As a retiring math teacher at Lockport High School, you might think Dan Petock would have been an Xs and Os kind of baseball manager, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Team unity and teamwork were Petock's keys to success in a fruitful playing and coaching career that culminated last year with one of the most unforgettable seasons in Lions' diamond history.
Petock, the man who helped guide the LHS Baseball Program triumphantly into a new and better era, is announcing his retirement after six years at the helm.
You won't meet a more enthusiastic baseball soul than Petock, a 1976 graduate of Kenmore West High School, the proud husband (wife Ann) and father of two girls, Erin (teacher in Rochester) and Kelley (recently earned teaching certification) and grandfather of two children, Bentley, 4, and Tessa, 4 months.
“I loved the game from the moment I first played it,” Petock said. “I loved playing the game, I loved watching the game, I loved coaching the game. It's just a great game.”
Tutored as young man by none-other-than legendary Western New York baseball legend Babe Birrer (died in 2013), a former Detroit Tigers pitcher, Petock's baseball star rose significantly his senior year. In his first start, the right-hander tossed a no-hitter to beat Trott.
“Babe tutored me. He taught me a great curve ball and a slider right before my senior year, so he obviously had quite an influence on my pitching and I just carried it on from there into college (ECC and Buffalo State) and the Suburban League,” Petock said.
Petock began his scholastic coaching career at Kenmore East and Maryvale, under Marv Matteson, who garnered more than 1,000 career wins and the late Pat Kane, who coached for 30 years.
“I've had some great coaching tutors, that's for sure,” said Petock. “I remember watching Pat and being in awe of his methods. Marv was a great influence in that he taught me that baseball was more than Xs and Os. Teamwork and team unity are very important.”
Moving to his wife's hometown of Lockport in 1995, Petock began his teaching career at LHS in 2000. Soon, he got involved in coaching baseball, coaching junior varsity for five years, then ultimately getting the varsity head coaching job in 2014.
“It was quite a learning experience. I had to re-learn the NFL (Niagara Frontier League), but I met some great coaches along the way,” Petock said.
“One of the highlights of my career was coaching Mark Waple's son, Kyle. I knew Mark from my time as a JV coach because he was the Lew-Port JV coach back then, so I got to know him well. That was a lot of fun, coaching his son. Kyle's senior year at Lockport was a high point.”
Petock's defining moment as a scholastic manager came just a year ago, when the Lions's needed it most.
Transitioning from the grass field at Outwater Park to Lockport's new, multi-million dollar artificial turf facility on Beattie Avenue last spring, Petock's Lions opened the 2019 season with record-breaking 14-0 start, electrifying the community.
“In the past, we had to reschedule a lot of games at Outwater because of the weather,” Petock said. “Our new field, it was like night and day and we had a great year. We were outside practicing in March for the first time. It made a lot of difference, obviously. Coaches were coming up to me and asking me, ‘Did you go to Florida?’ I said, ‘No, we've been out here since March. We've never been able to this before.’ ”
Petock wished to thank all of his former players and his assistant coaches, including Jim Conley, John Greco and Todd Fragale.
“Jim's been another great influence on me,” Petock said. “The last five years we were together, but we go back further to my American Legion days when we first started working together.”
Petock also thanked former LHS athletics director Patrick M. Burke for hiring him and current LHS AD Todd Sukdolak for their good working relationship.
Conley said the key to Petock's success was his honesty.
“Baseball was on the rise this year and unfortunately this season was postponed by the coronavirus, but I felt we had a strong team this year and an excellent chance to get into the state championships. That would have really capped off Dan's career — to go out a champion,” Conley said.
“He was very honest with his players. He never lied to them. He was very direct and honest and his practices were organized. I'll miss him. I have a lot of respect for Dan. He knows baseball. And we're not just going to miss a good coach, but a very good teacher and a strong family man as well. I just hope the next coach has those same qualities.”
Follow veteran Lockport sports writer/editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.