By Phil Anastasia
Rich Bender figures it's only a matter of time before his Delran baseball team features a lineup loaded with home run hitters.
After all, it's only been 39 years.
"I'm still waiting," Bender said.
In the meantime, the Bears will continue to play the game the old-school, small-ball way: A base at a time, with a heavy emphasis on pitching, defense and fundamentals.
"Do it right and do it right for seven innings," Bender said of his philsophy.
A base at a time, a win at a time.
Those things tend to add up after 39 seasons. On Monday, Bender won his 600th career game as Delran beat Willingboro 13-0.
"It means I've been around a long time," Bender said in a futile effort to downplay the significance of the milestone.
It wasn't long before Bender was fighting back tears in talking about all those former players and assistants -- and the support of his family.
"A lot of time," Bender said before emotion got the best of him again.
Bender, 63, is the only coach in Delran history. The man known as "Papa Bear" started the program in 1976.
"I had the equipment in the back of my car and we played on a community field," Bender said.
His first win was against Northern Burlington.
"We stole home," Bender said. "I'll never forget that."
Bender went to high school at Hamilton West and played at Rider. He got the Delran job as a 24-year-old after two years as an assistant at Hamilton West.
Bender has a record of 600-309. His teams have won 10 division titles, five South Jersey titles and two state titles (1983 and 1995). His 1995 team probably was his best, going 25-1 and ending the season as the No. 1 team in the Newark Star Ledger state rankings.
Bender, 63, used to have his teams regularly practice before school. Now the Bears only do that during double sessions in the first week of workouts, with a 5 a.m. practice and another one after dismissal.
"He's a character," Delran senior Rob Conti said. "He's fun to be around. He always has stories."
Bender retired as a history teacher five years ago. If anything, that allowed him to devote more time to baseball.
He gets to school early before games and practices, puts some oldies on the stereo and prepares the field.
"That's a great world for a coach," Bender said.
The Bears have long been a team known for its use of the bunt. They had two bunt singles on Monday before taking their foot off the gas after building a 13-0 lead in two innings.
"What I want us to do it move runners," Bender said. "The bunt can be the best way to do that and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
"We're not a big Group 4 school that cuts people. We take anybody we can get and we piece it together.
"When the year comes that I get five or six home run hitters, I won't bunt."
Delran 3 (10)0 00 -- 13 11 0
Willingboro 000 00 -- 0 4 3
WP:Ryan Albertson. LP: Brian Shine.
2B: D-Ben Youngberg, Rob Conti; W-Miles McLoughn.
3B: D-Dave Geary.
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