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Legendary coach Caswell mourned, legacy lives on

  • Bob Caswell, right, and Kevin Rines at the Mascenic baseball field during Caswell’s jersey retirement. Courtesy photo

  • Bob Caswell throws out the first pitch at a WLC baseball game in 2014, when the school’s dugouts were dedicated in his honor. Courtesy photo

  • Bob Caswell and Bruce McComish at Wilton-Lyndeborough in 2014, when the dugouts were named in honor of Caswell.

  • Bob Caswell throws batting practice for Mascenic in 1996. File photo—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, May 31, 2018

You look good, you feel good, you play good.
For longtime baseball instructor and Mascenic coach Bob Caswell, it started with the uniform: tucked in, hat just right, nothing sloppy coming out of his dugout. That attention to detail was evident in his approach to the game, what helped him become the region’s most revered hitting coach, a singular icon in the baseball community.

Brian Firmin recalled working with Caswell during his time at Merrimack College, where Caswell was an assistant coach, working with hitters. Caswell had such an influence on the program that head coach Barry Rosen began referring to certain inefficient techniques as “B.C.”

B.C?

“Before Caswell,” he explained.

Caswell took over a Mascenic team in 1987 that had gone 1-17 the year prior. By the end of the season, the Vikings were 12-6 and deep into the playoffs.

“It was like instant respect,” said Kevin Rines, a young player in Caswell’s first year who would grow into an ace in the Vikings’ 1989 run to the title game and later take over as head coach. “He knew the game, he knew what he was talking about. He was well respected by all the players. They respected him and how he approached the game.”

The baseball culture at Mascenic changed dramatically through Caswell’s dedication and understanding of the game, Rines explained. Players were exposed to set plays, infield coverage and crafty trickery they’d just never seen before.

Near the end of practices, Caswell was known to put a $20 bill partway down the third base line, on the spot where he thought a perfect bunt should end up. The player who came closest that day would take the $20 home. When it came to game time, he’d shout “Twenty bucks!” from the coaching box and his hitter would know to lay down a bunt.

“All the kids were just dumbfounded because we’d never been around plays like that,” Rines said. “Things like that were definitely new to us.”

The Vikings became a perennial playoff team under Caswell’s 11-year tenure. Along the way, he garnered a reputation as a fierce competitor. Dale McGettigan of Wilton remembers umpiring Caswell’s games as a player all the way back in his little league days and then on into his Mascenic career as head coach. McGettigan said he threw Caswell out of a game – one time – for “squawking” on a third strike call.

“He said afterward it was [his] fault,” McGettigan said, “He was an honest kid.”

Others remember an opposing coach arguing a call with an umpire during a game with Mascenic. It was a testy dispute, as the story goes, until Caswell came out of the Mascenic dugout and told the umpire to toss him. The umpire obliged.

After Mascenic, Caswell coached at Merrimack College, Southern New Hampshire University and Saint Anselm. He’d also run several AAU baseball teams, including the New Hampshire Vipers and the Timbercats. And, he started what is considered the area’s premier baseball and softball instructional facility, Power Series Sports in Milford, with his wife Louise.

Former ConVal softball coach Jim Coppo worked closely with Caswell at Power Series.

“You quickly learned that his understanding of the game was as unique as it would get,” Coppo said. “His ability to teach the finest points to kids was simply amazing. His ability to teach, demonstrate and relate to the kids is unequaled.”

Local coaches would rejoice when a Caswell-trained player would come out for their teams.

“He broke the game down,” said Wilton-Lyndeborough coach Dave Finch, who coached against Caswell in 1987 and has coached more than a few of his products since. “Their fundamentals were so good ... When you have his kids, they’re good, right away. They know the basics, they can do everything.”

Devin Springfield of Jaffrey, who just finished his senior season playing baseball at Keene State, recalls his days learning from Caswell fondly. Springfield was in fourth grade when he started taking hitting lessons from Caswell and continued on to play for his Timbercats team.

“What separates him from other coaches I’ve had is that his commitment and knowledge were off the charts,” Springfield said. “He should have been coaching at the professional level and we were lucky enough to have him coach us when we were in the eighth grade. He not only taught us the game of baseball but he taught us to become men, because if you didn’t grow up and act mature in front of him he didn’t want you on his team.”

Caswell’s Mascenic players learned that lesson quickly.

“He taught me more about being a man than he did about baseball,” said Eric Thibault, who played for Caswell from 1988 to 1991, playing in two state finals, “and I learned a lot about baseball.”

His players simply couldn’t misbehave. The Vikings weren’t sure what the consquences would have been, and they didn’t want to find out.

“You just didn’t,” Rines said. “If you got the look from him — and many people will attest to this — and he wasn’t too happy, you understood, and you wouldn’t screw up again.”

The Wilton native’s dedication to the game extended far beyond his coaching career. His work maintaining the local fields, at Mascenic and his alma mater, Wilton-Lyndeborough, was legendary.

Finch recalled his early coaching days, when much of the Warriors’ practices were spent raking rocks out of the field. Once Caswell got involved, that was a thing of the past.

Caswell built the dugouts at WLC, and in 2014, they were dedicated in his honor. Former Mascenic athletic director Bruce McComish, who hired Caswell at Mascenic, spoke at that ceremony, saying he got “a groundskeeper and a coach” out of hiring Caswell.

“He would put his salary back into the field,” McComish said. “Teams used to love to go to the fields that he worked on because they knew they would be perfect.”

Caswell was a fixture on the sidelines of Mascenic and WLC games, even after he was stricken with the cancer that would eventually kill him. And even after his illness forced him to stop instructing at Power Series, you might find him out working on WLC’s baseball field, keeping it pristine in the offseason.

“Right to the end, his passion for the game was pretty unique, pretty special to watch,” Coppo said. “The community, Mascenic, the kids lost something pretty special. Bobby’s going to be missed by many, many people and many athletes who are looking for the right guidance.”

Caswell finally succumbed to his illness on May 23, at 62 years old. He left behind friends, family, hundreds of pupils and a legacy that will live on for quite some time, on and off the diamond.

“I dress up for school every day,” Thibault, a Mascenic math teacher, said, “and people ask me why. I tell them ‘Caswell says you look good, you feel good.’ We’re all better men for having him as a coach.”

Editor Ben Conant can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 226 or bconant@ledgertranscript.com.