Farragut Dugout Club honors Jim Braden

KNOXVILLE — Farragut High School’s Dugout Club honored one of its most influential members at a dinner Saturday night.

Longtime Farragut Middle School baseball coach Jim Braden had his service acknowledged at a dinner at Rothchild Knoxville.

Braden’s influence on baseball in Farragut and Knoxville has been felt since he moved to Farragut in 1980. Saturday night’s festivities culminated a weekend that saw the longtime coach and fundraiser honored at FHS’s game against rival Knoxville Catholic High School on Saturday afternoon.

Braden casts a deep and great shadow over area youth baseball but he said that he didn’t quite understand why he was honored last week.

“This has become a very busy hobby for me,” said Braden, who has been a fixture in the baseball program at Farragut since he moved from Ripley, W.Va., more than three decades ago. “I don’t, for a minute, take credit for coaching up any of the players who went on to play college or professional baseball.”

Braden, who served four years in Vietnam and has coached baseball for 52 years dating back to when he was a high school student in West Virginia, may not be willing to take much credit for his work in the game, but plenty of his peers in the program are more than happy to give him credit.

“The biggest thing that Jim does is prepare the middle school players for the high school program,” FHS assistant baseball coach Mark Newby said. “If you’re going to play baseball at Farragut High School, it takes a lot of work.

“When the kids play at Farragut Middle School, they learn the Farragut High School system.”

Braden not only started the Farragut Middle School program, which now has seven teams and several coaches who have returned to coach despite not having kids in the program. He was instrumental in beginning a countywide middle school league.

“He started the middle school program and for him, it wasn’t daddy ball,” said Christian Academy of Knoxville baseball coach Tommy Pharr, who previously coached at FHS. “So often, middle school baseball is controlled by the parents.

“Jim has been a huge part of Farragut baseball and he did it all because he loved baseball and he loved baseball in Farragut. Dependability is big for me. I want to know what I can expect out of you. I just want everybody to know how dependable Jim has been.”

In addition to coaching baseball, Braden has also coached church league basketball, youth softball and youth football. But his true passion is baseball.

His son Mark, who played at Farragut and now works in the political arena in Nashville, said that his father’s influence goes far beyond the diamond, gridiron or basketball court.

“When I decided to help put this together, I can’t tell you the number of responses that I got from people who said that Dad taught them how to be a good person or a good Christian,” Mark said. “He taught them to treat people the way that they wanted to be treated.

“He taught me how to be a good husband and a good father. He also taught me how to treat people.”

Pharr also recalled that side of Braden.

“Like Mark said, Jim is a good husband, a good father and a provider for his family,” he said. “When people asked me why we were so successful at Farragut, I told them that it was because we have good players and good people. We have people like Jim Braden.”

Matt Buckner, Farragut’s current coach, agreed.

“I feel fortunate to work with guys like Jim Braden and [longtime friend of the FHS program] Ralph Skinner,” Buckner said. “I feel like I’m the guy who gets the benefits of working with and being around these great men.

“I’ve been around great coaches like coach Pharr and coach Braden. Farragut High School doesn’t have a better friend than Ralph Skinner. A word that I like to use is selfless. No one is more selfless than Ralph Skinner.”

Skinner had his own words for Braden, Mark, his wife, Catherine, and daughter, Laura.

“We love Jim and to Catherine, all I can say is ‘Thank you for letting Jim come out to play,’” Skinner said.

Ralph Levinson coached with Braden and remembers those days fondly.

“I never had more fun than I did when I coached with Jim Braden,” Levinson said. “I know that my son is a better person because of his experience playing for Jim.”

Braden prefers to let his accomplishments and contributions speak for themselves but he’s pleased that previous players come back to coach at Farragut Middle School.

“I’m proud that I have seven teams at the middle school,” he said. “I’m proud that I have several coaches and only two of them are dads. It’s great when you have former players who want to come back and coach.”

The night was intended for Braden but the evening closed with Skinner also being honored. Both men will have bricks on the FHS baseball Walk of Fame. The longtime voice of Farragut baseball was surprised and perhaps a bit overwhelmed.

“That was a total, total shock,” Skinner said. “This night was for Jim.”