Lou Eckerl has been such a fixture at Calvert Hall sporting events throughout the past 40 years that his pending retirement at the end of this school year as the Cardinals’ athletic director and baseball coach will require a major adjustment.
“Being the A.D. at a school that has 1,200 boys and 800 of them are playing sports, he spends a lot of time over there,” said Brooks Kerr, his assistant coach on the baseball team for the last 21 years.
Eckerl, who will turn 70 later this year, spends so much time presiding over Calvert Hall athletics that he felt he finally owed it to his family and to himself to step away and dedicate more of his time to them and other interests.
His wife, Carol, who is four years younger, recently retired from her job as a social worker, and Eckerl decided to hang on for one more year at Calvert Hall before joining her for the next chapter of their lives together.
“It’s time for me to retire and take care of my wife and do some traveling and enjoy my grandkids and have some fun,” Eckerl said.
He made a pledge to his wife when he decided to retire.
“Whatever she wants to do, we are going to do it,” Eckerl said.
But stepping away from a job he has loved so much and devoted so many hours to every year, often at the expense of enjoying time with family and friends, will take some getting used to for Eckerl.
He said he will miss it “a lot,” particularly working with players and interacting with the people he has known for many years.
“It’s one of those jobs that was perfect for me,” Eckerl said. “Like the old saying goes, if you get a job you really love, you don’t work a day in your life.”
Eckerl came to Calvert Hall in 1982 after seven years as a coach, teacher and athletic director at his alma mater, Cardinal Gibbons.
He was the head coach of the Crusaders’ baseball team for his final three years at the school and left for Calvert Hall right after Gibbons had won an MIAA championship.
“The job opened up [at Calvert Hall], and I applied for it and came in and interviewed,” he said. “I think I had some pretty good references from some Calvert Hall people. I was young. I was 30 years old. I lucked out and got the job. I had been an A.D. at Cardinal Gibbons. So, I did have some background in it. I guess they liked what I said.”
For his first two years at Calvert Hall, Eckerl did not coach at all. But after proving he could get all of his work done in a timely manner, he joined Joe Binder’s staff on the baseball team and served as a football assistant.
“The tradition here at the school, the legacy with the alumni, I just knew it was a great place to work,” Eckerl said.
At various points, Eckerl briefly stepped away from coaching to tend to his other responsibilities. He didn’t take over as the head coach of the baseball team until Binder retired in 2001 after 22 years on the job. Eckerl has held the position ever since.
“He’s very straightforward. He’s a detailed guy. He respects the game and does it the right way,” Kerr said of Eckerl. “He will do what he thinks he needs to do to make the players get into the position to be successful.”
Sometimes that means instilling discipline and bringing the finer points of the game into focus.
“If it’s a 3-0 count and we give you the sign to take [a pitch], you better take,” Kerr said. “If you don’t take, there are consequences. I don’t care if the ball is right down the middle, if he tells you to take, you are going to take.”
Asked what consequences a player might face, Kerr said, “You are coming out of the game,” regardless of their stature on the team or how well they might be playing.
Kerr said it doesn’t happen very often. But, when it does, a point is made.
Eckerl has always been a firm believer that doing all of the little things well will make larger tasks much more manageable. He has won more than 500 baseball games during the course of his coaching career. That includes eight MIAA A Conference championships at Calvert Hall, with the latest title coming in 2019.
Eckerl eclipsed Binder for the most coaching wins as a Calvert Hall baseball coach with a victory against Mount Saint Joseph April 8, the 461st of his Cardinals career.
“On the outside looking in, you can think he is really serious all of the time, and don’t get me wrong, he is about business. But once you get to know him, he’s a pretty cool guy, pretty relaxed,” said Troy Stokes Jr., who made his major league debut last May as an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates after playing for Eckerl at Calvert Hall from 2011-2014.
After opting for free agency after the 2021 season ended, Stokes signed with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball in early April.
“As long as you are playing hard and doing everything you need to be doing, you would have no problem playing for Coach Eckerl,” Stokes said.
The finest year of Eckerl’s coaching career might have been 2007. Calvert Hall’s varsity, junior varsity and freshman baseball teams all went undefeated. The varsity team went 33-0 and won the MIAA A Conference title.
“To have that happen when you are in charge of a program is really phenomenal,” Eckerl said.
As Eckerl steps away from the job, he leaves the Calvert Hall baseball program in pretty good shape, as it’s on the verge of opening its own year-round indoor training facility.
Kerr, who played for Eckerl at Calvert Hall, has already been tapped to succeed him as head coach, which will allow for some level of continuity.
“He cares,” Kerr said of Eckerl. “If you ask for help with something, he is going to do it. He doesn’t say no. He is loyal as well, maybe sometimes to a fault. I am going to miss that quality, just being around him.”
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Calvert Hall Athletics
Originally published April 20, 2022