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BHC's Chavera finding challenges at Black Hawk College
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Black Hawk College baseball coach Arnie Chavera is in his eighth year at BHC and coming off a season in which the Braves won a school-record 44 games.
MOLINE -- They say everything in Texas is just a little bigger than everywhere else. Apparently, that pertains to dreams as well.

Just ask Texas native and Black Hawk College baseball coach Arnie Chavera.

"Absolutely, from an early age, it is something I wanted,'' said Mr. Chavera of his desire to grow up to be a Major League baseball player.

In 1996, that dream began here in the Quad-Cities. The catcher/outfielder/first baseman was signed by the Houston Astros and assigned for his first of two years of pro ball with the River Bandits.

"I played football and basketball growing up as well as baseball, but once I got to high school, I made the decision that it was strictly baseball,'' said Mr. Chavera. "And that's a very hard thing to do in the state of Texas. I had a football coach who every year asked me to come out for football. But all I wanted to do was play baseball; I couldn't get enough of it. I wanted to play pro baseball. ... It was pursuing a lifelong dream.''

However, that dream came to an end four years and five seasons later. The Astros threw his career a curve and decided to send him back for a third year in the Florida State League.

"I decided to retire, shut it down,'' said Mr. Chavera, pointing to a number of factors leading to his decision. "I had been in high Class A ball for two years and hit .300 one of those years with 20 home runs. During the off-season, I promised myself that I would not go back to High A ball. I was getting old, 26.''

The next question was, "What to do next?" He already had settled in the Quad-Cities with his new wife, Ericka, who is from here. He also was running Sandlot Baseball Center for Major League scout Jim Pranskie.

"After about a year, I realized that I needed baseball in my life in a formal level even though I was still giving lessons and working with teams and working with individuals,'' said Mr. Chavera. "I realized the game didn't need me, but I needed the game. It was kind of a sobering moment. I realized that I was more passionate and dedicated to baseball than I ever thought. I didn't know that it was ingrained in me so deeply. It was a turning moment for me.''

Mr. Chavera knew the first thing he had to do was finish his four-year college degree, which was put on hold when the Astros called after his junior season at Dallas Baptist University. That led to his warmup for his new career. St. Ambrose University baseball coach Jim Callahan knew Mr. Chavera and knew he was going back to school. Mr. Callahan asked if the former River Bandit wanted to be a graduate assistant.

"I almost thought it would be the easy way out, going from a player to a coach,'' said Mr. Chavera, who was working on a physical therapy/physiology degree. "I didn't give (coaching) very much respect.''

Little did he know, though, the game he loved and grew up with once again would provide him with plenty of challenges.

"When I started with Callahan, I was very cocky, very arrogant. I thought I was ready to be a head coach right away because of the knowledge I had of the game at a very high level,'' said Mr. Chavera. "The Xs and Os wasn't a big deal at all, and after one week with Coach Callahan at Ambrose and dealing with the off-the-field issues, it was another shocking moment that I had to admit to myself that I wasn't even close to being ready.''

The most eye-opening aspects of the job came off the field, he said. "The academics, the family issues, the personal problems,'' he said. "Callahan does a great job with that, and early in my career I modeled myself after him when it came to that.''

As it turned out, Mr. Chavera almost didn't get the BHC job. When it first opened after Tim McChesney left for Augustana, Mr. Chavera admitted he "bombed'' his first interview.

"The first question they asked was about fundraising,'' he said."I had never done that and had no clue.''

But the person originally hired for the BHC job had a change of heart, and the position became open again. When BHC athletic director Gary Huber called, Mr. Chavera was ready for the interview -- thanks to help from Mr. Callahan and plenty of phone calls to others.

Keeping himself challenged, Mr. Chavera, now 39, is in his eighth year at BHC and coming off a season in which the Braves won a school-record 44 games. They also won the school's 21st Arrowhead Conference crown. He continues to turn the Braves into one of the elite junior college programs in the country and works hard to make sure his players have the opportunities to move on to the next level if they choose.

"I thought that was something easy, and I didn't want easy,'' said Mr. Chavera of coaching. "Now, I look back and realize it's only as easy as I make it, and I make it very complicated on myself and stressful on myself because I'm a very competitive person.''

That's also what is making the Braves successful, though.

And it seems as if he will continue at BHC for a while. He said that, while he would love a chance to head up an NCAA Division I program, his other priority is raising his family here.

Like he realized that a coaching career was something that fits him, he is very content with pushing himself to make the Braves program the best it can be. He is also proud "that I'm not forcing the coaching carousel on my wife and family.''

That doesn't mean, though, he doesn't look back once in a while and think about what could have been. Or what still might be someday if he decides to chase that dream.

"People ask me, 'Do you ever look back and regret anything you did, or (regret) making those decisions when playing pro ball?' To me, I look at it as an ultimate huge fail that your biggest dream was put in front of you, and you failed at it – I didn't make it to the big leagues. I occasionally howl at the moon, but very seldom. I'm very proud of what I did and what I'm doing.''





Changing the dream

Who: Arnie Chavera, Black Hawk College baseball coach

Quote: "I almost thought it would be the easy way out, going from a player to a coach. I didn't give (coaching) very much respect.''


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