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From the Bench: Long before Charleston, 2017 has been Championship Year for Coach Robert Shields

By Jeff Toquinto on June 04, 2017 from Sports Blog via Connect-Bridgeport.com

When you’ve coached 1,000 games and you’re in the process of trying to win your sixth state championship and fourth in a row, it’s hard to pin someone down to talk about anything but the task at hand. Such was the case when I chatted with 30-plus year Bridgeport baseball Coach Robert Shields earlier this week before the state tournament kicked off Friday.
 
Understand, this was well before his Indians made history Saturday with their fourth-straight Class AA state title. Even had BHS came up short yesterday, 2017 had already been very kind to Robert Shields.
 
You see, long before the season started and well into the campaign, Robert Shields has undergone a transformation those that follow the program have probably noted. He’s not the man he used to be. And he’s the first to admit to you that it’s a good thing.
 
“I’ve lost 58 pounds,” said Shields. “I feel as good as I’ve felt in a long, long time.”
 
Yet, when asking him if his own personal actions that have led to a complete reversal of his health and well-being meant that the year was a success no matter what happened at Appalachian Power Park, Coach Shields emerged.
 
“It’s about the kids. I never want to say anything is successful before it’s done. These kids have done a whole lot of hard work on their own that have nothing to do with how I handle myself so I guess it would be unfair to talk much about how I view the season before it’s over,” said Shields.
 
Mention the word Tarra, however, and Shields talks a bit more. In fact, he talks jovially.
 
The man who many believed was married to baseball is now married to the former Tarra Smith. She’s now officially Mrs. Tarra Shields and the pair were married in February.
 
Understand that Tarra Shields did more than take Robert Shields’ hand in marriage. She’s proved to be the person who has encouraged him to have a lifestyle change that he admits he needed.
 
“I’m hoping, and I’m definitely thankful for it, that what’s transpired may add years to my life,” said Shields. “I’m talking emotionally and physically.
 
“She changed my life. Her first and then me,” Shields continued. “She was tactful about how she did it and made me aware that I could do this.”
 
Tarra Shields has prodded Robert Shields to change his habits, old habits that often die hard. The ball coach who would get home at 10 p.m. and head down to Twin Oaks for a hoagie, a few slices of pizza or some pasta doesn’t do that anymore. The coach who would hit the couch or chair when he had down time may instead hit the treadmill or go for a walk.
 
“You know, mentally you take a beating because you got guys like Fred Wilhelm and Frank Bellotte and Mark Shaw who would tease you unmercifully and sending you unflattering photos. It was tough. That motivated me, too,” said Shields of three guys who can take it and give it with the best of them. “I’ve always been active from coaching, but I needed a lifestyle change and Tarra helped me get there.”
 
So now instead of a disparaging word about his weight, Shields has to field other questions from people when he hasn’t seen them in a while. And he doesn’t mind answering them.
 
“The biggest question I have is ‘have you been sick?’ I smile and tell them what’s happened and they tell me ‘you lost a body.’ The comments are outlandish and I actually welcome them,” said Shields. “I don’t know if it would have happened without Tarra. It’s probably safe to say it wouldn’t have happened this quick or this soon.”
 
Shields met her as he’s met a lot of individuals through the years – through sports as he coached her son. He met her a few years ago when bringing baseball equipment back to be used by American Legion.
 
“Coach (Pete) Iquinto left it on my porch and I brought it to the field and she was off to the side and when I approached she congratulated me on the state championship,” said Shields. “It was basically small talk and that was about it.”
 
The next encounter came when Shields had her son starting against his old hometown team from Lewis County in a freshman basketball game. Shields said he always tries to let each kid start at least once and if they’re playing a team that the player may have a particular reason to start, he’ll try to accommodate.
 
“She thanked me for letting her son start in that game. I didn’t think much of it because I’ve done it before. I talked briefly and since it was a late Friday night I was just trying to get home,” said Shields. “She reminded me about that moment. She said she thought I was blowing her off.”
 
Shields said eventually he thought maybe he should ask her about going out. And he didn’t get the answer he expected or an answer at all.
 
“I was ready to get chopped down and she kind of hem hauled and didn’t really give me an answer so I kind of went about my business,” said Shields.
 
Eventually, it would change. During last year’s three-week training period, Shields noticed a flaw in her son’s swing. He called the cell phone number he thought was her son’s and Tarra answered.
 
“It was truly an accident. I asked who it was and she asked who it was. She told me it was her number and told her what I wanted. She didn’t believe me,” said Shields. “The good thing was we ended up talking throughout the summer … and we hit it off.”
 
One of the first things Tarra Shields introduced to her future husband was to take part in the Thrive for Men program. Shields said the program of pills and shakes to help with weight loss wasn’t too intriguing at first.
 
“Nothing starts off the greatest, but then instead of heading too Twin Oaks late and hungry, I would have a shake instead. I started doing that, drinking more water, exercising, and devoting a minimum of a half an hour each day to exercise to get in shape,” said Shields. “Eventually I noticed and others noticed and that treadmill my sister Michaela gave me was no longer just standing straight up.
 
“I knew I needed to get in shape and no one had been on me more than my family. They eventually gave up to some extent,” Shields continued. “As I was going through this, I realized my family and friends were worried about me. Sometimes it’s hard to take criticism in any form even if it’s meant to help you out.”
 
The new Robert Shields that appeared this year for the 2017 season of Bridgeport Indian baseball was a whole lot like the old one when it came to results and approach to the game. Physically, there was a huge difference.
 
It was a difference kick started by his new wife and ultimately still continuing today. What that could mean is a few more years, or perhaps decades, of winning for the 53-year-old coach.
 
“I’ve played just over 1000 games and this gives me a chance to be around to coach a whole lot more games,” said Shields, who said Sam Alvaro having him assist coaching football at Notre Dame got him off the couch from August to November and was huge as well. “Ultimately, the goal beyond winning is to touch the lives of a lot of kids. Winning just makes everything that much more enjoyable.”
 
Enjoy life coach. Enjoy the wins. Enjoy all that comes your way. And for those that have been part of 30 years of Bridgeport baseball dominance, be sure and thank his wife for the new and improved Coach Robert Shields.
 
No matter what transpired this weekend in Charleston, I know you wouldn’t say it so I will. You already had a championship season before you won your fourth title in a row Saturday.
 
Editor's Note: All baseball photos of Robert Shields by www.benqueenphotography.com, while the second photo of Robert and Tarra Shields courtesy of the coach.


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