It was right out of a Hollywood script.
A legendary, life-long, multi-championship baseball guy — player, coach, instructor and confidant to dozens of current and former college, professional and retired players — dying on a baseball diamond.
Like “The Natural,” right?
Well, a tragic Hollywood twist almost happened in Beverly Farms, Mass., last month at the Endicott College softball field.
Former Andover baseball coaching great and retired teacher Dave Bettencourt, now a volunteer assistant for his daughter Katie Bettencourt, was the victim.
Dave was standing in the dugout about 30 seconds after arriving at the park when, all of sudden, he plopped to the ground like a bag of baseballs.
“I parked the car near the field and walked over toward the entrance and went up the walkway,” said Bettencourt. “As I walked by the trainer he said, ‘Here comes coach!’
“And I apparently didn’t respond, whereas normally I’m hootin’ and hollerin’ about something. I just walked to the end of the dugout and dropped to the ground,” said Bettencourt, who coached Andover High baseball to state titles in 1991-92. “At least that’s what they tell me. I don’t remember that part.
He was cold.
As in no heartbeat.
Bettencourt didn’t just suffer a heart attack. He had no pulse as the trainer Jack Mickey and the Endicott baseball coach, Bryan Haley, who happened to be in the vicinity, each performed CPR on him to try revive him.
It wasn’t until a few Endicott players got the defibrillator about 50 yards away and literally “zapped” Bettencourt’s chest that there was movement.
The first zap got a light, feint pulse. The second zap, about two minutes later, gave Bettencourt his life back.
Bettencourt was told a lot about that morning, including this point: He’s very, very, very lucky to be alive.
According to Bettencourt, his doctors later informed him that the heart failure he had kills 90% of its victims.
If this had happened while he was driving, he would’ve been dead. If it happened at his car, he would’ve been dead. If it happened walking toward the field, with nobody around, he would’ve been dead.
The fact that it happened with the trainer, baseball coach and defibrillator nearby was almost miraculous.
Bettencourt —who retired as a middle school teacher in Andover in 2014 — does remember hearing voices as he was being brought via stretcher into the ambulance.
These weren’t in his imagination, either. They were real, coming from the Endicott softball players.
“I heard things like ‘Stay with us coach! Stay with us!’” recalled Bettencourt. “It stuck with me. I was in a funk, obviously, but I realized they were talking to me.”
He had emergency surgery to put a stent in a blood vessel to his heart and two days later had surgery to put a small defibrillator in his upper chest.
The nurses in the hospital thought Bettencourt was royalty, getting messages for him at the nurses station from people like Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.
“‘Who are you?’ asked one of the nurses,” he said. “Honestly, it was overwhelming; the calls to my family checking in; the text messages; the prayers. I’m telling you, God heard them. I got energy from somewhere.”
As for his heart issues, those were self-induced he said. Eating better, staying healthier and daily exercise will become a part of his daily routine.
“Too many burgers and Oreos,” said Bettencourt, who returned to the bench within two weeks, but as a ‘silent’ coach on the bench. “I’m tired a lot. That should get better. I have to change a lot of things, including diet and exercise. I’m a little better each day.”
Bettencourt’s place in baseball and softball is unparalleled in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore over the last four decades.
He made his baseball splash as a catcher at Peabody High for John Tudor and later as an All-American at the University of New Hampshire.
But he made his mark as a coach.
He not only lifted several high school programs from the ashes to state championships (see Andover High and Winnacunnet Regional), but he has been a baseball and softball hitting guru to nearly every player this region has developed into college and pro players the last two decades, from San Francisco Giants’ Mike Yastrzemski to Oakland A’s minor leaguer Elvis Peralta.
Since retiring, he has loved his gig assisting his daughter Katie at Assumption College and now Endicott, which is 18-2 and Commonwealth Coast Conference regular season and tournament champs in the COVID-19 shortened season. The school is awaiting the announcement for its berth into the NCAA Div. 3 tournament beginning on May 20.
Bettencourt expects to be on the bench for the NCAA tourney games, as silent and stress-free as is humanly possible considering what’s at stake.
“I called my best friend in grammar school the other day, to thank him for all he did while growing up,” said Bettencourt. “I called all my brothers, thanking them for always being there. I hold no ill-will toward anybody. I’m so happy and so lucky to be alive.
“I got a second chance and a lot of people don’t get that,” said Bettencourt. “I love coaching. I love being around kids who love what they do. I love working with my daughter and fellow coaches. But I also love my family and friends. And I want to be around and experience more of this. I really am the luckiest guy in the world.”
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.