When John Hendrick opened his bar, , at the opposite end of the plaza from Dan Flynn’s State Farm insurance agency in 2008, it didn’t take long for the two to become fast friends.
The pair had a lot in common, being independent business owners and former baseball players with supportive wives and a passion for life. In fact, Flynn attended the wedding of John and his wife, Emily, and Emily wound up working in Dan’s office.
But as close as the two had become in the time they had known each other, neither one ever expected they would be working so closely together in the evenings as they did during the day.
Last September, after two years as an assistant, Flynn was named head coach of the baseball team. Naturally, he turned to his baseball-loving buddy and strip-mall mate, Hendrick, to help him coach the team.
“I met John when he opened, and we immediately hit it off because we have similar personalities,” Flynn said from his office last week. “When I got the job, I didn’t have any assistants lined up, so I asked John if he would coach the infielders.”
“At first, he wasn’t sure because of the time involved, but I told him I couldn’t do it alone. It didn’t take long before he said, 'I’m in',” Flynn said.
“I was a little apprehensive because of the time issue,” Hendrick admitted. “But eventually I said yes because Dan is such a good guy and we have such a good chemistry.”
Businessmen With Baseball Backgrounds
Though neither man had any real coaching experience before joining the Largo program, they both have extensive baseball backgrounds.
Flynn, 41, was an all-state outfielder growing up in Maryland and was recruited by many colleges, but he blew out his shoulder while playing junior college ball and quickly saw his pro prospects dry up.
“As much as I loved the sport, I didn’t let it crush me," Flynn said. “I was disappointed, but I knew I had to move on.”
Hendrick, 38, was a star shortstop on three local high school teams, Clearwater Central Catholic, Dunedin and Largo, where he spent two seasons. His playing days came to an end after finishing his career at Division II University of South Carolina Aiken.
Both saw their baseball dreams end prematurely, but neither lost their passion for the sport.
While Flynn and his wife, Teri, were moving around the country as State Farm employees, Hendrick was working locally in bars and restaurants while doing sales jobs in between.
In 2003, Flynn took over the on South Belcher Road, and five years later Hendrick, after going into business with a partner he met at Peggy O’Neill’s in Palm Harbor, opened Finley’s about a hundred yards away.
'I Know We're Going to Win Here'
Today, the pair are trying to build a program at a school not known for its prowess on the baseball diamond.
“Largo is a football and basketball school, always has been,” Hendrick said. “They’ve never had a baseball tradition here, ever. Dan and I are trying to change that.”
Comprised of a mixture of talented upperclassmen like pitcher Daniel Koker and outfielder Derek Webb, and emerging young players like designated hitter Tyler Short, pitcher Chris D'Angelo and second baseman Jacob Henniger, the team has had its struggles on the field this season — its record was 6-14-1 at the time of this writing.
But in the eyes of the head coach, the future is bright for a school that has never had a winning tradition in the sport he loves.
“You have to change the whole culture of the program, from the uniforms to the field to the players on the field,” said Flynn, who also is the head coach of the Packers' girls varsity soccer team.
“It’s been tough this year. We’ve beaten ourselves so many times, and we’ve lost a lot more games than I anticipated we would," he said. "But I know we’re going to be competitive, and I know we’re going to win here.”
Hendrick echoed his buddy’s sentiments.
“It’s been a slow, bumpy road this season, but it’s like we’re starting from scratch, so you’re going to have a rough first season," he said.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”