Braves Baseball Coach of the Week: Lee Wilson, Raptors

‘Reach out to the coach, the park, your community — there’s always someone willing to help’

The next Braves Baseball Coach of the Week winner has been selected! With 58% of the votes, Spalding County native Lee Wilson was granted the honor after being nominated and voted in by his adoring peers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Atlanta Braves are partnering to spotlight local youth baseball and softball coaches for their services to their communities. Each week, a winner is awarded a $100 Kroger gift card and a baseball signed by an Atlanta Braves player. According to Maritza Gonzalez, Wilson’s wife, the Spalding County native is a coach that is all about hard work, life lessons and fun.

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“For three years he has volunteered to do field maintenance at the park, which means he has to drag and line every field the night before games. So, after working a full-time job as a mechanic and coaching two teams back to back, he stays after everyone leaves to make sure we have nice fields to play on,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Sometimes he gets home at 12 and has to be up at 6 the next day. He has been coaching for seven years, and he is always the most requested coach of the park.”

It’s that hard work and determination that allows Wilson to make an impact on his community.

“Before every game his motto is ‘this is just a game, we’re here to have fun. So, go have fun!’” Gonzalez said. “If we lose and the kids are upset he tells them to keep their head up and use it as a learning opportunity. He will never turn away a child even if we have too many players. Team of 15? Yeah, we can do that. Team of 9? Sure that’s fine. You want to add two kids to the team mid season? Ok, we can make it work.

“Unlike other coaches we have encountered, winning is not his priority. His priorities are making sure that every child is learning to love the game and making sure that they’re all learning and growing as players. If we win (which we often do) then that’s just a bonus. When we have the opportunity to go to tournaments he takes his whole team. He doesn’t pick up ‘better’ players even though he can, and most other teams do, because he likes to believe in his team and their hard work.”

Wilson, his wife and three sons live in Hampton — where the honored coach and Gonzalez just celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary.

It’s in Hampton that Wilson coaches the 6U and 10U Raptors. While both teams sported positive records this season, it’s not winning that drives him to coach. It’s about the progress.

“Win or lose I am always proud of them,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I had five 10U players who had either never played or hadn’t played in a few years. Seeing their progress week after week, big or small, was extremely rewarding. I had one player hit his very first grand slam and that was also rewarding because I have coached him for about five years now. With my 6U, they all showed tremendous progress. They made some really good plays for that age group. Most importantly, I am the most proud that every single child had fun on the field and learned to love the game even more.”

For Wilson, he expects progress in his players to come in many forms.

“Coaching baseball for my community means that I help keep our kids engaged in a fulfilling and safe activity,” he said. “I am pretty strict with my players, and they know that school comes first, so hopefully they stay motivated in school, too. Most importantly, coaching means that I get to instill my love and passion for the game onto my players.”

To any children that are on the fence about signing up, Wilson said they should give it their all — in all things.

“Try it out,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun playing out on the field with your friends than it is being alone in your room on a video game. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t like it? That’s fine. Then you try something else until you find something you love, but you have to try it first to know. You may not be ‘good’ at it the first time or even the entire first season, but the more work you put into it the better you will get. Go out there and give it your all.”

To parents, Wilson said it’s always OK to reach out for help, especially if that help puts another happy child on the field.

“To the parents: Don’t use time or money as an excuse,” Wilson said. “Reach out to the coach, the park, your community. There’s always someone willing to help. We’ve all been in tough situations, but it takes a village so reach out to yours.”

A volunteer in his community, father to his children, husband to his wife, Wilson practices what he preaches. He gives it his all. It’s that passion and effort that Gonzalez said makes him the best at what he does.

“It takes a lot to be a rec baseball coach,” she said. “It’s a volunteer position, and you don’t always pick your team. And my husband, Lee Wilson, does it all season after season without complaining. I know he’s the best youth coach because I see it every season.”