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Taft High Coach Nets 600 Career Wins In Typical Quiet Fashion

By Justin Breen | April 21, 2014 7:53am
 Taft High School's Rich Pildes became the 19th coach in IHSA history to win 600 games after the Eagles beat Chicago Bulls College Prep 5-3 on Saturday. Pildes has won all 600 of his games at Taft, making him only the 12th coach in state history to win 600 games with one school.
Rich Pildes
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NORWOOD PARK — Taft High School baseball coach Rich Pildes was the only one Saturday who knew he was on the verge of winning his 600th game.

And he wasn't about to tell anyone else.

"I don't make much of that," said Pildes, who achieved the historic figure after the host Eagles beat Chicago Bulls College Prep 5-3 a few hours later. "I'm not a numbers guy, and I try to stay away from thinking about individual accomplishments."

But the 64-year-old Rogers Park resident indeed has accomplished a great deal at Taft, where he's coached for 34 years, including the last 30 as head man. Among the feats are 11 conference championships, four trips to the city playoff semifinals and a runner-up showing in 2010. The Eagles' IHSA regional title in 2009 at Maine South remains the only one won by any team at Taft.

 Rich Pildes (l.) poses with former assistant Matt Malarski after Taft High School won an IHSA baseball regional title in 2009. It's the only IHSA regional title in any sport in the school's history.
Rich Pildes (l.) poses with former assistant Matt Malarski after Taft High School won an IHSA baseball regional title in 2009. It's the only IHSA regional title in any sport in the school's history.
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Rich Pildes

Saturday's victory upped the Eagles' record to 12-1 this year and 600-232-2 in Pildes' three decades as skipper. He became the 19th IHSA baseball coach to claim 600 conquests and just the 12th to do so at a single school.

"I guess it means I've been doing this for a long time," Pildes said.

A love for baseball, politics

Pildes' current and former players said the fact he kept quiet about the milestone pretty much sums up Pildes, who also has spent the last 28 years as the coach and director of the Norwood Blues club baseball team. The Blues' roster consists of about 20 elite 16- to 18-year-old city and suburban players.

Ray Cekus, a first baseman/outfielder at Waubonsee Community College, played four years at Taft for Tildes and another three for the Norwood Blues — estimating more than 300 total games. Yet Cekus, of Jefferson Park, said he knows almost nothing about Pildes.

Taft senior designated hitter Eddie Torres said Pildes has never discussed anything about himself, other than he has a love of dogs.

"That's all I know about him," said Torres, of Norwood Park.

Pildes himself would touch on only a few details. He grew up in West Rogers Park and graduated from Sullivan High School and University of Illinois at Chicago. His parents and only brother are all dead. He does not have a wife or children. He is Jewish.

Pildes also enjoys politics — among his favorite Sunday activities is watching "Meet the Press" — and classical music. Pildes, also a longtime AP U.S. government and politics teacher at Taft, is a self-described "buff of the Supreme Court." A third cousin with the same name is one of the country's foremost experts on constitutional law — "the celebrity of our family," Pildes said.

It's quite clear that Pildes' No. 1 priority is baseball — and pretty much always has been. He was the captain of his eighth-grade team at Rogers Elementary School. He suited up for varsity at Sullivan and was an assistant there for the four years he attended UIC, starting at age 18. He's coached ever since, including a seven-year stint for USA Baseball. Some of the current and former Major League Baseball players he's coached include Mark Teixeira, Joe Girardi, Tony Cogan and Ken Grundt.

"I think baseball is everything to him," Torres said. "The way he teaches us, this is what he loves to do."

Cekus believed Pildes' true joy was watching his teams improve as each season progressed. He said Pildes never demanded anything less than 100 percent and constantly quizzed his players on his instructions.

"He teaches every single aspect of every single aspect of the game," Cekus said.

Alonso Ramirez, a Gordon Tech graduate who played two seasons on the Blues for Pildes in the early 1990s, said the coach's post-game speeches were "legendary" and could last more than an hour.

"He would and still does break down every inning after each game during his post-game wrap up," said Ramirez, who signed with the Cleveland Indians organization. "I remember being mesmerized by how well coach Pildes could break down a baseball game and teach you how to be more efficient and successful. ... If you listened attentively, you would learn so much about the game and life itself really."

Ramirez said he's used Pildes' guidelines in his own life, where he's a counselor and sophomore baseball coach at Palatine High School.

"I will be forever grateful to coach Pildes for the opportunities he has given me in my life," Ramirez said.

A room filled with awards

In 46 years of coaching, Pildes has missed just one game; he couldn't direct the Blues because he was coaching in a USA Baseball tournament.

A few results stand out. In 1985, in the second round of the city playoffs against Clemente, Taft rallied from a 2-0 deficit with two outs and the bases empty in the seventh inning to prevail in 10 innings. In the 2009 regional final, the Eagles plated nine runs in the seventh frame against Leyden to earn their lone postseason trophy.

That piece of hardware rests in a case near the school's gym, but dozens of the Eagles' baseball awards fill Pildes' classroom, which looks more like a large office. The room is covered by plaques, team photos and Taft baseball posters. Unless his students look closely, though, they'd never see the framed certificates from National High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association that saluted his 500th career victory in 2010.

Pildes, who has no plans to retire from teaching or coaching, will receive similar paperwork from both organizations for Saturday's 600th triumph.

And he'll rarely — if ever — refer to them.