SPENDING TWO DAYS WITH A COMMUNITY COLLEGE SOFTBALL PROGRAM THAT I WAS ONCE A PART OF
It had been twenty-four years.
Back in 1994, having gotten my bachelors degree a few years before and looking to make my way as far as working with young people in sports as a career, I volunteered as an assistant softball coach at Santa Monica College, where I had attended in the mid-to-late 1980s, gotten my associate of arts degree, and was able to transfer to UCLA.
Indeed, Santa Monica College, which was a half-block from my house, has and will always hold a good place in my heart as I will forever acknowledge that I would not be a member of Bruin Nation today if it were not for that top-notch community college.
As for my season working on the coaching staff of SMC’s softball team, which was reinstated that year after having been cut a few years before, while I got some valuable experience;
Let’s just say that it didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, as far as won-loss record (the team won exactly zero games!) or more or less anything else.
Having not seen even one pitch of a junior college softball game since ’94, I had wondered about that Corsair softball program.
Being that my main mission of this blog is to write about sports, teams and events that sites like Bleacher Report and Fansided and news sources like the Los Angeles Times won’t bother covering,
And being that I had already written about high school softball the previous year, covering a clash between Santa Monica and Culver City high schools,
I thought it would be really cool to spend some time with a softball program that was not only from an alma mater of mine, but a program that I was actually (albeit briefly) involved with at one time.
So after emailing Phillip Gomez, SMC’s new softball coach, and telling him what I wanted to do, he was quite agreeable to the idea.
The next thing I knew, I was at the Corsairs’ softball field this past Monday – which in two very “Small World” fashions is not only located on the campus of John Adams Middle School, where I attended when it was referred to as a junior high school, it was also the very same field where I played Pony League Baseball for the Athletics in 1980 and 1981 – shaking hands with Gomez, who I was a tiny bit surprised upon first impression as he looked like he could be a player if not for his gender; he seemed that young.
A Corsair making good contact at bat. Photo courtesy of smccorairs.com
Which I must emphasize I had absolutely no problem with, as the first time I was any kind of coach in any form I was not yet 15 years old; a girl in my algebra class at John Adams asked me to help out with her youth softball team, which I did, and it kind of snowballed from there in subsequent years.
Plus the fact that Gomez had extensive experience with coaching softball, as did one of his assistants, Samantha Sheeley, who was a pitcher in the National Pro Fastpitch league, more than made their youth a non-issue to me.
In the spirit of doing something different, I wanted to check out an SMC softball practice as well as attend a game, see how things are done today as opposed to back during my time in sports as a player and a coach dating back from the late 1970s to the mid 2000s.
What I saw Gomez, Sheeley, and Chris Druckman (another assistant coach) doing with their charges was interesting and impressive as it quickly became clear that I am very “Old School”, an “Old Wolf” as their culture and practice methods are definitely part of a new generation, a new era in sports in general.
There was an emphasis on conditioning that just wasn’t done in my day, as it was late in the season as the team had only a handful of games left. Back during my time as a player and coach of baseball and softball – mostly at the youth level – pretty much all of the conditioning was done during the preseason practices.
That was not the case with this softball bunch; the different drills that were done reminded me of what I did as a physical education teacher, with the players doing things like squats, jumping rope, and a cone drill that included a side-to-side thing that, in a case of the conditioning being relevant for softball, was great for moving for ground balls.
The three biggest things I noticed with the team and the coaches during that practice was…
- An emphasis on instruction, despite the season being almost over. The coaching staff was big on fundamentals as Gomez told me that the team had only two players when he was hired. It sort of reminded me of the Arizona Instructional League in baseball. I liked that approach; it told me that it wasn’t just about winning games, as was this observation:
- The coaches were very positive in their interactions with the players; no yellers or abusers there. They talked about things like getting into the zone and asking the players for feedback on how things were going, how they found the drills, things like that. Gomez, Sheeley and Druckman were definitely not dictatorial, “My Way Or Else” types or led by intimidation in any way, which I liked.
- As an illustration of how much of an “Old Wolf” I am, the coaches were very energetic, up and about, with Druckman stretching with the players and Sheeley doing the cone drill with her charges, while if I were a coach today I wouldn’t be able to do much more than hit grounders and fly balls and feed balls into the pitching machine because of a sometimes aching back and sore Achilles tendon that doesn’t make it the easiest thing to walk after playing pickup softball on Saturdays or after I’m on my feet for a length of time.
Of course the practice did involve stuff that I remember doing as a coach, like a drill where Gomez faked pitches, having the players swing at an imaginary ball so he could instruct them on their swing, hitting off tees and feeding balls to batters as they hit off the net, and when Sheeley was pitching batting practice; having brought my old glove I helped out by shagging ground balls at shortstop, where I surprisingly didn’t commit an error as I’m strictly a first baseman.
During BP I noticed that Sheeley had the batters hit at three different distances from her, which I also found interesting and impressive.
And it was fun showing the team my photo album of pictures documenting my playing and coaching life in Santa Monica, especially my Pony League team photos as they were taken on that very same field, after practice.
A group of SMC softballers supporting each other during a game. Photo courtesy of smccorsairs.com
All Right, On To The Game The Next Day…
I got to the field about a half-hour before the first pitch, the team getting ready with their various drills.
The pre-game atmosphere was different from when I was involved in ’94, as there was a scoreboard, music playing, an announcer, and the playing of the National Anthem (a recording) – things that weren’t around during my assisting time.
I was very impressed at how during introductions the Corsairs clapped for the other team, Moorpark College’s Raiders, as well as their own, a crystal clear sign of good sportsmanship that I give much kudos to the coaches for.
There was a bigger number of fans watching the game than I thought there would be; I had a good time chatting with the family members of some of the players during the game.
The biggest impression I had of this SMC team as the game unfolded was how they fought, which I absolutely loved!
Even though they made a few errors that led to multiple runs,
And even though they ultimately lost to Moorpark 11-8,
It was safe to say that I was entertained by those young lady Corsairs, which for someone who has been around, has been involved in baseball and softball at some level and in some form for roughly forty years,
And who hadn’t had any contact with SMC softball nor seen a softball game at the junior college level for nearly two and a half decades,
Is saying something, I feel.
Which is what I told the team afterward as the effort was so there, which any sports coach loves to see.
Not that there weren’t any good things that those Corsairs did, as two players blasted balls over the fence on a bounce for ground rule doubles, and there was one particular play where the first baseman, after catching a wide throw from the shortstop, nailed a Moorpark runner at the plate.
I also like how the coaches kept up the good feedback afterwards, talking about how hard they played and how they didn’t give up.
The Bottom Line To All Of This – My Conclusions At The End Of My Two Days With This Corsair Softball Team:
This is a program that’s definitely heading in the right direction.
The methods that Gomez and his staff are enacting are good ones that will produce good results; the way things are going with them, the wins will certainly come.
I told the team such when I said that with all but three of their players returning next season, I guaranteed that they will win more games in 2019 than in 2018.
As much as anything else, I saw the passion among the players as they did their thing on the diamond, which is essential if you want your program – in any sport – to be successful.
I had quite the good time doing this project, as being at a place where I spent so much time during my formative years and through my twenties, the memories inevitably came flooding back.
And the one prevailing thought at the end of the day was that the SMC Softball Program is more than on the right track, thanks to the coaches who pretty much resurrected things.
Suffice it to say, as an Santa Monica College alum (class of 1988), I’m very much looking forward to seeing how they fare down the road.