HAMILTON — Joey Lewis was happy to have simply been involved. Being a part of the Hamilton High School baseball program wasn’t just an enjoyment.
It was a blessing.
All of it.
“It made me a better person,” said Lewis, who dedicated the past 32 years coaching the Big Blue on the diamond — 19 as an assistant for Dan Bowling and the last 13 as head coach.
“The hundreds of relationships you establish being the coach, whether it’d be an assistant or later on in my case a head coach, it helped me grow as a person.”
Lewis announced following this past season he was retiring as coach, leading the Big Blue to a 171-151 overall record.
Hamilton won at least one postseason game every year during his tenure except two (2013, 2017). Big Blue’s best season under Lewis was in 2013 — when they went 20-7 before losing to Lakota West 5-3 in the sectional tournament.
Lewis called his tenure “a blessing.” But he was quick to credit those who took the field for his successful stint.
“First and foremost, you have to have players with a little bit of talent,” Lewis said. “Over the course of my involvement with Hamilton baseball, the vast majority of teams that we’ve had have been talented.
“You try to approach your instruction with kids that’s best tailored to a particular kid and how they learn it best. I felt that was the best way to try and advance the program,” Lewis added. “It’s recognizing different ways in approaching how you do things. When you see it click with some players and you see them do something you’ve been working on with them — and they have some success on something that they’ve been struggling with a little bit in the past — it makes you feel good inside.
“I know the players enjoy that, and it makes them feel good. As a coach, it makes you proud of them, too.”
Lewis coached 30 former players to the college level, including Landon Stephens (2016) and Patrick McGuff (2012) — who went on to play professionally.
“You’d hope that you’d see the kids you’ve coached get the opportunity to do that, but in reality, it’s not like that,” Lewis said. “You try to help prepare them the best you can for what they have ahead at the high school level, but also instill some things to where if they get that opportunity to have success at the next level, they have a good building block.
“It’s always joyful to see your players succeed not only at your level, but when they move on to another level as well.”
Lewis flashed back to his high school days when he played for the Big Blue from 1981 to 1983.
He was coached by Bowling as a sophomore on the junior varsity team and again as a senior during Bowling’s first year at the varsity helm.
Lewis, who played shortstop and batted leadoff, helped direct the Big Blue to a 14-10 victory over Austintown-Fitch in the Class AAA state title and 29-2 finish that 1983 season.
And while Lewis said it was a pinnacle moment surrounding his involvement with the Big Blue program, he steered the focus at being coached by Bowling.
“I thought about Dan being a teacher — and a coach — and seeing how much joy that brought him,” Lewis said. “It would be something that I would enjoy doing.”
Once he got into college and it came time to make decisions on what he wanted to study, Lewis went that route.
“Being a teacher and a coach — that was it,” he said.
Upon graduating from Ohio State University, Lewis immediately came in as a volunteer assistant coach for Bowling the 1992 season — the beginning, and a defining aspect, of his coaching career.
Lewis later got to experience another state title run — this time as an assistant in 1997, when Hamilton scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh to beat Toledo Start 8-7.
“It was just great to be able to come back to my alma mater and be able to be involved with the baseball program,” Lewis said. “That was the start of me being involved with all of those kids over the coming years.”
Lewis made it known that had he not jumped on board with Bowling, he may have taken a different direction.
“I wouldn’t have coached,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t have had the desire to coach baseball anywhere else, really, at the high school other than at Hamilton.”
TAKING THE HELM
There had always been an ongoing thought, according to Lewis, that he’d in fact be Hamilton’s head baseball coach. He just didn’t know if — or when — he’d get that chance.
But having been an assistant to Bowling for close to two decades, Lewis knew the possibility was still there.
“My eyes were set on someday being given the opportunity to be the head coach at Hamilton High,” Lewis said.
Then when Bowling was into his 28th season at the helm, it was made known that it would be his last.
“He announced it pretty early on in the year,” Lewis said. “So we knew that it could happen.”
Bowling, who compiled a 655-207 record and led Hamilton to 15 Greater Miami Conference championships and two state titles, wrapped up his final season in 2010.
“I was sad to lose that day-to-day relationship with him from the coaching aspect,” Lewis said. “But in the same light, I was excited about the possibility of building my own relationships with my assistant coaches if I got the job.
“It was eventually going to be an exciting time for me.”
That excitement turned into a reality when Lewis was hired to lead the Big Blue the following season.
“In terms of being a high school baseball coach, my only desire was to be a Hamilton High School baseball coach,” Lewis said. “If it wouldn’t have worked out for me, I don’t think I would have done it. I would have been strictly an educator — without the baseball component. I may not have stayed in education, who knows.”
But it happened, and Lewis got to enjoy six winning seasons as head coach and a chance to mentor his son Jackson, a 2021 graduate.
“I was involved a little bit with my son as he was coming up during his youth in different sports,” Lewis said. “Being able to coach my son was definitely a highlight. I had been looking forward to that and knew that was going to be in the cards pretty early on. I enjoyed that greatly.”
Stepping away from Hamilton’s baseball program wasn’t an easy thing to do, Lewis said.
“There’s always that, ‘Am I making the right decision?’ crossing your mind,” he said. “But I truly believe that I made the right decision. When you do it as long as I did, it’s hard to take in. So, sure it’s tough.
“But I think each person knows when it’s time,” Lewis added. “It’s time to move on and do other things in your life. It’s also time to give some people an opportunity to offer a fresh set of eyes or a fresh approach of doing things in the program.
“I have no regrets at all with any of my coaching career,” Lewis continued. “I am incredibly thankful of Hamilton City Schools and all the athletic directors I’ve worked for and Dan Bowling for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the athletics programs — particularly the baseball program. I’m thankful for all the coaches who worked for me and helped with the program.
“It really is almost a year-round thing these days. The kind of commitment you need from the players and the coaches is something that is under-appreciated on how much that comes into play. It got to the point that I felt deep in my bones that this was the time for me to move on.”
Lewis said he plans on giving distance to the Hamilton baseball program, but he’ll keep tabs once next season rolls around.
For now, Lewis, 58, will “enjoy life a little bit more” with his wife Jana and their son Jackson and daughter Taylor.
Joey and Jana have been married for 25 years.
“I’ve never had a spring break,” Lewis said before joking. “My neighbors might fall over when they see me out there cutting the grass.”
“Right?” Jana chimed in with a laugh. “I’ll no longer be the grass cutter.”
“There will be a little more time to spend on me, too,” Lewis continued. “When you start getting older, you think about taking better care of yourself.
“But right now, I’m going to enjoy myself. There are some things I want to do, and coaching baseball won’t be one of them.”