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Monday, August 18, 2014

Mentors behind the managers

Daron Sutton        
Photo: Baseball Prospectus

Having the opportunity to see the best amateurs in the nation play in the Perfect Game All American Classic last weekend in San Diego proved to be quite the preview for the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. Nine pitchers touched 95 mph or higher, including San Clemente, Calif. High School senior Kolby Allard, who put his name in neon lights high above the amateur landscape, partly because of a velocity bump to the mid-90s.

That’s just one example of what occurred while the players were centered up in the MLB Network lenses. But in spending time up close with the prospects at the workouts, the meals, the awards banquet and the Rady Children’s Hospital visit, it was easy to see there were many with solid and diverse roots provided by families and coaches at home.

And if you coaches wonder how quickly the seeds you have planted, loaded with baseball wisdom and guidance, might blossom, then many of these athletes were an indication that there are plenty of coachable, skilled players in the next generation. The instant coaching impact had me wondering about the lasting stories that might be told about player and mentor decades from now.

There are several conversations over the years that serve to remind that a youth/prep coach should never underestimate his ability to put a stamp on the life and career of his players.

A’s manager Bob Melvin may not be in that role at all if it weren’t for Menlo-Atherton, Calif. baseball coach, Frank Betancourt. Like the flame-throwing Allard may look into the memory banks to share about San Clemente baseball coach David Gellatly, Melvin describes his foundation as being laid at the exact same time, but in the mid-70s.

(He was) probably as impactful as any person in my life,” Melvin said of Betancourt. “He was my high school baseball coach who took serious interest in his players, not only on the field, but in their education and what kind of people they were. When you look up fundamentals in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Frank Betancourt there. He would not allow his players to not go about their business the right way, not to understand the game at all levels and the intricacies.

He preached fundamentals from Day 1 in high school. I don’t see as much of that nowadays as I did with him. And maybe he was one of a kind, but (he) was the guy that kind of set me on a course of understanding the game intricately at a very young age, and just a first class person on top of it.”

The man captaining the ship trying to sink Melvin’s in Oakland is long-tenured Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Journey with the baseball lifer before he was paid to play and you’ll find a man that helped push him to professionalism, while providing perspective that has Scioscia still active in the amateur game.

It’s funny the people you cross paths with in your life and one of the most influential was my high school baseball coach Ace Bell from Springfield High School in Delaware County, just outside of Philadelphia,” Scioscia recalled. “Mr. Bell was a guy who played minor league baseball in the Giants organization and even played one year with Willie Mays in Trenton. Mr. Bell always had such great insights not only that could make you a better player, but a better person.”

Being around him at such an influential age, from the time I was 14 until the time I was 17, really prepared me for what minor league baseball was going to be, the ups and downs and the challenges. I just remember him saying, ‘Hey, you have talent. You have to believe in it, trust in and the sun is not going to shine on you every day’. It’s really the reality of not only baseball, but of life.

I think that mentoring that goes on at the amateur level is important for everybody. Not just for the youngster that’s going to become the collegiate or professional player and eventually make it as a major league player, but that youngster that might be playing his last baseball game in his senior year of high school, and that’s it. That mentoring that goes through the high school level is priceless and for me to be around a guy like Ace Bell is something that was a gift that I’ll carry my whole life.”

Melvin, much like many of the game’s current top prospects, also won’t forget to quickly mention his American Legion coach in Palo Alto, Calif., which is akin to speaking of today’s travel and club teams.

Tom Dunton kind of took it to another level, Melvin explained. “Frank Betancourt was a guy that, you know we probably could have had some better teams and went a little farther along, but Frank Betancourt let everybody play. We had good teams, but everybody played on Frank Betancourt teams. If you were part of the program, you were going to play.

I think that was great at the high school level that he incorporated everybody. Tom Dunton kind of took the competitiveness to another level in legion. I really learned to compete and how important it was to compete at a high level through the course of a complete game. Whether you were ahead, whether you were behind or whether it was close, it was important that you gave 27 outs until the game was over. Those are two very important people at a young age of my life.”

So if you find yourself wondering who may have a hand in the pennant race decades from now, you might want to ask the guys driving the vans full of players to a cross-town high school battle on a the diamond.

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