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Jun. 17—SCHUYLKILL HAVEN — Scott Buffington was watching television in his Schuylkill Haven home when he realized something was wrong.

The long-time Schuylkill Haven baseball coach had just returned home from a four-day stay in the hospital due to a bout with diverticulitis and was trying to relax.

“It was August 8,” Buffington said as he recalled that day. “I was sitting in the chair watching TV. Under the TV, digital clock with the time in bright red letters.

“All of a sudden I’m looking at the clock and ‘Wow, I can’t tell what those numbers are.’ Looked out the patio door across the field, the house across the field appeared to be moving counterclockwise. I couldn’t see it very clearly.

“I said to (his wife) Gail, ‘Something is wrong. … Something is wrong.’ “

Buffington was having a stroke.

“I had full use of everything. No speech impairment. Nothing like that,” Buffington continued, detailing his treatment that spanned intensive care units in two hospitals and six weeks of twice-a-week rehab that followed.

“I got excellent care from gastro people, neurologists, cardiologists, thisologist, thisologist, thisologist. They were very, very good.”

Months later, as he prepares his Hurricanes for Friday’s PIAA Class AA state championship game against District 7 champion Shenango, Buffington still has the same intensity and aggressiveness that he did when he took over for the legendary Harry Hummel in 1978.

The dean of Schuylkill League baseball coaches, Buffington’s 44-year coaching career includes a 665-264 record, two Schuylkill League crowns, eight District 11 titles, eight 20-win seasons and now three trips to the PIAA state finals.

His Hurricanes have qualified for the District 11 baseball playoffs 38 straight times — every season since 1982. In 44 years Buffington has just one losing season — 1981, when Haven went 7-14.

Two years later, the Hurricanes lost 4-3 to Riverview in the PIAA Class AA state title game.

A 2020 inductee to the District 11 Hall of Fame, Buffington had Schuylkill Haven’s baseball field renamed in his honor by the school district earlier this year.

Saying he’s been “undeservedly blessed” and that “this game I have a passion for,” Buffington described his career by quoting a line from Jim Bouton’s book Ball Four: “Do you realize that you spent all these years gripping a baseball, and in reality it was exactly the opposite … it gripped you.”

After barking out instructions and coordinating baserunning drills like a field general to close Tuesday’s practice, Buffington was honest as he assessed his career and how close he came to not being able to coach during the 2021 season.

“I had family members say, ‘Maybe he’s trying to tell you something. Maybe it’s time to give it up. Maybe it’s time to slow down. Maybe you ought to stop doing this. Maybe you ought to stop doing this,’ ” Buffington said.

“The only thing I can notice now, and it could be just age, it could be an aftereffect of the stroke, but I don’t have as much energy as long as I used to have it. Other than that, thank the Lord, because strokes can be very debilitating.”

A retired social studies/history teacher, Buffington still works as Schuylkill Haven’s athletic director. He’s constantly asked when he’s retiring, if this season will be his last.

“As long as I can do it and I’m satisfied with what I’m doing and I can be committed and I can still do things the way I think they should be done, that’s as long as I’ll stay at it,” he said. “People have said, ‘When are you going to retire?’ Well, I am really retired. This is more or less a hobby. It’s something I enjoy doing, really enjoy doing.

“What would I do if I didn’t do this? I’d get old.”

The key to Buffington’s lasting tenure and his success on the field is the way he directs his team both on and off the diamond. Starting with offseason workouts in January, Buffington and his staff preach the fundamentals over and over and over again.

Buffington is a baseball purist. He respects the game and makes his players do the same. He has instilled an old-school discipline into every one of his teams, from the ones that wore old, ragged, yellow stirrups to today’s 24-3 squad.

“The rapport he has with the kids … I’ve never seen anyone that can command a team the way he can,” assistant coach Dennis Siket said. “Obviously, there’s a large difference in age from a freshman in high school to him, but somehow he’s still able to communicate that and get his point across.

“The kids listen. They respond. They respect him. Just the discipline he instills in them, he appreciates it.”

Added Buffington: “I know one way to do it … and this is the way we’re going to do it. This is the way we’re to practice it, this is the way we’re going to repeat it over and over and over again. I learned that from my dad, my coaches in high school, Legion coaches. That’s just the way it is.

“The game is meant to be played the right way and we’ve always tried to teach it and coach it the right way. The kids have always seemed to respond to that.”

Buffington gave a lot of credit to his coaching staff, which includes Siket, Chad Derck, Mookie Miller, Teddy Smith, Phill Dohner and Chip Kulp. Long-time assistant Robert Peel, who retired a few seasons ago, still is a regular at games and practices.

The high school assistant principal, Siket has been with Buffington since 2006. Derck is a former high school head coach at Shikellamy and college coach at Kutztown, while Miller, Smith and Dohner played for Buffington.

It’s a good blend of old and young, a combination of philosophies that has produced winning ballclubs year after year.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” Buffington said of his staff. “They each have their own things to offer and they’re not afraid to implement them or vocalize them. They talk to the kids about it and sometimes very intently and focused when they’re doing that. Their work ethic is amazing and just continues to amaze me.

“It’s a group of guys that has a passion for the game, has an understanding of how to teach and coach kids in today’s society. It’s a tremendous group of guys. Love them to death.”

Buffington’s personality and the way he coaches the game has had a lasting impact on all of his players throughout the years. A large amount still come to games, touch base with him on a regular basis — several have seen their kids play for him.

The one thing missing, however, from Buffington’s prestigious resume is a state championship. His current group of players hope to give him that final piece Friday.

“He’s a very emotional guy,” senior pitcher Mason Ulsh said. “I can’t imagine what he will be like if we win the state title. I’m looking forward to seeing that.

“Friday, we’re going for the gold and we’re going to bring it home for him.”

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