Former Pan Am, UTPA baseball ‘Coach Al’ Ogletree dies at 89

In this 2013 file photo, former UTPA baseball head coach Al Ogletree talks about Jody Ramsey during the 2013 UTPA Athletics Hall of Fame Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 at the UTPA Ballroom in Edinburg. (Gabe Hernandez | The Monitor)

EDINBURG — The Texas baseball community lost one of its most beloved figures as former Pan American and University of Texas-Pan American coach Al Ogletree died Monday morning at the age of 89.

He was surrounded by family, photos of his late wife, Joann, and memorabilia including medals, plaques and scorecards from his days as a legendary coach in the dugout.

Ogletree, widely known as “Coach Al,” left his mark on baseball throughout the state as he held head coaching positions at the University of Dallas and Sul Ross State before spending 29 years coaching at Pan American and UTPA, where he compiled a record of 1,084-618-1 and led the Broncs to the College World Series in 1971.

UTRGV Hall of Fame member Gary Doyle, who played for Ogletree on the College World Series team, credited “Coach Al” with a large part of that historic 1971 team’s success.

“You talk about legends, well he (Ogletree) was real. We all knew that he truly loved us and we all loved him,” Doyle said. “The first year before the season started he got us all together. He told us, ‘I don’t believe in rules, therefore we don’t have any. All I ask is that you get your rest before the game and be ready to play.’ That was it. He trusted us and we totally trusted him. You couldn’t find a more loyal and honest person anywhere in the world.”

Ogletree led the Broncs from 1968 through 1997 and took them to the only CWS trip in program history with a 44-9 season in 1971, ultimately ending in a fourth place finish for Pan Am. During his tenure, the Broncs reached the NCAA Regionals 13 times and he retired with 1,217 career victories in 1997.

“Coach Al” was named The Sporting News National Coach of the Year for his run to the CWS in 1971, and has been inducted into the Austin High School Hall of Fame, Texas A&M University Hall of Fame, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame, and Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

“He was like our father figure, and I can’t really put my finger on how he did that, he just did it,” said Jack Ewing, who played for Ogletree at Pan Am in 1974 and 1975. “He had a certain charm, a certain charisma, he had a genuine concern for you. He cared about the baseball — don’t get me wrong, he was a disciplinarian, he made us work hard and all that — but we just played for him because he was just a great mentor, a great coach and a great manager of people. He was a remarkable man.”

Ogletree produced 23 MLB draft picks, three of which reached the highest level, and put Pan American baseball on the map. But perhaps what’s most memorable about “Coach Al” were the lifelong relationships he built with his players. Ogletree is described as a man who loved the game, who loved his kids, and kept in touch with his former players even when he was bedridden.

Driving past UTRGV Baseball Stadium at night, the statue of “Coach Al” can be seen illuminated in front of the Coach Al & Joann Ogletree Plaza, which was opened on Feb. 24, 2017 in honor of the Broncs coach and his wife. While “Coach Al” has died, his legacy will live on the diamond, in the dugout, and in the hearts of everybody he met.

“He leaves a lot of memories, a lot of people love him, and for people like myself and others who played for him, we’ll love him until the day we die,” Ewing said. “His legacy at Pan Am, UTRGV now, it will live on forever, especially with having the statue there in the plaza. His name will be part of the program forever, no matter if it’s called the Vaqueros or Broncs, or whatever name ends up happening in the future. His name will always be part of the foundation of that program.”

bramos@themonitor.com