Apprentice plays against mentor
McDonough graduate, now St. Charles head coach Zayas reunites with former coach Lydon on diamond
The typical routine meeting of baseball coaches to exchange lineup cards at home plate was anything but mundane on April 3 when St. Charles High School first-year head coach and McDonough High School alum Robby Zayas greeted Rams head coach Mike Lydon at Laurel Springs Regional Park in La Plata.
Zayas not only played four seasons for Lydon at McDonough, he was also a member of the Southern Maryland Mariners travel team that Lydon coached. Zayas, who went on to play for Salisbury University, occupied the same role as leadoff batter and center fielder for Lydon on both squads and April 3 the apprentice had the chance to meet his mentor for the first time approaching from opposing dugouts.
“It was surreal,” Zayas said of meeting with Lydon at home plate and exchanging lineup cards with his former coach. “I learned a lot about the game playing for coach Lydon when I was in high school and even before the game the other day he was giving me some advice on baseball. He’s always teaching his players, his assistant coaches and now even one of his former players.”
McDonough, which reached the Class 1A North Region final last year before falling to Patterson Mill of Harford County, eventually coasted to a 12-1 victory over St. Charles at Laurel Springs, the new home field for the Spartans who had opened the season by playing home games at Thomas Stone High School. When Zayas played for McDonough, St. Charles, the newest public school in Charles County, was not open and the Spartans program is still in its infancy.
“When Robby played for me at McDonough and for the Mariners, he was always a fun-loving kid,” Lydon said. “He wasn’t one of those real intense guys. He liked to have fun when he played. I think his claim to fame was when he hit that home run off Daryl Thompson [now with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs] his senior year.”
When the two came out to exchange lineup cards at home plate, Zayas reminded Lydon that he still had the same playbook his former coach had given him when he was with the Rams. To the mentor, that was perhaps the greatest compliment of all.
“When he told me that he still used that playbook, that really hit home,” Lydon said. “It’s been 12, 13 years since he played for me at McDonough and he’s still got the same playbook I gave him and he uses it to teach his kids. That says a lot of about him that he always wanted to learn. He’s still learning and his kids will learn a lot from him.”
L ydon and Zayas considered the outcome of the first game between them to be secondary to the occasion. McDonough — which slipped to 8-2 after being blanked 3-0 by Northern on Tuesday in a Southern Maryland Athletic Conference crossover contest — is among the perennial powers among Charles County teams in the SMAC, while St. Charles (2-7 after an 8-3 loss to North Point on Wednesday) is still very much in its infancy.
“What impressed me the most about watching Robby coaching during the game was that he never got upset and he never yelled at one of his players,” Lydon said. “They’re a young team and a fairly new program. Every kid knows when he makes a mistake. You don’t have to call him out on the field for it. Robby was very upbeat and very positive.”
When the teams meet again on April 26 at McDonough the contest will mark a homecoming of sorts for Zayas, who played for the Rams before they installed permanent dugouts and planted Bermuda grass in the infield. The other notable difference for Zayas will be that he will have to watch and coach from the visiting dugout for the first time.
“It’s going to bring back a lot of memories, I’m sure,” Zayas said of his pending return to his high school alma mater. “I don’t think too much has changed down there in the 12 years since I played there. I’m looking forward to walking back onto the field and seeing coach Lydon again at home plate. He’s always very supportive, no matter what team I’m coaching or what team I’m coaching against.”
St. Charles High School first-year head baseball coach Robby Zayas, center, converses with McDonough baseball coach Mike Lydon, right, prior to last week’s contest. Zayas played at McDonough for Lydon from 2002 to 2005 and also with the Southern Maryland Mariners travel team.