Baseball Remains Front of Tuttle's Mind, Close to Retired Coach's Heart

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

June 29, 2023

BLISSFIELD – Larry Tuttle jogged out of Tuttle Dugout onto the artificial turf at Adrian College and took his spot in the third base coach’s box, looked in at the batter as he approached the plate and clapped his hands.  

It’s like he never left.  

For more than 50 years, Tuttle occupied the third base coach’s box for the Blissfield Royals. He is the winningest high school baseball coach in Michigan history and one of the winningest prep baseball coaches in America. It’s been two years since Tuttle last coached the Royals, but when the Lenawee County All-Star Game came around this year, and Onsted coach Matthew Randall was named a head coach of one of the teams, one of his first calls was to Tuttle. 

“To see him coach third base again for two innings of that all-star game was nothing short of amazing,” Randall said. “I love that man and everything he has taught me.” 

Tuttle and Randall faced off about 40 times over the years. 

“There’s a lot of respect between us,” Tuttle said. “I was happy to do it.” 

Tuttle, 79, is a Morenci native who played baseball and graduated from Adrian College, coached for one year at Temperance Bedford and five decades at Blissfield. He spends a little more than half of the year in Florida these days in a house he owns in The Villages, a retirement community about an hour north of Orlando.  

This past spring, Blissfield took a spring baseball trip to Florida and Tuttle was able to come out to the field and watch a few practices. 

“That’s the best time,” he said. “I always enjoyed those first practices of each season. People will ask me, ‘But what about the cold? It’s always so cold in Michigan that first week.’ The first 10 days or two weeks or so inside, that’s where we formed our whole season, working on the fundaments and the strategy, getting the kids mentally ready for the season. That was a fun part of coaching.” 

He returns home to Michigan each summer to spend time with his kids and grandchildren, including a freshman-aged granddaughter who is showing good things in softball. His roots are in southeast Michigan, and he has every intention of keeping it that way. 

Tuttle’s jersey is retired during a 2021 ceremony. Tuttle’s career at Blissfield was nothing short of remarkable.  

He coached Blissfield for 54 seasons. It would have been 55, but the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID. The Royals won 1,332 games during his career. They won 33 District titles, 23 Regional championships and seven Finals crowns. Blissfield also won 40 league titles, including in his final season of 2021. His No. 18 jersey was retired by the school district.  

In 2015, Tuttle was an easy inaugural choice for the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame.  

This summer, Tuttle returned to Michigan in time to see Blissfield play a few regular-season games and was there when his beloved Royals played in the Division 3 District tournament. He wore his familiar Royals gear. When the Lenawee County All-Star game was played, Tuttle was in his full Blissfield uniform. It still fits perfectly. 

“I still enjoy the game,” Tuttle said. “It’s my energy level that just isn’t what it used to be. That’s why I stepped down. I still love the strategy of the game.” 

When he’s watching a game, he still goes through every play in his mind and what he would do if he was calling the shots. 

“You’re always coaching even though you might a spectator,” he said. “It may not be the right way, but it’s my way. That’s baseball. I love thinking about what to do on this count or that count, to take a pitch or not.  

“I see a lot of coaches these days who had played in college. Young coaches coach the college way, but you are dealing with high school kids who may not have a real firm understanding of the game itself. You have to teach high school baseball to college kids. You don’t teach college or pro ball to high school kids.” 

Tuttle, who has battled some health issues the last couple of years, misses being in his role as coach. 

“I miss the players and the relationships I had with umpires and the other coaches,” he said. “It’s hard to replace that.” 

Tuttle is an icon in Lenawee County. When he goes to a game, people gather around him to talk. He still follows the area teams and has a relationship with several coaches and ex-players.  

Tuttle enjoyed monumental success at Blissfield. The Royals’ last sub-.500 season was in 1971. 

“I know that because I have the records,” Tuttle said. “The closest we came was we were 8-8 one year in the 1980s.” 

Tuttle has been a stickler for stats his entire career. Some coaches have a hard time remembering how their team did two years ago. Tuttle knows. He kept intricate stats on every team he’s coached at Blissfield and to this day has them organized only a few steps away from his kitchen table at his home in Blissfield – which is just across the street from the high school and a long home run away from the baseball field that is named in his honor. 

“I have a file cabinet full of files from each season and I have the scorebook from every year I coached at Blissfield, starting in 1968,” Tuttle said. “Stats were always important to me, not the wins, but the stats. Baseball stats tell you so much about the game.” 

Since stepping aside, Tuttle has had time to reflect on his career.  

“I would have never believed I would have coached that long,” Tuttle said. “Then, I sit back and think, ‘That was a lot of wins, wasn’t it?’ I don’t mean that in a bragging way. I think more about it when I go to a game.” 

Randall recently announced his retirement from Onsted after 13 years as head coach. Onsted is in the same conference as Blissfield, the Lenawee County Athletic Association, so he had a close-up view of Tuttle in action. 

He now has a memory of the last game he coached at the All-Star Game at Adrian College. 

“I credit a lot of my coaching philosophy to this day to him,” Randall said. “Our relationship has really grown over the years. I wanted Coach Tuttle to be with me in my final game. That’s why I asked him.”

PHOTOS (Top) Retired Blissfield baseball coach Larry Tuttle coaches third base during the June 26 Lenawee County All-Star Game. (Middle) Tuttle’s jersey is retired during a 2021 ceremony. (Photos by Doug Donnelly.)

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)