Family, loved ones and members of the Saginaw Valley State University campus community are mourning the death of Walt Head, whose Hall of Fame college baseball coaching career there spanned 32 years, 864 victories, and an immeasurable impact on the lives of former players who later called him "friend."
"Whether it was on the baseball diamond or out in the world, he was constantly teaching us life lessons," said Justin Garcia, an SVSU alumnus and former player for the baseball program Head led from 1982-2014.
"Coach had a heart of gold," said Garcia, a player from 1998-2002. "He cared deeply about all of our futures and about us graduating. After you graduated, you could show up out of nowhere to see him and he would make time for you."
That's exactly what Garcia did in 2019 when he arrived unannounced at the Montrose home of the retired coach. There, the two caught up on life and talked about their time together on the team. Years earlier, Head was a guest at Garcia's wedding, and the coach asked about his former player's growing family.
"I'm so thankful I did that," Garcia said of the visit. "Coach was the kind of person who you just thought would always be there, but that's just not the way it works. Time is so fleeting. You have to cherish the time you have with the people who made a difference in your life."
Garcia now teaches fifth and sixth grade at St. Paul Lutheran School in Bay City. Garcia said many other former SVSU baseball players went on to become teachers, passing along the wise life lessons Head once provided them.
"There are hundreds of student-athletes — who are now men — who have been influenced by Walt Head, all over the place," Garcia said. "Everywhere you go, someone knows Walt Head; not just in the baseball world."
In the baseball world, the coach was plenty impressive too. Over the course of 32 seasons at SVSU, Head's teams earned 864 victories. The team claimed four GLIAC Championships during his tenure, in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003. He also led the team to three NCAA Division II Midwest Regional appearances, in 2000, 2002 and 2007. The Cardinals also won a pair of NAIA District 23 titles under his watch.
Twice, he was voted GLIAC Coach of the Year, in 1995 and 2001. Three of his players received GLIAC Player of the Year awards and four players earned Pitcher of the Year honors under his tutelage as well.
Head was inducted into the SVSU Cardinal Athletics Hall of Fame class of 2019.
"We appreciate his positive influence on hundreds of student-athletes over the years, and we are grateful for his dedication to the university over his long career," Bachand said. "He built our baseball program and his legacy lives on in the many SVSU alumni who played for him. We extend our deepest condolences to his family."
Over the decades, generations of Cardinal student-athletes have praised Head's commitment to their success on and off the field.
SVSU alumnus Tony Goble was a member of four of Head's teams, from 1985-89.
"Walt's influence was a good chunk of my growth and development as a student and athlete," Goble said of his former coach in a 2009 interview. "Walt teaches so many life lessons. He made sure we went to class; he was just as concerned about us succeeding in life as he was about us succeeding on the baseball diamond."
Memorial services will take place at the O'Guinn Family Funeral Home in Montrose, Mich. Visitation will be Saturday from 4 pm to 8 pm, and Sunday from 1 pm to 8 pm.
The Head family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Baseball Endowment Fund in the SVSU Foundation, in memory of Coach Walt Head. Donations may be made online at www.svsu.edu/coachwalt.