For the past ten years, Bob Baxter has been a staple in the Fordham softball dugout and a constant on the summer recruiting trail. Baxter, who is always boasting a smile, a Fordham hat, and one of his colossal championship rings, announced his retirement from coaching after ten seasons as an assistant in the Bronx.
The 66-year-old Baxter, who coached softball, track, and football over a span of 40 years, retired from his job as a high school principal in 2004 and began coaching the Fordham softball team with his daughter, Bridget Orchard, the following season. Since then, Baxter has helped Fordham emerge as one of the best Division I softball programs on the east coast. His keen eye for talent and ability to make people feel appreciated are often responsible for luring top recruits to Rose Hill.
Since 2005, the father-daughter coaching tandem compiled a 379-209 record and never once endured a losing season together. The current state of Fordham’s program is a far cry from the dismal campaigns preceding the duo’s arrival, during which Fordham softball never once produced a winning record. Ten seasons, three conference championships, and four NCAA tournament appearances later, Baxter says the best part of his Fordham coaching experience has been the time spent with his daughter.
“The most rewarding thing is the relationship we have built,” Baxter said. “We have a great time and trust each other. It’s been a real bonding experience.”
For Orchard, Fordham’s head coach and a former softball standout at Villanova, the feeling is mutual. She looks back on the time softball has afforded her to spend with her father as being invaluable.
“For me, it’s been special because most people don’t get the opportunity to be around their Dad every day doing something you both love to do,” Orchard stated. “It’s not like a job for us. It’s fun to come and do this stuff. It’s a passion we both share.”
The passion that Orchard and Baxter share for softball and competing at a high level was ignited before Bridget even began playing the game in 1984. Orchard credits Baxter for instilling a competitive edge in her that has helped set her apart as both a softball player and coach.
“He was a track coach when I was growing up, so he would set up track meets and other competitive events in our house for my brother and me,” Orchard recalled. “Everything was a game, and the goal was always to beat my brother and win.”
Baxter has also helped Orchard find a balance between maintaining fierce competitiveness on the field and a familial atmosphere off of it. The pair has exemplified how a family environment can be a crucial ingredient in a team’s recipe for success.
“He has taught me how to make this program into a family atmosphere and that the stuff off the field is just as much a part of the coaching experience,” Orchard said. “The wins and losses are the fun and exciting things because they are the result of what you put in, but he has taught me that it is more about the experience and building relationships with people.”
What Baxter says he will miss most about coaching are not the big wins and gaudy championship rings they produce, but rather the subtleties of the game and experiences that are often overlooked.
“I’ll miss watching the games, cheering for the girls, and seeing people develop and pull through slumps and personal problems,” Baxter said. “But mostly, I’ll miss getting to spend so much time with Bridget.”
For the man behind Fordham softball’s success, there has been no greater victory.