Incoming Hamilton head baseball coach Dallas Flippo always had a hope to take over once his mentor and longtime championship coach Lewis Earnest retired.
Now it’s his time as he takes over as head coach of the Lions following Earnest’s retirement after 26 seasons.
“I feel like that was always kind of the plan. First off, he was my mentor, and I was just like a sponge. Everything he said soaked right in, everything he did, and at the same time, he gave me a chance to coach how I wanted,” Flippo said. “Not that we differ very much at all, but he treated me like an equal and let me grow. I just thank him for that.”
Flippo, a 2004 Caledonia graduate who has lived in Hamilton for the last 12 years, has been an assistant coach for baseball and football for the last six years.
He said the biggest thing he has learned from Earnest is his system and how it works with situational coaching.
“It’s setting up a move whether it be on the basepaths, with a certain batter in the lineup, for two moves ahead in the game. When you get the right mixture of that with the right athlete out there, it’s hard to stop, and that’s what he showed me,” Flippo said. “I kind of pride myself on coaching an individual to their ability and getting the most out of their ability. Some kids can do some things, some other kids can’t, and the way that he can line up the dominoes, he has a good system here, and it’s part of his foundation that he built.”
The Lions got all the way to the state semifinals last season, falling in three games to South champion Stringer.
“We have some young, scrappy hungry guys. They have seen these guys last year make that playoff run. It’s exciting times here at Hamilton. We have amazing community support and great facilities that cannot be beat,” Flippo said. “These guys have seen that success. Even though we didn’t make it to the end, we were right there at it. The crowds are unbelievable, and they just love Hamilton baseball. A lot of these young guys were right on the top steps of the dugout, and they just soaked it in and got a taste of it. That’s what they want to get back to.”
When the 2020 season shut down, the Lions were 5-4 in the early season, but Flippo agreed with Earnest that the team was about to turn a corner in the weeks coming after spring break.
“Knock on wood, every time we go play in Alabama – and it’s around the same time every year – something clicks, and we get a little hot. The way our division lined up, you should win your division games,” Flippo said. “That helps with the winning and the streak, and this year, especially, it was going to get a lot of guys on the field, on the mound. We needed experience, and we were running into a thing where we had a dugout of guys who lacked experience but could throw a little bit. Each one of them brings something different that we were eyeballing to help us, whether it’s a softie that can spin it or a guy who picked up a little more velocity. We wanted to see that, and of course it got cut short.”
While losing playing time because of the shutdown is a negative, Flippo hopes that a positive that could come from it is his players next year appreciating all their time on the field and with their teammates.
“Some guys who might not have looked so much forward to coming out here every day but still enjoy playing the game, I think next year it’s going to be a pretty refreshing feeling to be back out here every day,” he said. “It’s going to be something, and I don’t want to use the word take for granted, but I think it’s going to be more special to be out here every day, even practices. It will hit them a lot harder because it has been something.”
Hamilton loses four seniors from this season’s team, but Flippo isn’t shying away from naming a state championship as the ultimate goal.
“The goal every year is a state championship, and as long as you’re playing ball, you get a chance. These guys are hungry, have seen some success and heard about success years ago in the glory days, and they want to make their own glory days,” Flippo said. “They really do. I have had conversations with these guys about it, and they are ready. They are primed, ready and will do anything I ask them to do. We have good times ahead.”
Flippo said he knew he would still be able to rely on Earnest, who he knows will find it impossible not to make visits to the baseball field.”
“I appreciate Coach Earnest mentoring me, and it’s an honor carrying on Hamilton baseball. It’s an honor to be here on the foundation that he created over here, and it won’t be taken for granted,” Flippo said. “We will strive every single day to carry on the success that he built. I will be calling him, and he will be up here. He won’t be able to stay away too long, and we will do like we always do and talk about the game. It’s like we knew each other in a past life anyway, and it’s great that I ended up here. It’s just been a great situation since I got here. There’s no better place for me to be.”