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Cary Osborne: A baseball coach now on the disabled list

Posted: March 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.

He says he’s little more than a doorstop now.

The muscles in his hands so atrophied that there’s just skin between his thumb and forefinger.

Obie’s on the disabled list.

But some of the kids he had the most influence on during his days as Hart High’s first-base coach are trying to mend his broken body.

Tim O’Brien started coaching in the Hart High baseball program in 1991, and he ended his term with his friend, the legendary Bud Murray, in 1999 — the year the valley’s most storied baseball program won its one and only CIF title.

He began his coaching career in the Santa Clarita Valley at the William S. Hart PONY complex in 1979.

His shaggy gray mustache and one-liners, along with the care he put into his coaching, made him a popular figure around the local baseball fields.

But for the last decade-plus, he settled back into his regular job as a truck driver for a tortilla company.

One day last year, he couldn’t step into his truck.

A pain in his neck was so severe that he went to the emergency room.

Two days later, he had two hours of surgery on his neck.

He went home and the pain became worse.

Obie went back to the hospital, and a blood clot was found in his neck.

It was treated, he went back home again, and the pain remained.

An ambulance had to come and grab him. He went through a number of tests and it was found that he had Guillain-Barré syndrome — a rare disorder that affects the nervous system, rendering many of those affected by it in a paralyzed state.

Some reports have stated that this was the affliction, not polio, that put President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

“When they told me it was a neurological disease, I was concerned,” Obie says.

He considered his own death as he had no idea what he was going through. He lost feeling in his extremities, and for a couple of months he lay in a hospital bed.

This wasn’t the first time death had crossed his mind.

In 1991, Obie was hired by Murray to coach at Hart High. Around this same time, he was experiencing numbness in his body.

He went to a doctor and was put through some tests.

The doctor diagnosed him with Lou Gehrig’s Disease — a death sentence.

“Bud calls me and asks me if I wanted to (keep) coaching. (I told him), ‘Bud, my situation’s going to get ugly. I’m going to start fading away,’” Obie recalls. “He says, ‘I don’t care. I want you to coach for me.’”

Obie went for a second opinion on his condition. It turned out that he was misdiagnosed.

This time around, though, his condition was real.

“I saw him (in the hospital). He was really concerned that he was going to be a burden on his family,” says Murray, who is retired and lives in Orange County. “But he was upbeat that they knew what his problem was. It’s a terrible thing to happen to you — to go to work one day and the next day you can hardly move.”

Murray’s coaching style is legendary in these parts.

He was like a stern father — high on discipline, precision and intensity.

He was tight.

Obie was loose.

He was part stand-up comic, part baseball coach.

“When kids were down, he always made sure he picked them up and kept their perspective,” Murray says.

The kids remembered.

Murray e-mailed longtime Hart scorekeeper Mike Gaber to get the word out about Obie.

Gaber has been e-mailing out a newsletter to parents, former players and anyone who will take it for years. He sent one out describing Obie’s state.

Obie, as the kids affectionately called him, was flooded by well wishes.

—“Can you let him know that everybody he’s ever coached appreciated the hell out of how much he helped each and every one of us.”

— “He had a great impact on me, and Obie will forever be in my heart.”

— “Please let him know that I love him very much!!!!”

— “Your combination of discipline and humor have molded me into who I am today.”

Here’s a message he hasn’t seen.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields wanted to send this message:

— “I love you and I miss you and I wish I could see you.”

Shields says there wasn’t a coach like him.

“He is one of the funniest human beings I have ever met,” Shields says. “Every time he came to the field, we were always looking to see what Obie was going to do that day.”

Obie isn’t back to where he was.

Physically, that is.

He’s in a wheelchair, unable to move his legs.

Mentally he is strong, though.

He takes strength from baseball and the kids he gave so much to.

They have given him a positive outlook.

“I always told the kids, ‘You can’t be intimidated by who you’re playing. You can respect them,’” Obie says. “No matter what the score is, if you have somebody coming to the plate, you got a chance.”

Obie still feels he has some at-bats in him.

Cary Osborne is The Signal’s sports editor. From The Inside is his column that appears periodically in The Signal. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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