Steve Woodard calls it a career
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
He fulfilled a life-long dream of playing in the big leagues. He was in the national spotlight of the major league playoffs. He played in historic ballparks, like Boston's Fenway Park, but he chose to give it all up to come home.
Seeing his son Wesley play his first year of Dixie Youth baseball this spring meant more to Hartselle's Steve Woodard than the big money and bright lights of major league baseball.
"I started thinking about retiring from baseball around the end of November," Woodard said. "My son was going to be playing five-and-six-year-old baseball this spring and I wanted to be there and see it. I wanted to coach him. That's more important. I want to be there and see him enjoy the game."
Woodard soon called his agent and made his retirement official, then he purchased Hartselle Sporting Goods from Richard and Teresa McGhee. It gives Woodard a chance to stay around sports even if he doesn't compete in them any longer.
"I enjoy being around the coaches and you get to talk about sports," Woodard said. "It's a lot of fun. I really enjoy this job. I'm content to go to the store each morning."
Woodard is now back where he enjoyed unprecedented success as a high school player.
He played on three state championship teams in four years of varsity baseball at Hartselle.
"I was fortunate, winning a state title is special, but three state titles was extra special," Woodard added. "Saturday, (Hartselle High teammate) Bradley Holt and I watched a tape of the '94 state championship game we played against Robertsdale. I have so many fun memories of playing for the Tigers. This town has been so good to me."
Woodard was surprised how much he remembered about the contest as he was reliving it again on tape. However, one part of those memories he keeps tucked away for safekeeping.
He doesn't wear any of his three state championship rings. He has them stored in a safety deposit box.
Woodard saw the Tigers play for the first time in years when he attended a home game against Austin on Feb. 25. He looked on as the Tigers won 6-5. As soon as the action started, Woodard found himself analyzing the ballgame.
"I started critiquing everything in my mind," Woodard said. "From what the next pitch should be to how the players wore their uniforms."
Woodard plans to watch a lot of Hartselle baseball this season and will follow the team on the road come state playoff time.
"I want to be at as many games as possible," Woodard said. "Hartselle has one of the top sports programs in the state. I know most of the coaches and they're so good to deal with."
Woodard missed playing in the World Series by one year. He was a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2003. He watched last fall as the Sox reached the fall classic for the first time since 1976.
"Boston was a great place to play," Woodard pointed out. "I was really happy for the guys when they won the series last year. They're a good group of guys. I enjoyed being their teammate in '03."
Making the majors was a fulfillment of what Woodard calls his "wildest dream possible."
Seeing his son grow up and enjoy the sport was more important to Woodard than the money he could make in the game.
"I don't think I'll miss the game one bit. I want to coach my son each year he plays. If Coach Booth will let me, I'd like to be an assistant when Wesley's in high school. But that's a long way off," Woodard said with a laugh.
Coming back to his birthplace and spending more time with his family have made Woodard very contented with his current situation.
"I'm with my son and I'm back home," Woodard said, "I feel better right now than I've ever felt."