CARTERVILLE — After nearly 1,300 wins, two appearances in the NJCAA World Series and five former players reaching the major leagues, Jerry Halstead is retiring as John A. Logan College’s baseball coach and athletic director.
The Carterville native racked up 1,295 wins in 34 years as coach, 33 as head coach.
The world has changed a bit since Halstead was hired in 1983, barely a year after he graduated from Southern Illinois University. He wouldn’t get that kind of opportunity today.
“Absolutely not,” Halstead said. “Even at our level now, you look around our league, all the coaches … we have a guy who played in the big leagues for example, Neil Fiala. We have guys who were assistants somewhere who put in their time. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Initially he was hired to be an assistant basketball coach. In the spring of that year, Halstead assisted coach Bert Newman with baseball. Newman left Logan after that spring, setting up Halstead’s historic 34-year run.
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Like most other coaches, Halstead had aspirations of moving up the coaching ladder. In retrospect, things worked out well.
“I think the neat thing about this level is you basically have a new club every year,” he said. “The way we went at it, we lost freshmen because we were pretty good students. If Kentucky came in and liked our freshman and that’s what he wanted to do, I felt like we did our job moving him on to a four-year school. That happened more than people realize.
“Then, when a freshman who gets drafted, you’re losing half of your team anyway, then you get one or two of those guys drafted, now instead of having five holes to plug, now you’ve got six or seven. That kind of kept it interesting.”
Halstead added that Logan’s pay scale made other offers less attractive.
“I was from Carterville,” he said. “I was happy. I slept in my own bed every night. That’s the other thing about Division I baseball you never really think about, those guys leave Thursday and get back in the wee hours of Monday morning.
“In talking with the guys and having Itchy Jones there as a resource — he was very good to me. We had a lot of discussions about different things and he made it clear to me how good Logan was, not necessarily the baseball but the other things that go with it.”
During his tenure Halstead coached his sons. Jason Halstead was a member of the 2002 team that went to the NJCAA World Series. And, he also coached Jamey Carroll, John Ambrose, Jason Boyd, Tommy Kramer and Dean Anna, all of whom made it to the major leagues.
Another career highlight was taking a team to Mexico for international competition. One of the lowlights he mentioned was coughing up a late lead with two-outs and no one on in a 2006 game that would have gotten the Volunteers to another World Series.
“That was probably the toughest loss I’ve ever been associated with,” Halstead said. “We had one foot on the plane and couldn’t close it out.”
In 2001 John Sala retired as Logan’s athletic director and Halstead assumed his duties.
“I kind of had a little bit of an idea what it was like going in,” he said. “It’s very time consuming. It takes away from baseball. There are a lot of things that go on. You take everyone else’s problems on. When you get into those couple areas it can really take away from baseball. I enjoyed it. I got it done.
“One of the things I’m proudest of is the fact that we won the all sport trophy seven of the 14 years I was AD. I think the record speaks for itself. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The college has not yet named a new athletic director. Kyle Surprenant, who has been Halstead’s assistant for the past three years, has been named the baseball coach.
With more time on his hands, Halstead said he’ll still be around the game.
"I’ll miss the kids I’m sure,” he said. “I won’t miss 35 degree days, 20 mile per hour winds. I won’t miss bus rides. I won’t miss changing games three times a week due to the weather.”