by Malcolm Butler
Regardless of what Tom Hanks character said in the 1992 American sports comedy film “A League of Their Own,” there is crying in baseball.
And by grown men playing the sport.
Following Sunday’s already emotional-charged day that saw Louisiana Tech defeat UTSA 9-8 to capture the 2022 Conference USA title, Bulldog skipper Lane Burroughs was asked about the game-winning hit by fifth-year senior Steele Netterville.
Burroughs teared up and choked up while answering the question.
“It couldn’t have happened to anyone better than Steele Netterville, one of our Bulldog men,” said Burroughs, who paused and wiped his eyes and grizzled face with a towel hanging around his neck. “I am going to get emotional talking about him. I promise.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. I am so proud it was him in that moment and that he got it done. He will have that (moment) forever.”
It will be a moment that the oldest of the two Netterville Bulldogs will always remember. But according to Steele and his mother, Teri, it’s the impact that Burroughs has had on Steele’s life that has truly been life altering.
“When they were growing up we always told our kids that you will meet people in this lifetime that will be more than just friends,” said Teri. “It will be more like a soul connection. Look for those people. Those are the ones that will have your back. Those are the ones who will always steer you in the right direction. Those are the ones you will learn from.
“When you find those people hold onto them and treasure them because part of their purpose in this world is to help you in your purpose in this world. That is what Lane has done for my child.”
During a stellar playing career at Byrd High School in Shreveport, Steele said he came on a few visits to Louisiana Tech. It’s where he dreamed of playing. Tech was in Steele’s blood, almost literally.
Steele’s grandfather was the late Tech hall of famer Tommy Spinks, who starred on the great Bulldog football teams of the late 1960s. Red and blue ran deep through the Spinks and Netterville families.
However, according to Steele, Tech didn’t offer a scholarship or even a preferred walk-on spot. That is until Burroughs took the job following Greg Goff’s departure in the summer of 2016.
“He gave me an opportunity. He knew I was an I-20 boy,” said Steele. “I guess I did enough to deserve a preferred walk-on. He was one of the few who gave me an opportunity, and I ran with that. I have done everything I could in my power to prove him right. Hopefully I have made him proud.”
“I am so proud of him … and Taylor (Young) and (Jonathan) Fincher and all of those guys,” said Burroughs. “You talk about Steele Netterville. He was a walk-on. He has Louisiana Tech DNA. A Bulldog man, through and through.”
Burroughs isn’t the only part of this two-sided coach-player relationship that gets emotional when talking about their bond. What does Burroughs mean to Steele?
“Just being asked that question makes me emotional,” said Netterville, who turned red-faced, looked away and cleared his throat. “He is everything that I ever could have hoped for and dreamed for in a head coach.
“He is more of a family member; like a second father. He is such a special person, and human being, and leader. I would need more time to describe what he means to me. He means everything and I love that man to death.”
Anyone who has watched these Bulldogs compete under Burrough’s guidance over the past few years can see the passion in which they play for while representing their University and their coach.
“When Steele came on board and felt that kind of connection with Lane, I realized that this was something different,” said Teri. “They have all said they would run through a brick wall. They would run through fire for him.
“Lane is not only invested in them as players, but also in their lives. I’ve seen this with Slade as well. As a mom, you cannot ask for more. It’s more than I ever dreamed or prayed for. He’s impacted Steele’s life in a way where he will forever be better because of Lane Burroughs.”
As the sun begins to set on Steele’s career as a Bulldog, there is still baseball left. The Bulldogs will find out their fate this morning at 11 a.m. on the NCAA Baseball Championships Selection Show.
“I really love this team and I love these coaches,” said Steele. “Going into the regional, we’re in the best frame of mind that we’ve been in all year. And there’s no one else I’d want as our captain but Lane (Burroughs).”
And if these Diamond Dogs can pull a little more of their late inning magic over the coming week, their may be more opportunity for baseball and plenty of more tears.
“It’s been the ride of my life,” said Teri. “It’s not something I expected. I’ve never seen this with another coach before. Our entire family feels invested in Lane and his family because he has been so invested in ours.
“To have someone like Steele who loves people, but who keeps most at arm’s length … Well, when he allowed Lane past that wall and into his heart, you see why he breaks down just at the mention of Lane’s name.”