Passing the torch


OZARK, Mo. — This spring has been doubly disappointing for the Ozark Tiger baseball program.

Not only was the season canceled, but Mike Essick’s final time in the dugout was lost as well. The long-time head coach announced his retirement on Tuesday.

Essick has a lot of stories from his 28 years with the Ozark Tigers.

From what his players wore, “His socks, I promise you there was no end in them,” Essick recalled. To the eating habits of a give-children family, “Hey you gonna eat all that? You gonna eat all that?”

A lot of wins as well. A 465-223 record, which included state championships in 2004 and 2008 and trips to the state tournament in 2002 and 2011. Not to mention the hundreds of kids he has mentored.

“You ask any one of them and they say Mike Essick is family,” New Ozark baseball coach Justin Sundlie said. “We don’t consider him a coach in the past. He’s just family.”

“I didn’t win any of them. I never struck anybody out, I never got a hit, the kids win them all,” Essick said. “Coach Houser always said you aren’t going to win the Kentucky Derby on a mule, you need a thoroughbred. Ozark had thoroughbreds.”

Essick didn’t get a true final season with 2020’s being canceled. But the chance to win another title, isn’t what he says he regrets.

“I wanted to tell everyone the impact they had on my life as officials and other coaches, and just thanks for bringing out the best in us every night that we competed,” Essick said.

Nowadays, Essick can be found getting his boots dirty on the family farm. While he might leave the Tigers, the memories will remain.

“Just what this community has meant to me for the past 28 years. I’ve raised a family here, I’ve owned a house here. And just the support, the people that get behind you and come to the games. I can’t tell you how special that has been, and Ozark will always be a huge part of my life,” Essick said, after a short pause.

But Mike Essick’s coaching tree remains intact because in steps Sundlie. He spent up until the 2002 season in the Tigers’ dugout under Essick’s guidance, but now he’s moving on to the other side of the fence, coaching third base as the new Tigers’ head baseball coach.

“To be back here means everything to me,” Sundlie said. “Even more so taking over a program that has so much tradition.”

Sundlie spent the past year with Spokane, but began his coaching career in Texas. He says Essick’s philosophy is something he will continue to teach the Tigers.

“We’re going to do things right every day and win 15 games, rather than not do things right and win 23 games,” Sundlie said. “Character, effort, hustle. He built this program on that, I’m excited to keep building on top of that.”

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