Discussing the 2014 prospects for the New Albany High School baseball team less than a week after the 2013 season ended, coach Bob Talpas sounded at times as if this offseason would be nothing special.
"We lose six seniors, but we had a good sophomore class and our (junior varsity) team was solid," Talpas said. "We're all very optimistic, and I think we have a shot to be a contender in the (OCC-Capital Division) again."
Talpas' influence will be felt next year, but not from the dugout.
He coached his final game May 15 when New Albany lost to eighth-seeded Olentangy Liberty 11-1 in five innings in the second round of the Division I district tournament. The Eagles, who were seeded 25th, finished 12-16 overall and went 6-8 in the OCC-Capital to tie Big Walnut for fifth behind champion Olentangy Orange (12-2).
The loss to Liberty closed the books on Talpas' 26-year career, which spanned four decades and included 326 wins, one state championship, one regional title, two district titles and five league championships. His career also included a 10-year hiatus in which he served as athletics director and helped oversee construction of the current high school.
Talpas' most memorable win came on June 5, 2004, when New Albany defeated five-time state champion Coldwater 5-4 in the Division III state final at Thurman Munson Stadium in Canton. It was the first state title for the program and school.
"He is the definition of New Albany athletics," said 2004 graduate Aaron Krajacic, who played first base on the state-championship squad. "(His retirement) is a loss for the team and the school, but he's accomplished everything he can there, and he's going out on his terms. You can't ask for a lot more than that."
A 1974 Cleveland Lincoln West graduate, Talpas participated in football and track and field at Otterbein University. He remains the Cardinals' second-best triple jumper with a distance of 47 feet, 1 3/4 inches and was a two-time all-Ohio Athletic Conference selection in football as a defensive back.
Talpas arrived at New Albany after graduating from Otterbein in 1978 and took over the Eagles' baseball program in 1979, coaching until 1991, when he stepped down to become the school's athletics director. After 10 years in administration, he itched to return to the field and returned to coaching in 2001.
"It was a lot of long hours and late nights as an A.D., and I did miss coaching," Talpas said. "Being an A.D. made me a better coach. (In 1979), I'd been thrown in early out of college and didn't really have a plan. When I went back, I'd seen what some of the better coaches did who won at New Albany and even what some of the not-so-better ones did. I saw those results and how the teams were managed.
"We had to get more tradition into the program and take care of the lower levels. Growing like we were, we had to have freshmen and middle-school teams. We hadn't had those things yet and by (2001) we didn't have a choice."
That cultivation of the game from the ground up was the first thing Bobby Tarnapoll recalled when asked about Talpas.
"I've lived here since kindergarten and went to camps as a kid and we all knew who he was," said Tarnapoll, a 2013 graduate who saw playing time at first base and in the outfield. "When my class got to high school, he always preached to us about giving back to the kids, reminding us that once upon a time, most of us were in their shoes. That was us learning about the game from the older kids."
New Albany's run to the state title in 2004 remains the stuff of legend in the community. Not only did the Eagles win 12 of their final 13 games, including all eight in the postseason, after winning only six of their first 17, but they were down to their final strike in a district final against top-seeded Liberty.
Liberty pitcher Eric Best, the district Player of the Year, had a no-hitter and a 3-1 lead through six innings. After retiring the first two batters in the top of the seventh, Best had two strikes on outfielder Josh Beckner before walking him. The next batter, infielder Kevin Corica, also drew a walk and shortstop Ben Jeffers singled to load the bases.
Catcher Jayce Stewart followed with a two-run double to tie the game and, after Johnson was intentionally walked, Krajacic delivered a three-run double to give the Eagles a 6-3 lead. New Albany allowed two runs in the bottom of the inning but held on for a 6-5 win.
In 2009, that game was named the No. 1 upset in the ThisWeek era, which began in 1990.
According to Krajacic, his clutch-hit against the Patriots wouldn't have been possible if Talpas hadn't helped revamp his swing a few years earlier.
"He taught me to hit the proper way," Krajacic said. "I always used to put too much weight on my front foot. He taught me how to stay back, especially on curveballs, and become a better power hitter. He was good with helping all of us have more power."
New Albany was the first team to win a state championship with 12 or more losses. The next year, Gibsonburg won the Division IV title despite going 14-17.
"Our mantra, if you can call it that, was just to win every inning," said Jeffers, a 2004 graduate. "(Talpas) always told us there were seven different pieces to the game, and it was very helpful. It always helped us focus. He never looked too far ahead, and we didn't, either."
Talpas, who has served as assistant athletics director since 2001, began mulling retirement a few years ago and began delegating responsibilities to assistant coach and successor Justin Grieger the past two seasons. Among his responsibilities during the 2013 season, Grieger took care of scheduling games and practices and coached third base, a role traditionally reserved for the head coach.
"I knew I had an interest in being a head coach, and coach Talpas put a lot of trust in me," said Grieger, a member of the Eagles' coaching staff since 2005 who also serves as athletics director at New Albany Middle School. "To have someone with 30-plus years of experience who has had the kind of success he's had taking me under his wing, it's just so valuable. I've had a great chance to develop and improve a lot of coaching skills because of that."
New Albany's baseball field was renamed Bob Talpas Field in 2006.
Talpas has been inducted into three halls of fame -- the MSL (2005), New Albany (2007) and Central District Baseball Coaches Association (2010). During his tenure, the Eagles grew from a Division IV program to Division I and were members of the now-defunct Central Buckeye League, MBC and MSL before joining the OCC in 2007. They won five league titles and two district championships, with the second coming in 2010.
While he has retired from coaching baseball, Talpas plans to continue to serve as an assistant football coach at New Albany.
"I'm just relaxing for now," he said recently. "I've been to a few retirement parties and a few weddings. You know how that goes. But football will be starting up again before we know it. I'll find a way to keep busy."