Coach Russ Tiedemann passed away last week at his retirement home on a lake in northern Wisconsin. He was my first, best, and only baseball coach during his years in Hortonville, before he moved on to become the legendary coach of the UW-Oshkosh Titans baseball team.
He coached the Titans from 1968 to 1988, taking his team to the D3 College World Series 8 times, winning the D3 National Championship in 1985, and placing second in ’87 and ’88. Twice he was named national Baseball Coach of the Year.
And, along the way, he sent 28 of his players on to Major League Baseball – Jimmy Gantner and Gary Varsho, just to name two. No baseball coach in Wisconsin ever sent near that many players to the big leagues, and I doubt any coach will ever come close.
And he was a fine gentleman and devoted father.
I first met Coach Tiedemann in the early 60’s, when he was coach at Hortonville High and I was a grade-schooler. He and my dad and a couple other fellows were partners in a fishing shack they’d set up along the banks of the Wolf River. Later I came to know him as Coach Tiedemann, and he inspired in me a love for the game which has lasted my whole life.
Long before I put on an “extra pound or two”, Coach knew I was never going to be the fastest runner on his squad. So he taught me how to hit for power, knowing that a solid hit deep to the outfield that most young men would turn into a triple, I’d leg out into a double.
He taught and preached BASEBALL FUNDAMENTALS. Bunting. Smart base-running. Keeping your head in the game at all times.
Because he was a good friend of my father’s, I’m sure I got more attention than my athletic ability warranted. But, that’s the thing about Coach Tiedemann: everybody got individualized instruction.
In addition to showing us how to win with grace, he taught us how to lose with class. There wasn’t much losing. Whether it was summer rec league baseball, little league baseball, or high school varsity baseball, Russ Tiedemann’s Hortonville teams did a whole lot more winning than losing.
Our paths crossed several times more, long after my high school and college days. When I was Program Director of an Oshkosh radio station in the early 80’s, I did what I think was the first – or at least among the very first – sports/talk call-in radio shows in the state. Coach Tiedemann was a frequent guest, and he never said “no” when I asked him to be on. He really enjoyed talking baseball – prep, collegiate, minor and major league baseball.
The only other guest I had on those sports-talk shows back in the day who generated near as many calls as Coach Tiedemann did was Dutch Rennert, the legendary major league umpire, who also lived in Oshkosh.
Coach Tiedemann’s funeral was today in Wausau. Rest in peace, coach. You are an unforgettable man.