Not only does Eddie Baca know football, but he also undoubtedly knows the power of faith during the most difficult of times.
The Pittsburg Pirates’ defensive coordinator, now in his third football season, answers to his son—literally. Eddie Baca is the father of eldest son, Brad Baca, Pittsburg’s Athletic Director and Head Football Coach.
When son Brad was hired to be the next head coach for Pittsburg ISD in January of 2015, he immediately approached his father about joining him in Pirate Nation. At the time, Eddie Baca had just retired after some 30 years as a coach for more than two dozen schools throughout the state.
“Dad was the obvious choice,” Brad Baca said in an interview for The Tri-County Press in 2015. “I know no one who knows this game or me better than him. We had always talked about coaching together someday. This was now the perfect opportunity.”
So after a few family discussions, the Baca patriarch agreed to join his eldest son in Pittsburg. The move meant the youngest of five Baca sons, Brian, would also be coming to Pittsburg as a senior complete with an impressive quarterback arm. Brian is now in his sophomore year as quarterback for the East Texas Baptist University Tigers.
In that first season at Pittsburg, under the guidance of the Baca trifecta, the trio helped to turn a fledgling football program into a formidable powerhouse. The Pirates posted a 9-1 season the first year the Bacas joined the program after finishing 4-6 (2013 and 2014) and 2-8 in 2012. Last year, the Pirates finished the season 5-6 after a bi-district loss to Jasper 24-17. So, a few months after the season ended, in early spring when Eddie Baca felt a knot on his neck, he knew he had to see a doctor. “I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew I had to get it checked out,” Eddie Baca said. Test results showed the growth was a result of swollen lymph nodes. Doctors removed the area on his neck and also his tonsils after determining that he did indeed have cancer in his right tonsil.
“I couldn’t even say the word,” he said. “I just referred to it as the c-word. It was just hard to imagine. It was all so surprising.” Brad Baca vividly recalls when he first found out his father had cancer. “I kept waiting for Dad to call me with the test results that day and when he had not called me back I got worried so I called him,” Brad Baca said. “I could immediately hear it in his voice. I was shocked because my Dad has always been the picture of health. He’s always been about good nutrition and exercise. For anybody in the world, he was the last person I would expect to get it.”
“But just like anything else, Dad accepted the challenge and we all, as a family, rallied behind him,” Brad Baca continued. “Right after that, we all got together as a family and said we would be there for him and that we were ready for whatever happened next.” What happened next happened very fast. Fifteen years ago, Eddie’s sister had been diagnosed with cancer and received treatment at the world-renowned M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. A few phone calls later, she had her brother an appointment with one of her hospital contacts. “It usually takes a lot longer to get into M.D. Anderson if you even get in, but this was fast,” Eddie Baca said. “That was on a Friday and I was there the following Tuesday seeing the doctors. God really took care of us in this situation.”
Right after school ended in May, Eddie Baca and his supportive wife, Leslie, of nearly four decades, made the journey to Houston to begin seven, grueling weeks of a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. As divine intervention would have it, Eddie’s sister lived in Houston so her home became their home. “We were just so blessed to be able to stay with my sister while I went through treatment,” he said. “I had chemo on Tuesdays and radiation every day so weekends were great because I got a short break from the treatments. You have a totally different perspective on life once you sit in the chair for chemo.”
After almost two months “in the chair”, the Bacas returned home to Pittsburg—just in time for the start of football, two-a-days, on Aug. 7. Days after his final treatment sporting an extra layer of protective clothing and a wide-brim hat, Eddie Baca returned to the gridiron.
“Dad never missed a beat,” Brad Baca said. “He was literally ready to go from Day 1. I’ve always looked up to him because he has always been such a strong man, but I really gained a lot of respect for him seeing him go through what he went through and then returning so soon afterward.”
“Since the treatments, I have experienced physical strength I didn’t even think I had,” Eddie Baca said. “I have had a lot of energy since the treatment and I am so thankful for that. I can’t even explain it. What is unusual is the fact that we’ve had one of the coolest, overcast summers in years. It’s almost like God ordered the weather just for me,” he said with a smile.
“Going through this just reminded me that there’s more to life than football,” Eddie Baca said. “Football, though, has been a great vehicle to teach kids about life and to hopefully have a positive influence on them. I think of what we do with football as a ministry. The players trust us and they know we love them.”
Eddie Baca also loves the reassurances a certain scripture passage provides for him.
“I live by Romans 8:28: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ It’s really all I need to know. Because I know this situation was not a mistake, I have never questioned God. I know there’s a purpose for me going through this. I know that I am eternally secure in Christ. I don’t worry about that. I completely trust Him.”
With favorable reports since his treatments, the Bacas have now settled back into handling business on the football field. “This season we have really learned some things about ourselves as a team,” Brad Baca said. “We’ve really worked on being prepared from the first snap to the last. The players know they’ve gotta want it and they really want it.”
After suffering two losses during the preseason, the Pirates’ district challengers will include Atlanta, Spring Hill, Pleasant Grove, Gladewater and arguably one of their toughest competitors, the Gilmer Buckeyes, who last won state in 2014. “For the juniors on the team, we’re the only high school football coaches they’ve had because they were freshmen when we came here,” Brian Baca said. “In that time, we’ve developed a good, working relationship with them. They’ve always been willing to allow us to coach them. In year 3, they have brought in 100 percent to what we are trying to do here. They know that if they give the great effort the wins and stats, all of that will always take care of itself.”
Like father like son, Eddie Baca also sees his move to Pittsburg as a win-win regardless of what the final scoreboard shows each week.
“I really think about what I’ve been through these last few months as a testament to what God can do,” Eddie Baca said. “I also feel like He led us here. What a joy it has been to be here with Brad every day. For me, it really doesn’t get any better than this.”