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A Life in the Shadows
Alexander Wolff
February 14, 1994
Since 1947 Dick Baldwin has shunned the big time to coach small-college hoops in upstate New York
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February 14, 1994

A Life In The Shadows

Since 1947 Dick Baldwin has shunned the big time to coach small-college hoops in upstate New York

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It would make for a good story if Baldwin, bored in retirement, suffered a late-life crisis and had an epiphany on the golf course: It's not really my place to be putting a ball in a hole but to teach others to do so. Something nice and tidy like that.

The real story is this: Baldwin was a scratch golfer. On his wedding day he broke the course record at Olean's Bartlett Country Club. ("I thought we got married at night because it was fashionable," Janet says.) Like any retiree, he immersed himself in the game, and the truth was revealed: His hands were arthritic. He could not hit the ball far anymore.

As his handicap crept into double figures, Baldwin realized his competitive fire needed a place to warm, and the golf course had become too damn big. In 1991 Frank Snupik, the captain of Baldwin"s first junior college team, persuaded him that there was no better place for him than the West Gym at Binghamton U, né Triple Cities College—the school they had beaten in '47 for Baldwin's win No. 1.

Binghamton offers no athletic scholarships. Conflicts with classes guarantee that there are few practices with the entire team present. The best antidote is Baldwin's upbeat approach. "In practice it's never, 'You idiot! What you do is this!' " says senior tricaptain Jeff Merrill.

"But he'll never let anything go," says Greenberg. "He kind of smiles, then reminds and reminds and reminds."

Once Binghamton's gate depended on whether a few grad students set aside their Derrida and made the wind-whipped schlepp from the library. Now games are shown tape-delayed on the campus TV station. There's a booster club, a pep band, cheerleaders, even a kick line. Binghamton now ranks among the Top 10 Division III schools in home-game attendance, averaging 1,700. The school president, Lois DeFleur, comes to as many games as possible and lets students paint her face green and white.

At Binghamton, three-two is both a zone defense and the team's GPA. Greenberg, an English major who wants to be an actor, has starred in campus productions of The Heidi Chronicles and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (not, alas, in the role of Chief). Merrill, a philosophy major, was his high school's salutatorian. Baldwin's best player is Telford, a nursing student from Guyana by way of Brooklyn's Clara Barton High. The big time had the Doctor; Binghamton has the Nurse.

Every now and then Baldwin permits himself a reverie of what might have been had he coached in Division I-A. "I'd be a lot richer," he says. "The spotlight, the media attention, the shoe contracts. But there'd be the necessity to win. I have plenty of internal pressure already."

There was a time when we made people like this our coaches: men we could count on; men who never missed a game, rarely raised their voices, always put the team first; men who figuratively grew up on Main Street and figuratively married the girl next door.

The actuaries would tell Dick Baldwin, this man who literally grew up on Main Street, who literally married the girl next door, to stop right here. Seventy-two is the average life expectancy of the American male. But averages insult individuals. "Just a few weeks ago [Thirer] felt me out on how long I could keep going," Baldwin says. "I told him as long as my health is there and my wife's health is there. I don't have anything to prove anymore."

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