Sunday profile: Baseball’s a family affair for Roaring Fork High coaching duo Howard and Marty Madsen
Howard Madsen just can’t quit the game.
With 701 wins, 25 district championships, 11 regional titles, four state finals appearances and a 2002 Hall of Fame credential in the Michigan High School Athletic Association as a baseball coach at Rogers City High School, Madsen remains passionate about America’s pasttime in retirement.
Relationships, as well as the process of getting ready to play baseball, right down to prepping the field, continue to pull Madsen back in.
Baseball is a big thing in the Madsen family. That’s why, for the past five years, Howard has made the 1,500-mile trip from Northern Michigan to Carbondale every spring to help his oldest son, Marty, coach the Roaring Fork Rams’ baseball program.
Following retirement from teaching and coaching at Rogers City in 2011, Howard found himself missing the game and wanting to give back to the sport that gave him so much.
At the time of the elder Madsen’s retirement, Marty landed the Roaring Fork head coaching job. Howard went into umpiring for a year following retirement and realized it wasn’t for him, saying it was like “going to the dark side.”
A few years later, Marty asked his father if he wanted to come out to Carbondale and help him coach the Rams and build a program. It’s been that way for the past five years.
“It just wasn’t the same,” said Howard during a recent Roaring Fork practice indoors, due to the lingering winter weather.
“I was still around the game, but I really missed coaching. Marty and I later talked about it and he said, ‘I could really use some help out here,’ and I said, ‘you don’t have to ask me twice, son!’”
Howard and his wife rent a house in Glenwood Springs for three months each year after they make the trip out, allowing Howard to not only stay around the game as a coach, but he also gets to see family while out here.
Marty and the ‘Old Man,’ as they go by in the dugout, are as much of a formidable pair on the field as coaches today as they once were as coach and player during Marty’s high school days.
Marty served as a bat boy for his dad growing up, before playing for him at Rogers City High School in the early 1990s. He then headed to Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina to play baseball at the Division I level.
Growing up with a father who coached the game Marty grew to love helped push him in the coaching direction himself. Now, he’s trying to build a powerful program like his dad did for 30 years in Michigan.
“I grew up in a dugout and my brother grew up in a dugout,” Marty said with a chuckle. “It’s pretty much what we’ve know all our lives.”
Teenagers are used to their dads telling them what to do, anyway, he said.
“It’s been pretty cool for him to see me come full circle as a ball player from playing under him, going to play D-1, to now running my own program,” Marty said. “He’s been a tremendous help just in terms of bringing in the knowledge he has and passing that onto not only me, but the kids as well.”
When his dad tells stories about his time in baseball, the players quiet down and listen.
“It’s pretty cool to see. It’s been a lot of fun to have him around, and he’s really enjoying it himself,” Marty said.
Fathers and sons can butt heads when it comes to pretty much anything. Put them into a competitive environment like baseball where one has the career credentials that Howard has and the experience that Marty has at his post, it’s understandable that the two baseball men could clash when it comes to decision making or in-game strategy.
That has happened a few times between the two, but Marty says his dad knows how much experience Marty has on the bench.
“He knows my level of knowledge about the game, and how long I’ve been around this sport,” Marty said. “We’ll discuss things for sure, and he’s helped me out quite a bit, but he’s not one to question things I do. We have a great working relationship, and it’s really been that way since I played under him.”
Any disagreements aside, “he likes to pick my brain, and I like to pick his brain,” Howard said. “We get along great.”
He added that, being able to pass on the passion for baseball to Marty and his players is important. And, he has 15 other former players coaching baseball around the country.
Marty says that having his dad around has pushed him to be a better man every day, while also trying to help the Rams develop good, young men within the program.
Part of that great working relationship has to do with the ability to leave the game between the lines and never take it home with them. It’s a rule Howard’s wife established during his coaching days, allowing the Madsen family to unplug from baseball for a bit.
However, baseball has always been there for the Madsens, whether it’s coaching, or rooting on the Detroit Tigers.
One of Marty’s best baseball memories with his dad dates back to 1985 when Howard was named the Coach of the Year, getting a chance to coach the East versus West All-Star Game at Old Tigers Stadium in Detroit.
Seeing his dad in the same dugout that Sparky Anderson, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, and Kirk Gibson shared that year was one thing. But Marty — the bat boy for his dad’s All-Star team — was awed when he stepped into the batter’s box to pick up a bat.
“I was 8 years old and I remember running out to grab a bat at the same plate that Mickey Mantle stood at, and Lou Gehrig stood at, and Ty Cobb slid into,” Marty said. “It was something special, and I’m glad I got to share that with my dad as a fan of baseball and as a kid.”
The Madsen duo hopes to continue making more baseball memories as the Roaring Fork program continues to develop on the Western Slope. With baseball comes a family environment, considering the amount of time a baseball team spends with one another during the leadup to the season, as well as the season itself.
The relationships developed are what keeps Howard coming back to the game he loves. And, as long as he stays healthy, Howard says he plans on making the trip for many years to come.
“As long as I don’t get fired, that is,” Howard chuckled.
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