COVENTRY — Mark Barter has been coaching his 13-year-old son, Joey Barter, for over six years, but the highest point of their baseball relationship and one of the lowest points of their time together in baseball took place in the span of 48 hours.
The Coventry Babe Ruth 13-year-old all-stars had just dropped a 13-7 decision to Plymouth, Mass. in the New England winners’ bracket final in Manchester, N.H. Mark Barter had to drive back to Coventry to work the next day, while Joey was staying in the team hotel.
Before Barter returned home he had a conversation with his son about staying positive and not allowing early mistakes snowball into a terrible game.
“Like any player, when they get down on themselves early in the game, I can tell by his body language and his attitude that the game is going to be all downhill,” Mark Barter said. “If you make a mistake, you have to let it go. If you dwell on it and stay down, you’re not going to have a good game. He gets to be stubborn and we sometimes clash.”
“We had a pretty big argument at the hotel, but now it’s all good,” Joey Barter added. “I just kind of had to say sorry the next day and move on from it. I couldn’t think about it anymore. I had to let it go.”
And then 48 hours later the younger Barter embraced his father following the biggest night of their baseball lives. Coventry defeated Plymouth twice – 17-8 and 19-13 – to claim the New England title and a spot in the Babe Ruth World Series.
“At the end of the game the three coaches (Barter and assistant coaches Chris Lopes and Randy Grossguth) were hugging each other and the kids were all over the field and Joey sought me out and jumped right into my arms,” Barter said. “We had a real nice moment and that made me feel real proud. It was a special moment.”
“This has been amazing,” Joey Barter said. “It’s one thing to do it for yourself, but to do it three years in a row with your dad there is pretty great. He’s very proud of me.”
The Barters’ three-year, three state title journey actually began with the elder Barter playing the role of father and league president. When Joey Barter was 11, Lopes coached Coventry Little League to its first ever District 3 title and then the town’s first state title when the 11-year-olds beat Portsmouth at Warwick Continental.
While Joey Barter was hitting doubles and playing good defense, Mark Barter was cheering from the stands as the league president.
“Joey had a good 11-year-old tournament and he hit his first home run that year,” Barter said. “As 12-year-old he took more of a leadership role and realized he belonged with these guys.”
Barter was given the chance to coach his son when Coventry and Central Coventry combined leagues following the 2011 season. Lopes went on to coach the Coventry National all-stars, which opened up the American job for Barter, who was more than happy to coach a team primed to do something special.
With Manny Bjorklund and Jarrad Grossguth dominating on the mound and Barter and Kyle Brown delivering at the plate, Coventry won the District 3 title and then the town’s first Major Division state title.
Coventry ended up going 1-3 at New Englands last year, but Barter learned some valuable lessons. He realized for him to do his job well, he can’t look at Joey Barter as his son; he has to view him as one of 13 players.
“I try to keep my emotions out of it, but it’s tough like when he hits home runs up in Manchester. I become the dad,” Barter said. “I realize I’m there to do a job and run this team and manage the 13 players.”
For his part, Joey realizes there’s a little more pressure on him because his dad is the coach, but he said that just fuels him to improve every day.
Barter also coaches his son’s AAU team, the Rising Stars, but he didn’t coach his son during the spring when Joey played on the Mount St. Charles Middle School team. Joey said that while his dad wasn’t his coach, he still received plenty of tips on what he could do better.
“I feel like he’ll always be my coach,” Joey Barter said. “He’ll tell me what I’m doing wrong from the stands. I kind of trust him more than anyone else. I don’t know what I would do without him. He picks me up and is the best coach ever.”
The Barters couldn’t have scripted the journey they’ve already gone on this summer and are about to embark upon in North Dakota. From the highs of winning the state and New England titles, to the lows of hotel arguments, the Barters have experienced a great baseball journey.
Whether Coventry goes 0-4 in North Dakota or wins the World Series, the Barters will return to Coventry as father and son.
“We’ve enjoyed so much time being on the baseball field together,” Mark Barter said. “It’s brought us a lot closer. It’s really been a special time these last couple of years experiencing this with him and watching him grow as a young man and as a ball player has been great.”