Little things mattered to former Columbus East baseball coach Lou Giovanini, and that attention to detail has led to something very big.
The Olympians’ first baseball coach, who served from 1972 to 1994, was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Fame on Jan. 24 in Indianapolis.
Giovanini, who now lives in Venice, Fla., with his wife, Kathy, couldn’t make the induction ceremony, as he stays in close touch with the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa where he underwent a bone marrow transplant in November.
Giovanini’s condition is called “acute myeloid leukemia.” While Giovanini’s chronological age, 73, would have placed him outside the window for transplant consideration, a lifetime of determined physical conditioning made Giovanini a good candidate in the eyes of his doctor.
Thus, the same determination Giovanini lived by also served him well in his being “well-positioned for success” in his battle with cancer.
Ironically, it might have been echos of Giovanini’s competitiveness and dedication to minutiae that led to the nearly-20-year hiatus between his retirement and his Hall of Fame selection.
John Major, a current East baseball assistant coach and an infielder for Giovanini from 1981-83, accepted the award for his mentor.
“Lou was about as competitive as anyone, and I’m not sure that didn’t work against him at times,” Major said at the induction ceremony. “I’m so glad for him. It’s well-deserved and long overdue.”
In measured words, Major explained that not every opposing coach was enamored by Giovanini’s relentless pursuit of every advantage or of his contesting every close call.
“I thought it was great playing for Coach,” Major said. “His attention to detail was second-to-none. I wish this had come sooner when he was feeling a little better.”
Giovanini was nominated by East’s current baseball coach, Jonathan Gratz, and then was endorsed by at least a 65 percent vote of the IHSCBA membership. Giovanini didn’t get the necessary votes on two former occasions.
The third time was the charm.
In his assessment, Gratz said, “This has been a long time coming. Looking at his overall record, Lou had a ton of sectionals and regionals.”
Giovanini posted a 513-146 record at East with 14 sectional titles, nine regional crowns and three semi-state banners. His .778 winning percentage ranks him third among retired high school baseball coaches in Indiana.
Announcing Giovanini’s award was Ray Howard, a retired coach from Jasper and sometimes a foe of Giovanini. Howard drew sprinkles of knowing laughter when describing game-time encounters with the East coach, referring to him as “Sweet Lou.”
The Jasper coach reminisced about Giovanini’s proclivity for the dubiously-timed timeout and long conferences with a batter or pitcher. This oft-repeated tactic was taken by Howard as an attempt more to hinder the momentum of the opponent than for Giovanini to communicate anything of substance to his players. “He could extend the length of a high school baseball game by an hour-and-a-half, with no problem whatsoever,”
Contacted by phone, Giovanini said he was honored.
“We’re very pleased, obviously,” he said. “There’s a good group of coaches out there (voting), and there are good coaches in the Hall. We appreciate that.”
Giovanini also expressed his thanks for the administration at East, specifically to former-principal Phil Houston.
He also coached boys basketball at East, taking his 1977 team to the state finals.
The rest of the Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Fame class included three other high school coaches; Gary DeHaven, Benton Central High School, (retired); Dave Bischoff, Norwell High School (active) and Henry Ayers, Chrisney High School and Heritage Hills High School (retired). Also honored was standout Indianapolis Arlington High School player, Rodney Scott, who in the 1970s and 1980s played major and minor league baseball for a number of teams, including the Kansas City Royals, Oakland A’s, Chicago Cubs and Montreal Expos.
The inductees are also posted on the hall’s website, indbaseballhalloffame.org.
Giovanini’s high school baseball numbers always spoke for themselves, especially in the context of the hardscrabble start of a program at a new school.
When Columbus High School was pared down in 1972 and morphed into Columbus North, it pretty much kept its sports programs and varsity coaches. Giovanini was about 10 years into his teaching and coaching career. The split gave him the chance to go from being an assistant, in basketball and baseball, to the iconic Bill Stearman to taking over his own head coaching position at the brand-new Columbus East High School.
In those early years on the baseball field at East, Giovanini and his players seemingly spent as much time wielding rakes as they did bats. Over time they helped improve the infield and toted away loads of the marble-sized creek gravel that naturally percolated from the freshly-tilled subsoil of Clifty Park.
Giovanini took his first Olympian team of just sophomores and juniors to a sectional title in 1973. His second year at East produced an 18-5 record.
After his 1994 retirement from coaching and teaching, Lou and Kathy moved to Florida to be near her parents.
Dave Gross, who caught for East from 1987-1989 and served as an assistant coach (2006-2011), was “ecstatic” to learn his former coach had made the hall of fame.
“I can’t say enough about him. Every player mattered to him,” Gross said. “If you wanted to stay all night to work on something, he’d stay.”
Gross said it was “intense,” playing for Giovanini.
“Little things mattered,” he said. “Nothing was let go. And that’s what made us good.”
Then, with a chuckle Gross said, “To be honest, during the years I played for him, I wasn’t sure I liked him.”
Gross was part of state finalist teams in 1987 and 1989. In 1988, there was a semistate appearance for East and a summer appearance for Gross as an Indianapolis Area Amateur Baseball All Star.
Today the sum of Gross’ feelings have crystallized: “I learned from Coach that the little things do matter. If you do the small stuff right, good things happen.”
Hopefully, good things will happen for Giovanini in his struggle against cancer. If he goes 90 days post-procedure without any of the major complications that are possible, doctors can begin to transition into a relatively more-relaxed routine.
But Giovanini will never be able to let down his guard completely. His body could always begin rejecting the donor marrow and the cells it produces. There will be no end to anti-rejection drugs, tests and checkups; only a moderation.
While Giovanini’s immune system should show some recovery over the weeks and months, it will likely never be as robust as it was.
Thankful as she is and optimistic about the future, Kathy Giovanini is mindful that every day is precious.
“We know this is going to be with us from now on.”
The attention to detail continues.