Longtime Sachem High School baseball coach Bill Batewell wanted his players to play hard and smart. But most of all, he wanted them to enjoy themselves.
Batewell wanted baseball to be a bridge to success, not a burden.
"He wanted you to enjoy the game and learn the game," said Joe Murphy, 63, of Bayport, who played for and later coached with Batewell. "He’d always say, ‘You have to enjoy this to be out here.’ His line was, ‘Don’t make this become a chore.’ "
Batewell, who coached varsity baseball for 41 years and won 558 games at Sachem and Bellport High Schools, died Jan 22 from complications of COVID-19 at Stony Brook Hospital, his family said. He was 79.
At 6-4, Batewell was an imposing figure who had a big heart.
"He was like a father figure to me," said nephew Mike Mendoza, 55, of Connecticut. "A gentle giant, but as big as he was, his heart was even bigger."
Batewell, who lived in Bellport for over 60 years, spent the majority of his coaching career at Sachem High School in Lake Ronkonkoma. He coached varsity baseball there for 30 years, winning 452 games, five league titles, and Suffolk County championships in 1979 and 1987, according to Newsday records.
While at Sachem, Batewell coached two future major leaguers — Neal Heaton, an All-Star pitcher who played parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues in the '80s and '90s, and Mike Parisi, who pitched in 12 games for the Cardinals in 2008.
"Bill Batewell was a rare breed," said Heaton, who played for seven major league teams, including the Yankees in 1993. "I played almost 12 years in the major leagues, and, in all the baseball places I’ve traveled and all the great managers I’ve had, what made Bill Batewell up at the top is the way he treated people, his knowledge of the game, and the way he coped with people. He was very hard-nosed, but when it came time to put a pat on someone’s back, he gave it."
Heaton said Batewell taught him important lessons early in his baseball career, including the importance of respecting teammates.
"I was one of the first ninth graders brought up to varsity," said Heaton, 60. "Now, it’s a common thing, but back then it was a rare thing. I was pitching in the game and somebody made an error. I came in off the mound, and I said something to the effect of ‘Aw man, that kid should have had that, I would have gotten out of that inning.’ He grabbed me and said, ‘Listen, if you don’t want them to hit the ball to our infielders, then strike somebody out.’ "
Batewell, who is in the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, was always around baseball. He managed the Long Island team in the open division and then the high school division of the Empire State Games, a summer Olympics for New York State. He also coached the Suffolk Astros in the Suffolk Stan Musial League and the Center Moriches Battlecats in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, Murphy said.
As a second act, Batewell coached at Bellport High School from 2008-2018, rebuilding the program from a 4-5 game winner into a Suffolk Class AA semifinalist in 2010 and a co-league champion in 2017, Murphy said.
"When we won in 2017, that was the first time in 51 years [Bellport] had won a league championship," Murphy said. "He was very motivated to get back into the game and turn that program into a winner."
Batewell, after being diagnosed with cancer in 2018, took a leave of absence in 2019, but was planning to return to the Bellport dugout this season, said longtime assistant coach John Clark.
"He was looking forward to it … On Monday, we had our first face-to- face meeting and winter workout with this year’s upcoming team and those who are going to try out for it," said Clark, 70, of Lake Ronkonkoma. "He was sorely missed."
Born September 21, 1941, in Brooklyn, a young Batewell moved to Baldwin and then Bellmore with his family. Early in his high school years, the family moved to Bellport and Batewell attended Seton Hall High School in Patchogue, which closed in 1974, where he played football and baseball. He played baseball for one year at Syracuse University, before transferring to St. Michael’s College in Vermont, where he continued to play the sport he loved and graduated cum laude with a degree in French literature, Murphy said.
Batewell served in the Army for three years in the mid-1960s and was stationed in Germany. In 1966, he was hired to teach 10th and 11th grade social studies at Sachem High School, where he stayed for over 30 years.
Batewell was fiercely devoted to his faith, rarely missing Sunday mass at Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church in Bellport. He was also a die-hard Mets fan who loved taking road trips to see away games.
"He always made you feel like you were an important part of his day," Clark said.
In addition to his nephew, Batewell is survived by sister Mary Mendoza of Patchogue, nephews Jason Mendoza of East Patchogue and Sean Batewell of Arizona, niece Kim Linsalata of Farmingville and eight great-nephews. A memorial will be held in the summer. Batewell will be buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram, Mike Mendoza said.