In the summers of his youth, a broken axe handle served as his makeshift baseball bat, while his family’s front yard in Monett was a daily sandlot. And, even if his youth team wasn’t scheduled to play, he’d throw on his wool uniform and bike to the city field, just because.
Not much changed when the family moved to north Springfield. Fortunately for Mark Stratton, when the real world began tugging on his jersey as his college years wound down, the game grabbed him again – this time forever. Coaching a youth team opened his eyes to what could be.
“That’s when it bit me,” Stratton said. “Once I started doing that, I realized I could take a kid, figure out what we needed to do and help them get better.”
Now his good work has led to induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, with the Class of 2017, and friends and family can see Coach Stratton honored at the annual Baseball Luncheon presented by the Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Company. It’s set for 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 25 at the University Plaza Convention Center in Springfield. (For tickets, call 417-889-3100.)
Stratton earned a combined 840 wins in three decades of coaching the baseball programs of Glendale High School, Glendale American Legion and Drury University, as his fatherly-like guidance churned out the best in players and his endless line of jokes kept teams loose.
“There were a lot of special times with kids,” Stratton said, before breaking into a grin. “And when I see them around town now, I think, ‘Wow, I’m glad I didn’t mess them up.’”
How did he ever succeed? “I was one of nine kids and, when my dad called my name,” Stratton said laughing, “he’d introduced me as No. 4. No. 4 isn’t on the trophy stand, so that wore me out.”
Stratton was a fixture at Glendale from 1982 to 2005, either as an assistant coach or the head coach. As the head coach beginning in 1993, he compiled a 244-154 record in 13 seasons. His teams won four district championships and three Ozark Conference titles, while 30 Falcons earned college scholarships.
He also led the Glendale Merchants American Legion program from 1988 to 2002, earning a 421-243 record. It included the 1997 state championship and a state runner-up finish in 1998.
In his early 20s – after having graduated from Hillcrest High School, starting college at Crowder College and then finishing his degree at Missouri State University – Stratton soon began advocating for kids at Glendale.
There, baseball coach Don Provance hired Stratton as an assistant.
“The beauty of that was Don – even though I was 25 –let me do a lot of things, even coach third base,” said Stratton, who previously coached at Maryville and Washington schools, plus earned a master’s at the University of Missouri. “Don showed me how to handle kids. Even if they were going to get cut, you explained to the young man what was happening, and why.”
“We had great players,” Stratton added. “We had players who realized they could be better, and were willing to dedicate themselves to getting better. (Then-assistant) Howard Bell and I were very fortunate in that regard.”
At Drury from 2007 through 2012, Stratton’s Panthers were 175-134 and never had a losing season. In fact, they won the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament in their inaugural year – with 22 freshmen on a 32-man roster – and earned the first of four NCAA Division II Tournament berths in Stratton’s tenure.
While at Drury, Stratton also led upgrades of Springfield’s Meador Park. After briefly stepping away from the game, he teamed with Brad Beattie on revitalizing US Baseball Park in Ozark, where Stratton is Vice President of Marketing and books hundreds of high school and college games.
The secrets to his success? Let players have input. That and support from family, namely his wife, Gay, and their four children, Brian, Kevin, Matthew (Chip) and Sara.
“It took me awhile to stop, look and be a good observer,” Stratton said. “I got some good advice from from my mom one day. She said, ‘Mark, when people are talking, don’t think about what you want to say. Listen.’”
So many others set him up for success – competition with older brothers Gary, Bill and Steve, and younger brother Greg, plus coaches at the Springfield Boys Club, and at Hillcrest High school.
“I had a teacher at Hillcrest High School who used to say, ‘You can have anything in life if you help enough other people in life get what they want,’” Stratton said. “Relationships I have developed through baseball have shaped me as a person, and allowed me and my family
to be part of the Springfield community in so many ways. We are so blessed.”
MAY 25 — BASEBALL CELEBRATION
BILL VIRDON STATUE UNVEILING
When: 8:30 a.m. continental breakfast, 9 a.m. unveiling
Where: Legends Walkway of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in southeast Springfield (about one mile east of the U.S. 60-65 interchange)
What: Unveiling of larger-than-life statue of West Plains grad and Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder making a game-saving catch in Game 1 of the 1960 World Series
BASEBALL LUNCHEON PRESENTED BY OZARKS COCA-COLA/DR PEPPER BOTTLING COMPANY
When: 11 a.m. Thursday, May 25
Where: University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in downtown Springfield
President’s Award: Hiland Dairy’s Mark Speight
Inductees: Mark Bailey (Glendale High School/Missouri State/Houston Astros), the late John Donaldson (Glasgow HS, Negro Leagues), former Westran and Sturgeon coach Kelly Odneal, sports writer Rob Rains (Kickapoo/St. Louis media), baseball coach Mark Stratton (Glendale High School/Drury University).
Diamond 9 Awards: Doug Bennett (Hillcrest High School/University of Arkansas), Dan Bishop (Springfield Central High School/Baltimore Orioles/New York Yankees), Jack Funderburk (Southwest Baptist University), Chelsea King Goodin (Strafford High School/Drury University), Kellie Becher Kessler (Missouri State University), , Danny Powers (Carl Junction High School/University of Central Missouri/Minnesota Twins), Kyle Rapinchuk (Branson High School/College of the Ozarks), Stefanie Standley (Lamar High School/University of Missouri) and Michael Vincent (Hollister High School/John Brown University/Phillips University/Cincinnati Reds).
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. Sponsorship tables are $400 and include recognition in the printed program and an autographed print. An individual ticket is $40, and a head table ticket is $100. Numerous other sponsorships, including congratulatory ads, also are available.