and I just happen to be the third-base coach. I wanted to help him out this summer.
“The kids respect him,” added Thome. “Every player goes through a stage when they think they know it all. That’s just players being naive, but they’re young. When they look back they’ll say, ‘Coach Krall knew what he was talking about.’ They do respect him a great deal, because they know he’s been there. There’s a reason he’s been there that long. He does know what he’s talking about. His passion is baseball.”
“He calls the shots from third base,” said Krall of Thome’s coaching position. “He helps make up the lineup. I’m still in charge. But he came at a good time. I’m getting up in years. Who knows when my last coaching stint will come around. It takes some pressure off my shoulders. I still do a lot of things behind the scenes. Maybe you could call me the business manager. But it’s been enjoyable.
“I didn’t hand the equipment over to Travis yet,” Krall added. “I just handed over the infield and the outfield to him. He’s a lot more aggressive than I am. We’ve stolen home twice this year. We’re doing more bunting. We’re doing some aggressive things.”
On the field, Richland has shown marked improvement this season – especially in things like fundamentals and defense – well beyond its 4-9 league mark. Currently Post 880 is locked in a battle with Fredericksburg, Fifth Ward and Campbelltown for the summer circuit’s two final playoff spots.
“At this juncture, we still have a chance to get that fourth spot,” said Krall, who is also assisted by Jeff Zimmerman, Brad Shanaman and Tyler Shanaman. “But our record could be better. I can basically be a grandfather or a great-grandfather to some of the players. He (Thome) brings that age gap down. They listen to him. I think they listen to him more intently.
“I think he gets a lot of the credit,” continued Krall. “I sort of supply the players. He has them meshing really well. I’ve never heard any grumbling. I’ve never seen any of that, and I’m in the dugout.”
“I am very competitive,” said Thome, a graduate of Elco High School and Messiah College. “As much as its a game, I look at it like there’s a reason you put on the uniform, and it’s because we want to win. When you look back, you get judged on your record. They (his players) did improve, even throughout the season. We are playing competitive baseball, but that’s not because of me. They’re showing up and working hard. Maybe they needed that little more push. We are a decent ball club. Good ball clubs don’t always have good records. I think we’ve played pretty competitive baseball all summer long.
“He’s (Krall) influenced me a tremendous amount,” Thome continued. “We have very similar coaching philosophies and coaching styles. I’m old school. I want to play hard-nosed, fundamental baseball. I want to put nine guys on the field, and beat you. If you play the game right, the chips are going to fall in your favor. We don’t want to be flashy. We want to be the most sound team out there.”
Before going off to college, Thome competed for the Richland legion program as a player for a good majority of the early 2000s. It could be that the two’s loyalty to the baseball program brought them together as much as their loyalty to one another.
“We complement each other,” said Krall. “He does some things on the field I wouldn’t do. They do a lot of slug bunting, bunting and safety squeezing. It fits with our team. We’re not a great hitting team.
“Sometimes I do question him,” Krall added. “But it’s certainly done in a fatherly manner. He also questions umpires. I try to keep that to a minimum. His personality is a little different than mine. Maybe not a whole lot, but it is different.”
“I started going on the roster when I got out of midgets,” said Thome. “There were a lot of good players then. The next thing I knew I was standing in the box as a 13-year-old against a varsity pitcher. I just kind of grew up with with it. But it’s nice to give back to it.
“With all of us, I think we have a great group of coaches,” Thome continued. “I don’t way to say one guy makes the decision. We’re always talking. But when the time comes to make a change, we go to Lyle and ask him, ‘What do you think?’. We’d be stupid not to. He’s still the main man in Richland. As long as he has a Richland uniform on, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Thome’s involvement with Richland legion baseball beyond this summer could very well hinge on his real-life circumstances. Currently his personal life is in a bit of a state of flux.
“I’d like to give you an answer, but I can’t,” said Thome. “I’m focused on right now. Wherever I am next summer, if I’m still around the area, I’d love to be helping out Richland. I can’t tell you I’m going to be coaching Richland for the next 40 years. I can’t say I’m the guy who’s going to be taking over the program. This is the situation which came about this summer.
“Ideally, I’d love to be able to coach baseball,” continued Thome. “But it’s hard to come by. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. I want to stay in coaching as long as my time and resources allow. I enjoyed coaching at the college level. When that could happen I can’t say. In today’s world that’s not how it works. I’m just happy with the situation I’m in now. Down the road, if something comes up where I’d be able to coach full-time, that would be great.”
“I am taking a lesser of a role because I’m not calling the shots at third base,” said Krall. “I’m not retired. I have no intention of retiring at this point. I always try staying involved with the legion program.
“I hope he’ll (Thome) be around for quite a spell,” concluded Krall. “I don’t know if he’d want to completely take over. It’s hard for one man to do.”
Lebanon County American Legion
W L T Pts.
xz-Myerstown 12 1 0 36
yz-Annville 9 3 0 27
Fredericksburg 5 7 0 15
Fifth Ward 4 8 0 12
Richland 4 9 0 12
Campbelltown 3 9 0 9
x-Clinched regular-season championship
y-Clinched runner-up spot
z-Clinched playoff berth