PDT Sports Writer
The phone call Tim Martin received this week was not what he wanted to hear.
For the past three decades, Martin had been close to Don Sanford. For the past 18 years, Sanford was on Martin’s Minford High School baseball staff, whether it was on the junior high, junior varsity or varsity level.
But on Tuesday night, Martin was in Tennessee when he found out one of his closest contacts was gone.
“At midnight on Tuesday night, Tyler called me,” Martin said, referring to Sanford’s youngest son, “Very emotional and upset of course. He told me that (Don) had passed away.
“I was stunned. I told Don that I loved him and I’d be there for him. I’m stunned just like a lot of people.”
Martin first met Sanford on the diamond, but in a different variety.
“Back when we were both younger, we played in softball tournaments together,” Martin said. “Donnie was a good softball player. The more I was around him and I watched, I knew and I could tell Donnie knew the game and that he would be an asset for me as being an assistant coach at the high school level.”
The news also hit Jack Branon hard. Branon, who coached the Wheelersburg baseball team for 20 years before moving on to the Post 23 American Legion baseball program, remembers Sanford for his time indoors rather than outdoors.
“When I first came to Wheelersburg as an assistant basketball coach with Mike Hughes. Don was on the basketball team at that time,” Branon said.
While Sanford was a backup player, Branon remembers his role as a role player was fully embraced.
“He was willing to step in and be a team player,” Branon said.
Last spring, Branon suffered a heart attack while attending the state baseball championships in Columbus. Sanford was one of the parents that helped out while Branon was recovering. At points during the summer, Sanford would be keeping the score book or coaching the base paths.
“That’s what you hope happens is that people are willing to go in and do that kind of thing,” Branon said. “He was willing to help and he was happy to be in a supporting role. Just doing what he could do to keep the program alive and keep things going.”
No matter what the task was, Martin recalls Sanford’s love for the game going to its finest details. Whether it was selling extra tickets during fundraisers or regular maintenance on the Minford baseball park itself, Sanford would be at the forefront.
“He loved our baseball field, he loved working on it,” Martin said. “As a matter of fact, every time the walls have been painted, Donnie Sanford has been a part of it.”
One of the most memorable conversations came on a recent Saturday morning.
“He (came) to me with big tears in his eyes and his arms open and he told me that he had accepted the Lord into his life,” Martin said. “That was the most special one that I can remember.”
The final conversation the two had came Monday. The conversation centered on the annual trip the baseball team takes out of state.
This year, the team was to make a voyage during the first week of June to New York and Sanford was invited to go free of charge. Sanford accepted with one stipulation, that he and his wife Lois drive separate from the team and meet up in New York while the couple can spend a few extra days. Sanford would take care of his wife’s expenses.
“That was the last time we talked,” Martin said.
Martin recalled the conversation he had with Tyler, who graduated from Minford last year. He said his father was having a health issue as he was going to bed and that his mom called for an ambulance.
Sanford passed away at Southern Ohio Medical Center.
When he wasn’t coaching or teaching the game to the younger generations, Sanford was also umpiring or refereeing.
“He’s an awesome guy and we’ve lost a very special friend and a great person out of this community,” Martin said as he held back the tears.
Sanford leaves behind his wife Lois, sons Don III and Tyler, daughter Sarah Barker, step-sons Jason and Scott Sheets, step-daughter Brianne Sheets, eleven grandchildren, mother Martha, brother Mark and sister Cindy Bowen. Visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. Friday at the Erwin-Dodson-Allen Funeral Home in Minford.
The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Minford High School with the burial to take place at St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in Powellsville. A scholarship is in his name and donations can be made at US Bank.
A veteran with the United States Air Force, Sanford will be buried with military grave-site rites conducted by James Irwin Post 622 and William A. Baker Post 363 of the American Legion.
Martin said uniform patches with the letters CDS for “Coach Don Sanford” will be on the team jerseys this year. When the team takes the field March 30 for their home doubleheader opener against Jackson, a moment of silence will be observed before the first pitch is tossed at noon.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org.