Tributes to the Memory of Coach Dave Whitten

Coach Dave Whitten
Coach Dave Whitten

Many former Belmont Baseball players have wanted to share their thoughts and remembrances of Coach Dave Whitten.  Listed below are those memories and tributes to Belmont's all-time winningest baseball coach:

 

If you would like to add your thoughts on the legacy of Coach Whitten to this page, feel free to email Wes Burtner at wes.burtner@belmont.edu or John Langdon at john.langdon@belmont.edu.

 

Words seem so shallow when describing what Coach Whitten's presence in our lives truly meant.  I know he has moved into a more wonderful place, but still would give anything to see him standing one more time on that baseline, or moving across the infield with rake or watering hose in hand, or a chaw in his cheek.  (Right there in the middle of the Belmont Campus where for so many of us, he will always be remembered) 

 

I can't help but believe all the care and guidance and inspiration he poured into the team and field he was so proud of and loved, left a forever heart impression that will continue to beat in the center of the campus as long as there is a Belmont University.  That kind of energy and love does not disappear.  It couldn't help but be absorbed in the very grass, soil and bricks, just like it will always be a part of who each of us is today. 

 

 I can't help but believe that when it is quiet in the late afternoon, if we were to silently walk through that part of campus, the soft thud of a ball hitting a mitt would echo off the side of Pembroke Hall, or the crack of a bat ring ever so clearly in the air.  And somewhere in that silence, there is a whistling tune and the sound of  a light spray of water filtering across the grass, even where concrete now lays.  The impressions Coach Whitten and that field, and each of you made on our beloved campus doesn't just go away quietly because their physical presence is no longer with us.  It transcends.  Belmont will forever be a better place because of that strong heart beating in the center of her campus, and each of us will always know that Coach is pulling for us in the stands, whatever the opposition we face, confident our next play will be a game winner. 

 

Thank you for your love and your legacy Coach Whitten.

 

Lauree Leyland

 
 

My freshman year at Belmont was Coach Whitten’s final season as Head Coach.  That year we had 1 sophomore who played 3 more seasons with me, and 3 other freshmen, none of whom played longer than 2 seasons.  I’m sure not everybody had the same experience with him as I did.  But then, the youngest child in a family is usually spoiled. 

 

On the same afternoon of my 18th birthday and high school graduation, and on my own way under my own direction, my parents informed me that we had gotten a call from the coach at Belmont.  I had a roommate, dorm room, roster spot, and a class schedule already lined up for that fall at Ole Miss.  I had options.  But simply by the grace of God, there was a change of plans.  The formalities occurred, and I was headed to Belmont.   

 

I played one single season for a man who lived his 68h year of life as I lived my 18th.  I watched him very closely, because he had truly just come out of nowhere to change my life in so many significant ways.  And I watched him even more closely because I was always expecting some rebuke that never came.  I felt like I didn’t deserve the treatment I was getting from him.  The treatment of grace, the second chance.  I saw a man who walked around softly, and did so whether or not I was currently swinging a big stick.  Coming from a world where your identity was formed by results, that lack of scrutiny felt odd.  Oddly refreshing.  Oddly edifying.  I watched a man who didn’t have an ounce of disdain for anything except that ounce of tobacco-flavored saliva that had just lost its taste.  And he’d spit out that bland taste with a fury.  The only fury I ever saw from Dave Whitten.  But then again, Jesus killed a fig tree on the spot for its lack of fruit.  He too despises things that lose their flavor.  He even promises to spit them out His mouth.  And then there’s the one that reminds me the most of the Dave Whitten I knew.  There’s a story about Jesus spitting on some dirt to open a man’s eyes.  And the interesting twist there is that without that call from Dave Whitten, the path of my life might very well have become one without fruit because of my blindness.  That call from him might have saved my life from becoming so self-focused, bland, fruitless, and tasteless. 

 

I met my wife of 12 years in the fall of my freshman year at Belmont.  I met some of my best friends and teammates that were such powerful examples to me that I would have to draw strength from over and over in my life.  And I met a man in Dave Whitten who was confident whether I was or not.  And that taught me confidence.  I learned how to have peace even at the bottom of the lineup.  During a time in my life where I thought I was going to have the freedom to exercise all the desires of an 18 year old male who had just left accountability, I saw God so gently use a man to show me how to have accountability to my own soul.  I had always heard that tobacco was not good for you.  But watching him chew that tobacco was sure good for me!

 

I’m sure Coach Whitten loved baseball.  The King of Israel wrote that there is no greater joy than to find satisfaction in the work of your hands, and that that satisfaction is a gift from God.  There’s going to be a lot of talk about how Coach just loved baseball.  But the facts are that the games that Dave Whitten won or lost are now but dust in the wind as far as he’s concerned.  The work of Dave Whitten’s hands that I remember are still written upon the tablets of my heart.  The work of his hands that I will remember forever was when they would hit my back ever so gently with encouragement that was like a drink of water to the dessert of my soul.  Gentle hands… that hit my back with a power that came from peace.  In that work indeed he will continue to derive satisfaction.  Being but a coach, doing the work of, and being a work of God. 

 

Solomon’s father was used of God a few times himself.  A man named … David.  During one of those times David wrote that “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”  Not because death is good.  But reunion with a God who never misses a call is.  Reunion with a God who sees the heart of a man as Dave Whitten saw mine.  Reunion with a God who has compassion for those despite their sin, who desire to be what Dave Whitten was to me, but just need one season to be shown how it’s done. 

In my life, my marriage, my children, the little league teams I coach, the businesses I’ve built, my management style, and my ministry are a monument to the seeds of obedience Dave Whitten planted in my life.  The seeds of compassion, forgiveness, grace, humility and gentleness.  One small ounce of obedience to open the eyes of a man whose heart was blind and who needed to be shown how to see a different way.  Belmont might not build a St. Dave’s Cathedral.  And I hope they never do because it would put the name of a man who had a soft heart on hard stone.  The men he influenced and changed are the monuments to his work. 

 

Enoch walked with God until Enoch was no more.  What had formally belonged to Enoch just got folded into God’s plan until Enoch’s just got left behind.  That probably happened once they both agreed that it wasn’t worth dealing with the problems of Enoch.  Dave Whitten now no longer has to deal with strikes being called a ball.  He no longer has to deal with hospital beds.  He no longer has to deal with the shenanigans of boys who simply don’t know yet.  He is no more because, thankfully, the imperfection that made him just a man is now completely taken care of by a God who can make up for that weakness.  He has served his time.  He’s been folded into the more perfect things of God.  And the things we will remember about Dave Whitten aren’t of Dave Whitten.  They are simply the unique ways in which God folded a humble man into His bigger plan.  He used a man who chewed tobacco, loved his wife, played baseball to minister to boys who would later become men of God.  And if for no other reason than to honor Dave Whitten, I will respect the God of Dave Whitten.  And I will be as he was.  I will be humble, patient, gentle, and kind.  I will love my wife, respect the umpires, and respect even those who can’t hit a beach ball that day. 

 

I had a chance to privately share some of the impact he had on my life to Coach when he was in the hospital at Vanderbilt.  His response, “That’s great.”   It wasn’t terse because he was unconcerned.  It was because he was expectant of the fruits of peace.  He knew peace and the Prince of it.  He wasn’t concerned with the results.  If you plant a seed of peace, and it DOESN’t bear fruit, then be concerned.  He knew that walking with peace begets walkers of peace.  It is my hope that others will walk away from honoring Dave Whitten by learning more about the One Who walked with him.  Sure, Mrs. Whitten had a tremendous influence, as did others.  But if he could speak now, the only honor he would want to receive for himself is for us to honor the One who is the reason he is still alive today… and to honor, know and walk with the One who gave him the peace that made us notice.

 

Grant Martin

 
 

To his players and those that were associated with him in baseball Coach Dave Whitten was known as "Coach".  This speaks volumes as to the man he was and the legacy that continues today through each of his players.  Coach taught us to have integrity, play for the right reasons, and to care about our teammates.  He taught us to respect the opportunity that baseball had given us to get an excellent education from a great university, Belmont.  Each time we put on the Belmont uniform it was an honor.  Coach taught us that.  He also taught us to enjoy the time we had together. I thank God for the influence Coach had on my life.

 

Ritchie Taylor

 

My father was a disabled veteran who was in various nursing homes most of my life.  By the time I came to Belmont in the fall of 1975 Dad had never once seen me play baseball.  At that time he was in the Alvin York VA nursing home in Murfreesboro.  Imagine my surprise when we played MTSU in a fall game my freshman season when I see my Dad setting in his wheel chair in right field watching the game!  Coach Whitten had contacted the nursing home and made arrangements for Dad to come to the game!

Dad passed away the following year.

This is such a special memory for me and speaks volumes about the coach, and the man, David Whitten.


Jerry Wheeler
 
//