Jerry Don Gleaton enjoyed a 12-year professional baseball career by being left-handed, staying healthy and developing into a jack-of-all-trades pitcher.
He prepared, mentally and physically, to be a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher. As a reliever, he prepared to close ballgames, face one batter or pitch longer stints in the middle innings.
Gleaton is now 54, long since retired from baseball and living full-time in his hometown of Brownwood. But he’s still a jack of all trades.
He has two paying jobs — one as activities director at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church and one as assistant baseball coach at Howard Payne University. His church position has led him to organize a local youth flag football league for boys in kindergarten through the fourth grade, as well as basketball leagues for kids and adults.
Gleaton has other time-consuming volunteer jobs — president of Brownwood Freshman Little League Baseball and board of directors member of the Boys and Girls Club of Brown County. He even operates the scoreboard clock at Brownwood High School varsity football games.
“A lot of people have the heart for helping and volunteering, but they don’t have the means. Jerry Don has the heart for it, but he also has the means — financially and time-wise,” said Dallas Huston, a Brownwood sports radio personality for six decades. “He was well-compensated by Major League Baseball. That has helped free up his time, and he doesn’t waste his time.
“The Lord blessed him with a tremendous opportunity, and he has taken advantage of it. He has really, really, really helped a lot of people in this town. He has made a difference for a lot of kids.”
Gleaton doesn’t doubt the Lord’s involvement in his busy schedule, but he offers a slightly different explanation.
“The good Lord kept me single for a reason,” Gleaton said. “There’s not enough time for me to be married.
“I have a passion to do things for kids, so I don’t look at it as being time-consuming or stressful. I look at it as trying to have an impact on kids’ lives. I have a lot of volunteers and parents who help with Little League. At the Boys and Girls Club, there are so many people who do more than I do.”
Maybe so, but when the Boys and Girls Club moved its headquarters from two rooms in a school gym to a former elementary school campus that included 1.6 acres, it was Gleaton who kept the grass mowed during the transition. He also can be seen sweeping, mopping and vacuuming floors at the Coggin Avenue Baptist Christian Life Center. He also washes dishes every Wednesday night after the church’s weekly dinner.
“A guy named Jim Hardy always did the dishes, and he got to looking like he was ready to give it up,” Gleaton said. “I told him, ‘I’m here if you need me.’ I watched what he did, and then I started doing the dishes. That was 10 years ago.
“But it has its perks. I get a take-out, home-cooked meal. No bachelor I know of would turn that down.”
After retiring as a baseball player in 1993, Gleaton worked as a scout with the Detroit Tigers for two years. After that, he moved back home in 1996 — 20 years after he graduated from Brownwood High School.
“I didn’t know what I’d do or what to expect,” Gleaton said. “I started helping my brother coach his Little League team. The president of the league didn’t want to do it anymore, and I got volunteered.”
Two years later, Howard Payne approached Gleaton about being the pitching coach for its nonscholarship baseball program. And so on. And so on.
Gleaton jumped at the opportunities to get involved with youth in his hometown.
“This community has always been sports-oriented, and has always taken care of its young people,” Gleaton said. “I had a lot of influences with my teachers and coaches. They were positive. They were always telling me, ‘You can do this.’
“When I was growing up here, a lot of men sacrificed their time so we could have fun and do what we wanted. With what God has given me, I wanted to give back to the community because the community always supported me.”
With Little League, Gleaton’s responsibilities include registering players, finding coaches, conducting player drafts and drawing up schedules. He also coaches an 11- and 12-year-old team.
“I have always said you can see the attitude of a team by the coach, and with Jerry Don, he is competitive but with class. It’s all about the fellowship with him,” said David Withers, parks and recreation director for the City of Brownwood, which ultimately oversees Little League Baseball.
With the Boys and Girls Club, Gleaton participates in fund-raisers and uses a long list of contacts to make ideas become reality.
“He gives us his time, his talent and his treasure,” said Danny Willingham, executive director of the local Boys and Girls Club. “If we need pizza for a pizza party, he says, ‘I know him. I’ll take care of it.’ If we need the gym floor resurfaced, he knows who to call.
“We couldn’t do half of what we do without him. The people he asks will do things for him.”
With his professional sports contacts, Gleaton often obtains autographed baseballs and footballs to be sold or auctioned to benefit local youth sports.
Gleaton typically spends his mornings at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church, where he makes schedules, finds referees and secures facilities for all the sports activities the church coordinates. Many of his nights and Saturdays are spent overseeing league games.
In the afternoons, Gleaton is at Howard Payne for four to five hours, helping head coach Stephen Lynn mentor the Baptist university’s baseball team. Having pitched in the Major Leagues gives Gleaton instant credibility with his HPU pitchers.
“He provides tremendous knowledge of how to prepare for ballgames, and how to prepare for adversity,” Lynn said. “He has a way of relating to the players that allows them to feel comfortable around him. He doesn’t have a big league attitude and turn his nose at these kids. But at the same time, he’s very focused and meticulous.”
Even though he leaves the church behind in the afternoons, Gleaton doesn’t leave behind the way of life.
“He’s pretty grounded in his faith,” Lynn said, “and because of that, he’s able to give sound leadership from a Christian standpoint. Some kids, when they get here, they know church, but they don’t really know church. They see how Coach Gleaton lives his life, and subconsciously, a seed is planted that they figure out as they go through life.”
In April, when HPU is still playing baseball and Little League has started, a typical day for Gleaton begins at the church at 8:30 a.m., then proceeds to HPU from 1:30 to 6 p.m., and includes Little League practice until dark. If there are Little League games at night, Gleaton often stays late to lock up the facilities and doesn’t get home until 11:30 p.m.
Despite being busy, Lynn said he couldn’t recall any scheduling conflicts at HPU with Gleaton.
“He’s a jack of all trades. He’s able to devote 100 percent to one thing. Then when that’s over, he goes 100 percent to something else — whether it’s college baseball practice, Little League practice or washing dishes on Wednesday night,” Lynn said.
Some former professional players can’t coach because they don’t have the patience to coach players who aren’t as talented and dedicated as they were. That’s not an issue with Gleaton, who became a student of baseball because he didn’t have a blazing fastball or an array of Hall of Fame pitches.
“I was on that shuttle (between minor league and Major League baseball) for about half of my career,” Gleaton said. “Because I struggled at the big-league level, I realize I have to be positive with players — whether they’re in Little League or in college. They’ve been told enough they can’t do this or that.
“They can get their mind full of mush if you overload them. I try to keep it simple. Give them three or four basic things to be good at. If they get hold of that, you can add to it.”
Whether he’s coaching, serving as a league president or overseeing church league activities, Gleaton has learned to treat people fairly, hold his tongue and never forget the bigger cause.
“God has given me a platform,” Gleaton said, “and the passion to fulfill that platform.”