Coaching Baseball In Prison Was No Picnic 0

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — Coaching a college or high school baseball team has always been challenging.

Think about the risks of coaching a prison baseball team full of hardened criminals.

Rex Sanders, highly respected executive director of the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Assn. for nearly 20 years, actually performed this job when he was barely 21 years old to earn extra income as he attended Sam Houston St. University.

He coached the Wynne Unit prison baseball team (Huntsville, Tex.) in 1969 and 1970 where he also served as a prison guard.

“I got married pretty young when I was going to Sam Houston St.,” said Sanders.

“My wife and I wanted to continue with our education in Huntsville, Tex. People in Texas know Huntsville as the home of the Texas Department of Corrections.

“There are numerous prisons in and around the Huntsville area.

“I applied for a job as a summer intern. Then I was hired full time as a guard at a maximum security unit. I worked there for nine months to a year. Then I was transferred to a prison that was just outside of Huntsville called the Wynne Unit.

“The warden called me in, and he was different than most of wardens at the time. He was a very nice, easy going guy. I found out he was a huge baseball fan. He asked me if I would be interested in organizing and starting the first baseball team for this unit.

“The Texas Department of Corrections had a baseball league among the prisons for several years prior to that. I definitely was interested in doing this. But I wasn’t sure about coaching inmates.

“I was fortunate to find one older inmate who had a lot of baseball knowledge. He was in prison because he killed his brother-in-law. I found out that his brother-in-law was abusing his wife who was this prisoner’s sister. He ultimately killed this guy because he just couldn’t take it any longer. He wasn’t going to allow his sister to be continually abused like this.

“This man had a long history of playing baseball from American Legion on up. For whatever reason, he took me under his wing and helped me get things organized with convicts who wanted to be a part of our team.

“We had tryouts to find out what everyone could do. That was how we recruited our players. We selected the top 20 players, and those were our guys. They were only from our unit. We couldn’t recruit beyond that area.

“Our unit included convicts who were in the mental hospital as well as others who worked on the farm and in a large air conditioned building which produced some type of microfilm. We never got a player from the mental hospital – only from the other two areas.

“They didn’t have a baseball field inside the fences of the prison unit. So they built us a baseball field which was just outside of the prison chain-link and barbed-wire fences.

“This baseball field had no fences – the only field that wasn’t inside the walls or barbed-wire fences of a prison unit in our prison baseball league.”

Prison Guard In Outfield
Sanders said the way the team was secured was by having a prison guard on a horse with a .30-30 rifle over his saddle. He was in deep centerfield probably 600 feet from home plate and monitored all the players.

Sanders said that if an outfielder was sprinting hard after a ball, he had to warn the prison guard on the horse.

“He would yell so the guard in the outfield knew he was going after a ball. The last thing he wanted was to get shot.

“A lot of times, inmates would call guards ‘Boss.’ One of our players would scream, ‘Boss, I’m going after a ball’ over and over again.

“Nobody was accidentally shot.”

To read more of this story, purchase the March 24, 2023 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.