Former pro athletes Womack, Bly find their post-career calling in coaching
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s a normal, warm day on the baseball field, as the coach hitting infield practice barks words of encouragement and instructions on how to do things better. Thousands of little league coaches in America do that every single day.
But probably 99 percent of those other teams don’t have a former Major League All-Star and World Series champion hitting the groundballs. Nor do they have a former NFL Pro Bowler running things behind the scenes.
Dre Bly, the former NFL star, and Tony Womack, the ex-major leaguer, have teamed up to help eighth- and ninth-graders learn the proper fundamentals of baseball, while at the same time, producing one of the top AAU traveling teams in the South.
The team also has Devon Lowery, formerly a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, as the little league club’s pitching coach.
Womack and Bly each have different roles with the Carolina Black Sox — a 14-and-under team named by Womack, in honor of the former Negro League Team the Baltimore Black Sox.
Bly, who played baseball his freshman year at UNC, formed the team in 2011 so he could be a part of his son Trey’s baseball growth. Within a year or so, Bly, 38, learned that he was going to need a lot of help.
"At this age where the kids are at, I can’t teach them," he said. "I knew there were some things that I couldn’t do and that I was looking from a baseball standpoint with structure."
Enter Womack, a 13-year major league veteran.
Womack had no plans to get into coaching, but after seeing Trey’s level of instruction — or lack thereof — he stepped forward and took over Trey’s team.
Around that point, Bly reached out to join forces.
"My son was playing, but he wasn’t learning the game the right way," said Womack, 45. "He was being taught to learn the game now and learn the game later. You’ve got to learn the right way."
Womack and Bly have built a powerhouse team — partly because they understand their respective roles.
"I’m basically like (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones," Bly said. "I do all the scheduling and uniforms and emails. I recruit the kids, too. I’m like the general manager."
Womack handles everything on the field, including who stays and who goes.
"We have kids that want to keep getting better," he said. "They have fire and passion. But if Dre brings in a kid, and I don’t think he’s working hard enough or dedicating himself, I’ll get rid of him because he’s hurting those around him.
"The first thing I ask is, ‘How many years do you have in the big leagues?’ They have to work to get where they want to be. And we have hard workers."
It’s fair to say a situation like this isn’t all that common.
"There aren’t a lot of people doing what we’re doing at the level we’re doing it," Bly said. "People are rather surprised to see a football guy on the baseball field and doing it the right way.
"I think everybody has a calling, and I think my calling is to coach and teach."
Though he’s not sure how long he’ll continue to coach, Womack doesn’t take his duties lightly. He’s deadly serious about it — just as he was in the majors, leading the National League three times in stolen bases in the late 1990s.
"I’ll find your weaknesses and expose them," he said.
That can only make a player better, no matter the age.
However, coaching with ex-star athletes is nothing new to Bly.
His son’s football team has himself, longtime Panthers receiver and All-Pro Muhsin Muhammad, former NFL offensive lineman Frank Garcia, former tight end Deems May and former offensive lineman Jamar Nesbit as the coaches.
Combined, they have played in seven Super Bowls. Hardly seems fair.
But it’s baseball that has Bly’s attention — at least until football season starts. He just completed his first season as an assistant coach at a local high school.
"My passion is to let these kids know it’s OK to fail. We all do it in life. But I use it as motivation. The most successful people in the world have failed the most and used it to better themselves. That’s why I’m trying to teach these kids.
"I’d love to go back and coach football in college at my alma mater, but I don’t know when that could be because I’ve grown roots here."
And the kids are better for it.