FORT WORTH - "Every time I walk through these gates, I think about how fortunate I was to have been a high school coach," Tommy Elliott said, walking into the baseball stadium at Arlington Heights.
Elliott doesn't have many of those walks left. The longtime Arlington Heights baseball coach is preparing his team for a weekend series against Cleburne in the second round of the playoffs.
Whenever the season ends for the Yellow Jackets, that's when Elliott's coaching career will end. After 36 years of coaching, including the last 30 as the head coach at Heights, Elliott is retiring at the end of the season.
"As we were playing in different places, I'm playing on fields that I've played on for the last 30 years; realizing that from a coaching standpoint, this will be the last time I would be on that field," Elliott said.
In those 30 years, Elliott's teams have made the playoffs 24 times, gone to the state finals five times, and won the state championship in 1996.
He's coached two generations of players, and he's coached them the same way.
"Good, bad, or indifferent, I hadn't changed much over the years, so they know what they're getting into," Elliott said. "I think a lot of people like that stability."
Heights third baseman Pascual Mendoza liked the idea.
"Part of the reason I came here is because I wanted to be coached by someone who coached my dad," said Mendoza, whose father played for Elliott.
Steve Pokluda has been an assistant on Elliott's staff for the last six years.
"Older players who come back, they say the same thing -- he works on the little things that lead to the big things," Pokluda said. "Because if you play baseball, it's the little things that get you beat."
After more than 1,000 games as a high school baseball coach (70 percent of them wins), Elliott leaves Arlington Heights better than he found it.
"I feel like everything we've done at Heights has gotten better over the years," Elliott said. "The wins and losses, that's just part of it, but the facilities have gotten better, the coaching staff's gotten better. I hope me as a teacher and a coach, I've improved in my skills."
He will be a tough act to follow.