Thunder takes new direction without Graves

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 3, 2004

[5/29/04]Joe Graves had plans of coaching St. Aloysius’ summer team, the Vicksburg Thunder, as his last hurrah after 22 years of coaching at the Catholic school.

He set the schedule, ordered the uniforms and even got the fields and umpires set up.

“There’s not much else to do, except show up,” he said.

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But Graves won’t be showing up.

Last week, several of the players’ parents approached Graves at the school and expressed their wishes to have the Flashes’ new baseball coach in charge of the team.

Graves said he wouldn’t talk about it at school and met with the parents later.

“They thought it was in better interest if the new coach took over for the summer to give him a chance to evaluate what he had coming for next year,” Graves said. “I said if that’s what they want to do, that’s what they’ve got to do. And that’s what they’re going to do.”

Clint Wilkerson, who was hired last month as St. Al’s baseball coach, will replace Graves as coach of the Thunder this summer.

While he understands the move, Graves said it was handled poorly.

“I really didn’t have anything to say to them, too much. I let them handle it and let it go from there. It wasn’t done in the best,” he said, before a brief pause, “I don’t think it was handled very well.

“If you’re in anything long enough, you’re going to run into this. You’ve just got to take it with a grain of salt and keep on going. I’m going to land on my feet.”

Graves, who ended the longest coaching tenure in Warren County when he resigned April 14, said he will miss the team and its players.

“I was expecting to work with the kids and stuff, but that’s just part of it,” he said. “That’s just something that happens. I can understand their side of the story. I just pretty much let them have it.”

Mary Ann Jones, mother of St. Aloysius catcher Rob Jones, helps organize and manage the Thunder along with several other parents. She said the move was made for the betterment of the team next season.

“It was nothing against Joe Graves,” Mary Ann Jones said. “If Clint didn’t get the boys now since most of the boys at St. Al play football, basketball and other sports he wouldn’t get the opportunity to see the kids until a week before the season.”

Wilkerson, 25, comes to St. Al after working as an assistant coach at Mississippi College in Clinton.

Prior to coaching, Wilkerson starred in baseball for Mississippi College and earned All-American Southwest Conference honors three straight years. As a senior, he hit .333 and led the team in home runs (10), RBIs (42) and walks (29).

He then played professionally for two years with the Baton Rouge Riverbats of the Southeastern Professional Baseball League while working on his graduate degree in social science at MC.

“(Graves) was a good coach, and he did a lot of good things for St. Aloysius baseball,” Jones said. “We’re just ready to go to the next level.”

Once Wilkerson was informed of the decision, he said he agreed to coach the Thunder, something he had wanted all along since being hired.

“It would not have been a good situation if I wasn’t coaching during the summer,” he said. “It’s a chance for the players to get to know me and learn my methods.”

The players got their first taste of those methods on Tuesday in a doubleheader split with Magee.

The Thunder returns home on Thursday against Forest Hill as part of their 12-doubleheader schedule.

The team ends the summer season with the Escambia High Tournament in Pensacola, Fla., from July 2-4.

Wilkerson said he may add some games to the schedule in July, but right now he is still in the process of looking for an assistant coach. He said he’s narrowed his list to three candidates, and each is someone with whom he has played or coached.

Wilkerson said the Thunder has played well, but still has a long way to go before next baseball season.

“They just have to do the basic things,” he said. “Everything that’s being taught to them right now is different. They need to work harder, especially on the little things like running out fly balls and fouls, just basic fundamentals.”