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Apple Valley baseball team playing for their head coach

Head Coach Sam Firpo was sidelined with a multiple myeloma diagnosis earlier this month.

APPLE VALLEY, Minn. — There's something about the beautiful game of baseball.

"The sport itself, I love baseball. It's like a chess match. You're always trying to think ahead of the other team. Teaching the kids about baseball, but it's not just baseball, it's teaching them about life," said Apple Valley head baseball coach Sam Firpo.

The diamond has always been a second home for Firpo, who is currently in his fourth season as the Eagles' head coach.

"It's just awesome to see when he's out there on third base. He has such a great presence there and he's so welcoming when you come to the bases. He's there trying to teach you up and tell you what to do and give you encouragement," said Apple Valley senior Eli Schlicting.

It's a dirt canvas filled with memories, joy and teaching moments.     

“Baseball is a game of failure. Three out of 10, you're doing good. So, life is that way. Life has ups and downs just like a baseball game. So I think teaching these young kids, 'Hey, it's just like life. You're going to succeed, you're going to fail, but you get up and do it again the next day,'" said Firpo.

"Coach Firpo has done a great job being a great leader for us," Schlicting said.

Leading by example by leading from over the fence, Firpo guided the Eagles to a 6-12 finish in the regular season ahead of sectional play. The six wins this season were three times as many compared to a year ago.

“Back pain," he said. "I usually don't cry a lot, but when I told the kids, I got emotional about it. I got very emotional, and I had to stop. I waited a couple of minutes again before I could talk to the kids and the parents. 

"It's a great group of kids, it's a great group of parents, and I felt like I was letting them down in a way or letting down myself and I took it really hard. It was really unexpected. It was just a hard thing for sure for the team."

Despite the cancer diagnosis, Firpo’s wife Gayle and friends reminded him about his love for the game.

"My first thought was, 'Wow, I cannot hit a fungo, how am I going to do this?' And then after talking to my wife and my kids, and talking to some kids, they said, 'You can do it. Just go at it. Do as much as you can," he said. "It's something that I love doing, and being home was so boring. So I said I got to go to work and I got to go coach. It's something that I enjoy, so I said I'm coaching until I can't."

Just games away from sectional play beginning, that "can’t" moment happened following their game against Lakeville North in May. A goodbye came too soon because Firpo needed to begin a stem cell transplant that requires isolation to fight his battle outside the batter's box.

"He's going into isolation. It's just hard to see that because you can just see that he wants to be out here coaching."

"It's been tough not being here. I'm watching it on TV. We stream it. Sometimes I say, 'Come on! We need to do this now.'”

Assistant coaches have taken over head coaching duties for the remainder of the Eagles season as Firpo continues his battle. 

"I have been blessed with great assistant coaches. They've done such a tremendous job," said Firpo.

His assistants will keep the bases occupied until the beautiful game comes calling again next spring.

"One hundred percent, I look at it every day like next year I'll be back; next year I'll be back. I see myself working, still coaching, spending time with my kids."

"One year from now, I definitely see him there on the third baseline, still coaching. He loves coaching so much."


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