By Gary Fauber Assistant Sports Editor
Tim Epling had a successful career as a college pitcher, then spent six years as a Minor League Baseball umpire. He came back home to Beckley and became a successful coach both at Liberty High and WVU Tech.
Along the way, he might have thought he knew it all.
Ron Wolforth came along and showed Epling he wasn’t as wise as he thought.
“I would not have the success I have had if not for him and Jill, his wife,” Epling said. “They are a baseball team that has changed my life, from a young coach (to now). You think you’ve got all this experience from college and all that. And then you find out what teaching’s all about. And they are great teachers. So whatever success we have had, 95 percent of it goes to Ron and Jill. They’re like mentors to me.
“I’m very privileged to know good people who know more about it then I do. … About 99.9 percent of the stuff Ron does, I keep. From that aspect of it, my life would not be where it’s at if it wasn’t for them.”
Epling first met the Wolforths in 2001 at their Texas Baseball Ranch in Houston. Much of the philosophy Epling employs today, both as the manager of the West Virginia Miners and in regard to pitchers’ arm health, is attributed to Wolforth.
Fourteen years ago, there was a 3-year-old running around the ranch, even then soaking it all up.
Today, Wolforth’s son, Garrett Wolforth, is a 17-year-old catcher and legitimate pro prospect. On Monday, he reported to Beckley to join Epling and the Miners, who open the 2015 Prospect League season Wednesday at Chillicothe.
“I’m enjoying it here,” Garrett said during a break in practice. “It’s a chance to play baseball every day. If you love baseball, then this is what you ultimately want to do. I see this as a perfect way to play with a lot of high-level talent every day and getting experience as to what it’s going to be like.”
Wolforth, who graduated a year early from Concordia Lutheran High School in Tomball, Texas, signed a letter-of-intent to play at Dallas Baptist. He got to know current Miners teammates Cal Hernandez and Hunter Vansau — redshirts at DBU — during a camp for baseball commits.
Still, Wolforth can’t even vote yet, so this experience could be tough on him mentally. He says being around a familiar face in Epling will make it easier.
“I’ve known Tim for a long time,” Wolforth said. “He went to a bunch of my dad’s clinics. I’ve probably known him since before I can remember, probably since I was 2 or 3 years old.
“It will (make it easier). And I know a couple guys here (Hernandez and Vansau). Knowing people when you go somewhere away from home always helps.”
“Garrett’s coming in, he’s a 17-year-old kid,” Epling said. “He’s got a lot of things he’s got to learn. Not just him, but all of our players. It’s going to be struggle, success. Struggle, success. Struggle, success. That’s the way we want it. By the end of the year, I hope we have a good product.”
Wolforth has been part of a lot of winning baseball. Last summer, his team won the prestigious Perfect Game World Series, which attracted 20 of the top teams in the country. Just a couple of weeks ago, Concordia Lutheran won the TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) Class 5A state championship.
Now he hopes to help lead the Miners back to the league playoffs, which they missed last year for the first time in the organization’s five years of existence.
After that, Wolforth will start his college career at Dallas Baptist, which has developed into a national powerhouse. The Patriots — who have yet another 2015 Miner on the roster in pitcher Gavin Fritz — are 43-13 and will host an NCAA Regional this weekend.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Wolforth said. “Coach (Dan) Heefner has done a tremendous job of turning that into a national powerhouse, as you’ve seen the last couple of years. It’s a great opportunity to have for a school like that to want you to play for a high-caliber Division I school.”
Wolforth will surely learn from the experience — just like Epling learned from his dad.