HALL OF FAME: TIM MEAD SAT NEXT TO HANK AARON, INDUCTED FRICK WINNER

Tim Mead, a Highland, Calif. product, wound up as president of the Baseball Hall of Fame after a 40-year career with the Los Angeles Angels.

From Highland to Anaheim to Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — It’s a far cry from Hibiscus St. or Colwyn Ave., where Tim Mead grew up in Highland over four decades ago.

His current address — 25 Main St., just a short hop from Otsego Lake in this upper state New York community where baseball’s early roots were planted over a century earlier.

On the weekend of July 20-21, the former Highland resident — a 1976 graduate from San Gorgonio High — was presiding over the 2019 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductions.

“I’m just trying to stay out of everyone’s way,” he joked a few days after the smallish upper state New York town came to life while inducting Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mariano Rivera, Harold Baines, Lee Smith and Mike Mussina into baseball immortality.

Mead didn’t even hesitate.

“The Hall,” he said, “is everything anyone ever imagined.”

Throw this in for Halladay, whose death last year took center stage at this year’s inductions: “Brandy’s speech,” said Mead, referring to Halladay’s widow, “made a difference.”

Lost, perhaps, beneath the spectacle of those July 21 inductions was a banquet honoring some 58 living Hall of Famers, with Mead and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred among the ONLY “civilians” at the Otesaga Hotel.

“For an hour and a half, I sat next to Hank Aaron,” he said, “asking him what his favorite stadiums were to play in and about the pitchers he had to face.”

The Otesaga, looking out on the lake, near where the Susquehanna River begins, is right around the corner from the museum itself.

“This is the elite of baseball history,” he said, noting they were “accomplished legends.

Mead said, “I’ll treat this (Hall of Fame) group just like the clubhouse in Anaheim.”

In other words, he won’t be sharing any private conversations, like the ones he had with Aaron, or the one he had with Sandy Koufax.

“I asked (Aaron) his favorite ballpark,” said Mead, “and where he liked to hit.”

It was one of Mead’s first official duties as Hall of Fame president to induct now-deceased broadcaster Al Helfer as this year’s Ford C. Frick Media honoree on Saturday, July 20.

“I’d just gotten back from the Tyler Skaggs ceremony,” said Mead, referring to the L.A. Angels pitcher whose untimely death hit the team hard.

It was an Angels’ team Mead had worked for since 1980, having retired after the 2018 season. He was immediately tapped to take over in Cooperstown for the retiring Jeff Idelson.

“I’d been to the Hall of Fame three times before,” he said, rattling off the years 1996, 1999 and last year (2018), “for Vladdy (ex-Angel Vladimir Guerrero).”

Angels fans might recall that it was 1999 when Nolan Ryan was enshrined.

ROOKIE HALL PRESIDENT

Mead’s duties at his new position include watching over historians, librarians and curators that are typically associated with any museum. He’ll stay in constant communication with all 30 MLB teams, living Hall of Fame members “and their families.”

His growing-up digs on Hibiscus St. to his current post, 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, N.Y., should probably be considered a standout transition. 

Hibiscus is right around the corner from Central Little League, which may not have existed in Mead’s youth days.

Upon his family’s move to Colwyn Ave., Mead was a little closer to San G, where he famously didn’t make the school’s Varsity baseball team. He’d been prepping for it his whole life, playing in Highland Little League, PONY League, Colt League and Big League, which is Little League’s age 16-18 division.

At San G, he was sports editor for the school’s newspaper, The Oracle.

Bill Havard, the school’s junior varsity coach, convinced the varsity coach to allow Mead onto the JV squad as a senior, which isn’t considered rational since a senior JV player might be taking playing time away from another player heading for a possible varsity roster spot.

Havard, who went on to prominence coaching in Redlands over a 46-year period after leaving San G, was tied to Mead from that point on.

The Spartans were highly competitive in baseball that Mead was cut from the Varsity in each of his four seasons under head coach Bill Kernan.

He quickly recalled his “friends for life,” including Ted Rozzi and Spartans’ 1977 CIF hero Tim Miner, plus former Cal State San Bernardino coach Don Parnell.

“I graduated,” said Mead, “a year before they (San G baseball team) won it all (in 1977).”

That might’ve been a San G Hall of Fame moment, but Mead had his own Hall of Fame pathway. Four years after graduating, he surfaced as an intern for the California Angels after his days at Cal Poly Pomona. Forty years later, he retired as an Angels’ executive. His years in various roles proved more than enough to land Mead as Idelson’s successor.

“It’s a chance to celebrate,” said Mead, “and to say thank-you. That’s what the Hall of Fame is about. A portion of (the ceremony) is to celebrate a great career, but what it’s all about is that it’s a greater chance to say thank you.

“They (inductees) write those speeches,” said Mead, “and you learn a little more about each person. They expose themselves quite a bit. The whole process is very humbling … for everybody.”

RONNIE WARNER: LIFER, OBSERVER, COACH AND A CARDINALS’ DIE-HARD

Ronnie Warner, a Redlands High product from the 1980s, has spent his entire professional career in the St. Louis Cardinals’ chain, rubbing elbows with the likes of Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Tony La Russa, not to mention future Hall of Famers Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina (photo by the St. Louis Cardinals).

ST. LOUIS — There’s more to a game plan that waving base-runners home, trying to steal opposing teams’ signals or flashing signs from his third base coach’s box for Ronnie Warner.

It’s a sport that’s played as much from any computer or dugout as it is on the field. So it was no surprise to Warner.

“It is,” Warner said back on April 29, “my first full season in the major leagues.”

Warner, a 1988 Redlands High graduate, is now on his 29th season in the Cardinals’ organization — his first coaching third base after spending handfuls of seasons playing and coaching in the minor leagues.

“It was a natural progression,” he said. “I got drafted (in 1991). The goal was to get to the major leagues (as a player). That didn’t happen. I morphed into coaching.”

When Warner isn’t waving runners home, or checking on opposing signals, or flashing signs to Cardinals’ hitters, there’s a set of specific duties he’s assigned for a team that’s trying to return to the post-season.

“I am the team’s bunt coach,” he said.

So when Cardinals’ center fielder Harrison Bader had homered, got hit by a pitch, bunted for a single and made a diving catch in a 6-3 Cardinals’ April 29 win over Nationals’ southpaw Patrick Corbin, it drew remarks from Warner.

“Harry definitely had a hand in this win tonight,” said Warner, noting Bader’s huge smile after beating out the bunt. “It was good to see him bunt. It was the first actual hit he’s gotten off a bunt.”

Throw in duties as scouting opposing pitchers’ moves, “their time to the plate, the opposing teams’ running game, scouting outfielders’ tendencies.”

At the MLB, it’s all about as important as a catcher blocking a pitch in the dirt, or dropping down a sacrifice bunt.

Warner’s got about as much insight as anyone in baseball coaching or managing.

“You wait for mistakes,” he says. It’s what any manager, and coaching staff, are staring at from their spots in the dugout or on the coaching lines.

“You just sit and wait,” said Warner. “Something will happen. Keep battling. Keep on observing. You’ll see something that might change the game.”

These days, baseball’s abuzz with the new analytics — Wins Above Replacement (WAR), spin rates for a pitcher, exit velocity and launch angles for hitters.

“It’s understanding all of that,” said Warner, 50, reflecting upon a professional career in 1991 that probably never imagined such data would exist.

“A (pitcher) with a high spin rate,” he noted, “probably shouldn’t be throwing a slider.”

Don’t ask him to explain. It’s now part of the game, replacing the long-ago statistics-buffs who probably reduced a pitcher’s effectiveness with earned run averages, win-loss percentage and strikeouts.

“It’s a different game nowadays,” he said.

These days, Warner is rubbing elbows with the likes of all-stars like Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter and Benjie Molina, plus some hard-throwing St. Louis Cardinals’ pitchers.

Don’t say this out loud to him, but if something slips up in St. Louis, there might be only one more place for him to go — that’s as Cardinals’ manager.

Manager-in-waiting sounds, perhaps, too harsh. Warner has too much regard for current manager Mike Schildt for such talk. He’s worked alongside such people as Hall of Famers Tony La Russa and Ozzie Smith and likely Hall of Famers like Molina and Albert Pujols.

“Right now, things are as good as it can get,” said Warner. “Obviously, I’d entertain it if something came along.”

If he does get that managerial call, remind yourself that this isn’t some guy taking over his kid’s travel ball team, or pulling the strings to get named manager of a Little League or a PONY all-star team. People like that are only “experts” as long as their kid’s on the team, right?

Managing in the majors?

“It’s everything,” said Warner, “with all the analytics — spin rates (for pitchers), launch angles and exit velocity (for hitters). Being able to communicate with the players is huge. Communicating with the media’s another big thing.”

It’s nowhere close to the baseball world he’d grown up in a few decades ago.

“There was none of that,” said Warner, referring to the newly-formulated analytics part of the game that has caught hold at the highest levels of the sport. “There’s value to it.

“Goldschmidt,” said Warner, “eats that stuff up. He likes everything. Part of my job is relaying all that to the players.”

Onetime Cardinals’ MVP Willie McGee, who is part of St. Louis’ tradition-rich organization, told Warner, “I wish I had that kind of information when I was playing.”

That’s another of Warner’s duties — assisting McGee with outfielders.

“Making sure our guys are aware of the other teams’ outfielders’ tendencies,” he said, referring to arm strength.

Just after that April 29 win over the Washington Nationals, Warner was on hand to discuss the game’s star. Bader’s bunt single after hitting a HR was a huge step for a young player.

Said Warner: “Right now, we’re trying to make sure he understands that can be a big part of his game.”

The game reversed momentum when the Cardinals turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 advantage, eventually winning with a strong bullpen behind Michael Wacha.

You figure it was just another game among the thousands of pro games — minors or majors — that Warner’s been accustomed. He’s a total lifer and a Cardinal die-hard.

If anyone remembers MLB pitcher Darryl Kile, who is from nearby Norco, Pop took jersey number 75 in memory of Kile’s no-longer-used 57 that was retired after his death in 2002.

On display was Warner’s admiration, not just for Kile, but for a Cardinals’ organization that gave him a lifetime job.

“Really,” he said, “it’s the job of a lifetime.”

MICHELE LYFORD, TWICE AS OLD AS TIGER WOODS: ‘HE WAS HALF MY SIZE’

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods, long after the day when he played an a golf exhibition at Redlands Country Club, a 6-year-old on his way to a prominent career in the sport. He played against Redlands’ Michele Lyford, shooting 51 to her round of 43.

CORTE MADERA, Calif. — Michele Lyford-Sine, who lives in a quiet neighborhood in this smallish community a half-hour’s drive north of San Francisco, remembers running into PGA golf professional Dave Stockton in New York a few years back.

Stockton, who was playing the Westchester Open, stayed with Lyford-Sine and her family in that 1999-2001 era.

“When we lived there,” said Lyford-Sine, originally from Redlands, “he’d come stay with us when he played in that tournament.”

Stockton, a Redlands resident, mentioned to Tiger Woods, said Lyford-Sine, telling the 2019 Masters champion, “I’m sleeping at the house of the only girl that’s ever beaten you.”

That remark might have caught the 15-time major champion by surprise.

5d1f827570ecc.image
A 15-year-old Michele Lyford hits off the practice tee, the scene coming just a few years after beating a tiny Tiger Woods in a golf exhibition at Redlands Country Club.

The date was Dec. 30, 1981.

The site: Redlands Country Club.

“I was only 12,” said Lyford-Sine. “I was asked to play.”

Redlands Country Club golf professional Norm Bernard, described as a huge proponent of junior golf, had known Rudy Duran, who was Tiger’s personal coach. Together, they formed the match, a 9-hole exhibition on RCC’s front nine.

“I was nervous,” Lyford-Sine said. “I couldn’t let this 6-year-old beat me. I was twice as old as he was and he was half my size.”

In the end, she shot 41 — not a bad score for a 12-year-old on the par-35 RCC front nine — and Tiger shot 51.

“It was,” she said 38 years later, “a little weird not having my dad there.”

Ted Lyford, the multi-year RCC club champion, was at work. Neither was her mother, but younger sister, Jennifer, followed the play.

“The way people hover over their kids,” said Lyford-Sine, “kind of made it seem strange. That’s the way it was back then. Parents didn’t hover as much as they do now.”

Tiger’s dad, Earl, was there, she recalled. “I remember his dad lifting him up so he could see the slopes of the course.”

Tiger, who was just turning six, had already appeared on the Mike Douglas Show, ABC’s That’s Incredible and, perhaps, another program or two. He was considered a golfing prodigy. Few probably figured that this kid would someday turn professional golf on its ear.

Lyford-Sine shared another small connection with Tiger. They both eventually attended Stanford.

“My entire goal in life,” she said, “was to get a full scholarship to Stanford. I won a few big tournaments and that got me in.”

Among those “big” tournaments was the 1987 Girls CIF-Southern Section championship, beating Rialto Eisenhower’s Brandie Burton, that year’s runner-up, at North Ranch Country Club. Burton would later become a top LPGA Tour player.

Lyford-Sine was a San Diego Junior World champion in 1983, shooting 227 to win the girls 13-14 division. Lyford-Sine repeated in 1987, winning the girls 15-17 division by shooting 295.

By the way, a kid named Eldrick Woods was the 9-10 champion in 1984, winning the first of six Junior World titles.

Eldrick Woods is none other than Tiger Woods.

Stanford, though, was a tough haul for golfers — male or female — with certain majors in school.

“You’re in a school that has the smartest people on the planet,” she said.

If she was looking to show off her golfing accolades and her academic prowess, consider most people would take on a major that’s routine enough to include both athletics and academics. “There are some majors you can do that with,” she said.

“Tiger left (Stanford) after two years.”

Whether he left to pursue a brilliant pro golf career, or that he was caught up in that academic-versus-athletic war is unknown. “I’ve never thought to ask him,” she said.

“You cannot compete athletically and compete academically,” she said. As golfers, “we missed so much school. It doesn’t feel good.”

After two years, she left golf to complete her academic workload.

“I did okay (in golf), not great,” she said.

Six years earlier, just after Christmas at Redlands Country Club in 1981, she probably wasn’t thinking about a Stanford academic workload.

“We had people following us,” she said, “but I got over the nervousness.”

Afterward, Bernard threw a birthday party.

“I remember,” said Lyford-Sine, “we sang happy birthday to him and he blew out candles on a cake inside the restaurant at Redlands Country Club.”

BILL HAVARD: THAT ‘LONG BLUE LINE’ LASTED 46 YEARS

Forty-six years in coaching came to a fitting geographical conclusion for Bill Havard last week.

It was a battle for second place between Redlands East Valley against Havard’s Redlands High squad.

The buzz surrounding this baseball duel — Terriers against the Wildcats — was only part of the story.

Harvard’s run as a longtime assistant coach was coming to an end.

“This is it,” said Havard, who has probably logged more coaching hours than any other coach in the Terriers’ self-proclaimed “Long Blue Line” history of the 129-year-old campus. “I’m done after this season.”

You figure: A couple dozen baseball players each year. Throw in 50-plus football players annually. Over, say, 46 years, it amounts to hundreds.

“The thank-you’s and gratitude from hundreds of former players,” Havard says, “is what makes it all worthwhile.”

Game site was at the University of Redlands, which is where Havard showed up to play football and baseball, study and launch a coaching career from his hometown digs — graduated in 1968 from Edgewood High in West Covina — way back in the 1970s.

From that long-ago era, you could still hear his shrill voice from that third base coaching box at his college stop.

“Hey, you!”

“Bat on ball right here!”

“Nice pitch!”

It’s the kind of chatter that hit home.

He was a career assistant for the likes of football’s Paul Womack, Jim Evans, Mike Churchill and Jim Walker.

Throw in his springtime baseball work alongside head coaches Don DeWees, Bob Ramirez and Estevan Valencia.

During his UofR days, Havard, a 1972 graduate, was associated with plenty of coaching forces — tennis’ Jim Verdieck, football’s Frank Serrao, plus longtime athletic director Ted Runner.

Throw in the brotherhood guys — basketball’s Randy Genung, football’s Chuck Baker and Miguel Olmedo. There are loads of others.

CAREER ASSISTANT?

He was probably more in charge than anyone might admit.

Onetime Redlands High principal Tom Davis said years ago that Havard could be Terriers’ head coach, either in football or baseball.

“All he’d have to do is wiggle his little finger if he wanted to be a head coach,” said Davis, Havard’s principal from the mid-1980s through 1997, “and he’s got it.”

At the time, Davis made it clear that meant either sport, though the more likely assignment would’ve on the diamond.

That head coaching gig came at UofR when veteran coach Paul Taylor retired. Bulldog officials went for the former Bulldog shortstop. Havard had been offered the head coaching job at San Gorgonio High, but declined — no full-time teaching job.

Coaching college — recruiting, scheduling, meetings, administrative duties, field maintenance, plus all that travel and extra duty — was probably too much for a young family. Havard, his wife Claudia and their sons Rich, John and Tim, were holed up over on Pacific Street.

Teaching math, first at Clement Junior High and eventually at Redlands High, was his main calling. Coaching X’s and O’s after school was as much a full-time gig as teaching those x’s and y’s during the day.

“I did,” he said, “want to be a head coach.”

Better to just coach. Head coaching was for someone else.

Not your typical assistant, either.

“A father figure to us all,” says Valencia, adding words like “mentor” and “teacher” and “icon.”

WHAT DID HE COACH?

A better question, said Walker, is what DIDN’T he coach?

Receivers. Some defensive backs. Freshman ball? Maybe some special teams. Worked like crazy, said Walker, “getting special teams ready.

“Every year,” said Walker, “in a big situation, we would hit a big return (on special teams).”

On the diamond, Havard coached catchers, helped with hitters, worked with base-runners, in charge of pickoff plays.

“Stopping the running game,” said Valencia.

Isn’t it curious that, in the 1980s, Havard, the ex-shortstop, had a hand in coaching MLB draft picks — all shortstops — David Renteria (Marlins), Ronnie Warner (Cardinals) and Ervan Wingate, Jr. (Dodgers) in successive years?

It’s probably not fair to try and list every player that Havard has had a hand in coaching. That list might stretch for awhile.

Current pro catcher Jacob Nottingham (Milwaukee Brewers) is a current ex-Terrier prize on display.

There aren’t many of those prizes. Redlands coaches, probably any sport, are better known for developing high school athletes. If a pro or college prospect comes out of it, so much the better.

A more-likely scenario would be a Terrier product getting a college opportunity via Redlands’ “Long Blue Line” process, be it Havard or anyone else’s project.

“I learned things about coaching, about how to play shortstop,” said ex-Terrier Kadyn Glass, who played both sports, “even everyday stuff that I use to this day.

“He has a way of getting his point across.”

Former Bulldog catcher Don Parnell calls Havard “the single most influential person in my baseball career.”

Parnell has spent a lifetime coaching mostly collegiate baseball.

MAKING THE GRADE

There have been plenty of high points, Havard said, from “the many successes the vast majority of young men have achieved during and after the seasons we spent together.”

Yes, he said, there were “a lot of low points also.”

If someone’s kid didn’t make the grade — either in class or on the field — chances are good that Havard made a bold attempt to educate, anyway.

“I’ve known him before I even got to high school,” said Glass, now coaching college baseball in Nebraska. “He’s a legend.”

“I could write a full page on his positive effect on young men,” said Parnell.

“A heck of a coach,” said Walker, “but a better person. No BS. He did it all and he did it well.”

There was one final chance to educate. On his former UofR field where he played and coached, Havard watched current Terrier catcher Martin Sanchez gun down enemy baserunner Robert Mattei in a key game against REV.

Afterward, Sanchez looked over toward the dugout, toward Havard. Their eyes met.

“Nice play,” said Havard.

Try asking him about a single game highlight. Or a play. Or a season.

Havard deferred. “I can’t single out a game or a play or a season.”

That win over REV bought an extra game, or more, in the playoffs. Just add it to those 46 years.

 

HUMBLED BY HIS REDLANDS CONNECTIONS, JULIO CRUZ SOARED BEYOND BASEBALL

Julio Cruz, perhaps one of the most popular athletes in Redlands High School’s century-plus history, is showcased in his baseball card — then a member of the Seattle Mariners. Cruz played nine seasons in the major leagues after getting signed at an open tryout.

SEATTLE — Julio Cruz remembers cutting to the basket during practice for coach Al Endeman’s team at Redlands High School way back, say, in the early 1970s.

“Brian Billick blocked my shot,” said Cruz, a 5-foot-10-inch guard, “and knocked my glasses off. They were on the floor, broken.”

Cruz, a future Major League Baseball player, was sent to an optometrist the next day for contact lenses. By Endeman. Backed by the Lion’s Club, the worldwide service club that specializes in sight.

“My vision was bad,” said Cruz. “One day, he gave me a slip of paper. It was for a sporting goods store.” Cruz got a pair of basketball shoes.

Billick, of course, went on to spend a full-fledged career coaching football. In 2001, it was Billick, as head coach, who led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl championship.

Imagine that: Billick, who spent a career in football, was teammates with Cruz, a baseball lifer, as teammates on a basketball team!

Endeman and Billick are just a couple of names Cruz, now 64, recalled during a time of reminiscence. Cruz may well be Redlands’ most famous baseball name, having spent nine seasons (1977-86) in the major leagues.

He’s been one of the most popular Redlands products.

His Redlands buddies — Adrian Garcia, Randy Orwig, Juan Delgado, Dominic Mircacantante, Tom Martin, Billick, plus others — are fresh on his mind these days.

Cruz has forgotten little throughout the years.

“I’m re-living my youth,” he cracks, “and disregarding my age.”

His pathway to a MLB career was marked by plenty of help along the way. Cruz’s ascent to playing pro ball didn’t include the modern-day travel ball, Showcases and costly surroundings that today’s players/parents go through to land post-high school opportunities.

“Joe Hansen, my JV coach, drove me home after basketball practice every day,” said Cruz. “Right to my front door.”

The Cruz family, who moved to Loma Linda from Brooklyn, N.Y. when The Cruzer was 14, was poor. No car. No money for buses or taxis. For a future baseball player, it was curious that he had no glove. No baseball spikes. Gear? He’d have to wait on all that.

“I think I was better at basketball,” said Cruz, “but I was only 5-10.”

Cruz’s career was noteworthy for many reasons.

For openers, he’s probably the first-ever Redlands-based ballplayer to reach the majors for more than the so-called “cup of coffee” — 1,156 games, hitting .237 with 343 career stolen bases, fielding a brilliant .983 all between 1977 and 1986 — with Seattle and the Chicago White Sox.

For good measure, that 1983 Seattle-to-Chicago deal at the trade deadline, drew plenty of praise. Not only did the ChiSox pull away when Cruz showed up, but someone in the MVP balloting posted a vote in his direction.

That mid-season swap by White Sox General Manager Roland Hemond, who sent second baseman Tony Bernazard to Seattle, fit Chicago well.

CRUZ OFFERS SERIOUS WARNING

Maybe it’s just age, time running out, all those early memories that got Cruz to reminisce about the old days. Martin, his high school friend, shared plenty of insight. On the real serious side, Martin said, “We both had prostate surgery a few years ago … a few days apart.”

Cruz himself asks, “When’s the last time you got your prostate checked?”

He’s concerned. Then he inquires, “how about your wife? Has she been screened for breast cancer?”

In 2010, his wife Becky died from that disease after a 17-year battle. She was 48. Throw this in: His current wife has breast cancer, too.

On the plus side, there are his three sons — Austin and Alex, both Washington State graduates — plus Oxford grad, Jordan. Neither were baseball players, incidentally.

Jordan was, in fact, named after Michael Jordan. “He was just starting his career in Chicago,” said Cruz, “when I was there (playing with the White Sox).”

As Cruz tells it, a career in baseball — including serving as the Seattle Mariners’ Spanish-speaking broadcaster since 2002 — would’ve never happened without an array of those Redlands coaches along the way.

When he dunked a basketball as a Cope junior high schooler — noted by his coach, Gary Branstetter — The Cruzer had a future in Redlands athletics.

“I never dunked in a game,” he said. “All that jumping, though. I’ve had 11 knee surgeries.”

Baseball?

Check out these two names — Joe DeMaggio and Joe DiMaggio. Note the spelling on those two names.

Joe “De” was Redlands High’s coach — The Cruzer’s coach — during his baseball-playing years.

Then there was Joe “Di,” the Yankee Clipper, a baseball Hall of Famer (1936-51). Cruz memorably extracted an autograph from him during an Old-Timer’s game one year in Japan.

“Normally, he didn’t give autographs,” said Cruz, “because he thought people would just take them and sell them.”

Choosing not to sign the “sweet spot” on the ball, Joe “Di” signed it to Cruz’s sons. Might be hard to sell an autographed ball if it was signed that way.

But he’d come full circle.

Branstetter had those Cope basketball kids shave their heads. “We were the Bald Eagles,” said Cruz, laughing. “I didn’t care. I was having fun.”

Three decades later, Cruz, now retired, was hitting leadoff in that Old-Timer’s game with teammates like Campy Campaneris, Minnie Minoso and Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven.

TRYOUT AT UCLA STARTED IT ALL

Cruz, meanwhile, went unscouted during his high school days at Redlands, not to mention his junior college days at San Bernardino Valley.

It was Delgado, The Cruzer’s friend from Highland, who found out about a baseball tryout on UCLA’s Westwood campus one Sunday. Cruz was 19.

“The only reason I went,” said Cruz, “was because it was a nice Sunday. It was a good day to play baseball.”

Cruz borrowed a glove, grabbed some spikes two sizes too big, and played in jeans. Delgado drove, three times, in fact. Cruz, who wiped out all comers in 60-yard dashes, kept getting invited back.

Scouts were in the stands and on the field. Cruz played shortstop. First game. First inning. First two guys up reached base. Line drive to Cruz. Steps on second. Throws to first.

Triple play!

He got a $500 bonus from California Angels’ scout Lou Cornower. The Cruzer was on his way, just a short time after his Redlands upbringing. “I really had to talk my dad into letting me do it. He wanted me to finish college.”

No one makes it alone, said Cruz. “I had people looking over me. Those guys brought the best out in me. They helped make me more sociable.”

Joe De, Endeman, Hansen, Branstetter, future varsity baseball coach Don Dewees — each has a special place in The Cruzer’s heart.

“My (pro) managers didn’t come close to doing what these guys did for me,” said Cruz. “The way they went about their business with me without cheating the other students. The pros cut you. It’s a business to them.

“It wasn’t a business to my teachers.”

Cruz and Billick, meanwhile, showed up again together. Three decades after Billick knocked Cruz down at basketball practice, the two were inducted on the same night into the Terrier Hall of Fame.

DAVE ARANDA: FAILED NAVY PHYSICAL TURNED INTO COACHING WIZARD

Dave Aranda, a 1995 Redlands High School graduate, made his way to San Bernardino Valley, California Lutheran University-Thousand Oaks, Texas Tech (Lubbock), Hawaii, Houston, Southern Utah, Utah State and Wisconsin before landing a role as defensive coordinator at Louisiana State University.

 

BATON ROUGE — Injury-prone, poor grades, a devoted Rams’ fan not blessed with a gift for classroom activities wasn’t exactly a glorified pathway into a record-setting pay-day at Louisiana State University for Dave Aranda.

After high school, he had a different plan in mind.
“I enlisted in the Navy,” said Aranda, 42,  a 1995 Redlands High graduate, “after high school, but they wouldn’t take me. I couldn’t pass the physical.”
Fast forward nearly a quarter-century.
Even as an assistant, Aranda is considered one of college football’s most well-known coaches. He’s defensive coordinator and associate head coach to an LSU squad — head coach, former USC man Ed Orgeron — that’s located in the heart of football country.
That “heart” would be the Southeastern Conference, the same SEC that houses such perennial powerhouses as Ole Miss, Georgia, Auburn, Florida and, of course, Alabama, to take on LSU’s Tigers.
“No doubt about it,” said Aranda on Aug. 1, LSU’s first official day of training camp. “I would not be here if I didn’t get hurt playing in high school.”
It could be one of the most off-the-charts stories in a rise to prominence — well, ever.
Forget, at least for a minute, that Aranda has game-planned against a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville) and RB Derrick Henry (Alabama), or such bluntly-talented receivers as Odell Beckham, Jr.  (LSU), JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC) and Amari Cooper (Alabama).
For the record, Aranda was defensive coordinator at Wisconsin when the Badgers took on Beckham’s Tigers’ squad in 2015. That was one season before LSU snatched Aranda away from leading a nation’s top 10 Wisconsin defense.
Lots of college programs “snatched” him up — beginning with California Lutheran University-Thousand Oaks (where he was roommates with current Texas coach Tom Herman), then Texas Tech, followed by Southern Utah, Houston, Hawaii and Utah State before he followed Aggies’ coach Gary Anderson to Wisconsin.
“I didn’t play (football) at Cal Lu,” said Aranda, reflecting his injury-prone shoulder.
How he worked his way up the ladder in the Kingsmen’s coaching system, though — first as a water boy-film guy as a freshman, coaching one outside linebacker during his sophomore year, jetting up to coaching two guys as a junior.
“I was pretty involved in my senior year,” he said.

ARANDA’S FIRST BIG BREAK
A funny thing happened, though, between 1999 and 2000. He was set to take on more responsibility under then-Kingsmen coach Sean Squires.
A week-long trip to Lubbock — Texas Tech country — alongside another Cal Lu coach, Cory Undlin (now coaching the Philadelphia Eagles), turned into an invitation. The Cal Lu coaching combo was there to peer into a major college program in hopes of gleaning some better understanding to take on the likes of Whittier, Occidental and the University of Redlands.
Said Aranda: “We were ready to leave and called me in. They told me they didn’t have a graduate assistant. Asked if I wanted that position.”
Undlin went back to CLU, but Aranda stuck around Lubbock.
Mike Leach, perhaps one of the most innovative play-callers in the country, was Red Raiders’ head coach. Under his watch, Aranda was part of two bowl-winning outcomes over three seasons.
“Our quarterback,” said Aranda, “was Kliff Kingsbury (now head coach for the Arizona Cardinals). Wes Welker was one of our receivers.”
Throw in Sonny Dykes and Art Briles, two other well-known coaches in the college football ranks, plus Greg McMackin and Ron Harris. Aranda was surrounded by coaching talent and opportunity.
By 2003, Aranda’s Texas Tech GA days were done. It was off to a bunch of new digs — Cedar City, Utah; Honolulu; Houston; Logan, Utah; Madison, Wis.; and, finally, Baton Rouge.
That Redlands-based Navy recruiting office, located over by the old Mervyn’s department store, has long since spun around Aranda’s mind.
“I think I spent a year talking to that recruiting guy,” he said. And it hit hard he couldn’t pass that Navy physical. “If I’d have passed that physical, I’d have never gone to college.”

REDLANDS’ COACHING FELLOWSHIP
Aranda, who had a perfectly healthy sophomore season as a Redlands High linebacker in 1992, hit nothing but turbulence over his next two seasons. At least four shoulder surgeries killed off his playing time.
In fact, Terrier coaches Jim Walker and Miguel Olmedo shifted him from linebacker, where his contributions were best felt, to the offensive line — perhaps because there wasn’t as much contact.
“It didn’t matter,” said Aranda. “I wore a harness when I played. Every now and then, the shoulder would slip out. I’d have to put it back in.”
Olmedo raved about his prize player who had been reduced to about 50 percent able-bodied. “Most guys wouldn’t even try to play,” said Olmedo. “He was just this quiet guy that kept on trying, no matter how badly it hurt.”
It was Walker and Olmedo that put Aranda up to attending classes at San Bernardino Valley College, got him a job, plus coaching Redlands’ JV squad alongside the likes of now-deceased assistants, Mike Mauger and Sam Richey.
By 1996, he was off to Thousand Oaks.
“The fellowship I had with those guys,” said Aranda, referring to Mauger, Richey, Walker, Olmedo and veteran line coach George Tesla, “taught me for the first time that I could make sure football didn’t end after (playing in) high school. We were so tight. I’ll never forget going to scout games for the Varsity.”
It’s unknown who paid that gas bill driving from Redlands to Poway, California. That’s the home of onetime Univ. San Diego coach Bill Williams, who was running coaching clinics.
“I was helping him make the videos, doing the (demonstrations),” said Aranda. “That guy had stacks of video from the floor to the ceiling.”

RAMS DAYS COME FULL CIRCLE
All of which played into those little-boy days growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area community of Union City, 30 minutes south of Oakland. It’s where Aranda’s family lived during his elementary school days.
His NFL rooting interests centered around the Los Angeles Rams, then coached by fabled former USC coach John Robinson.
When the Rams played San Francisco, Aranda suffered through the 49ers’ domination.
“They had Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Joe Montana, Bubba Paris, Guy McIntyre,” he said, rattling off a string of the 49ers’ best players.
“We had (Rams’ QB) Jim Everett.”
Aranda described himself as “Super Fan.”
“Rice would run routes all over the field,” he said, “and catch a pass in front of the Rams’ defenders, then run around them for a touchdown. It made me sick.”
Even then, he was diagnosing defensive schemes to try and slow up that so-called West Coast offense.
“Jimmy Johnson showed up in Dallas and started those attacking defenses,” he said.
By 2018, Aranda had signed the richest-ever assistant coach’s contract in history — $10 million over four years — making him, perhaps, one of the best-suited coaches to try and crack those opposition offensive attacks.
“Things have changed so much,” he said, “in the sport since those 49er days when Joe Montana was throwing to Jerry Rice.”
As for Robinson, consider this:
“I just left him about 30 minutes ago,” said Aranda. “I’m telling you, he loves football so much … he moved his family from San Diego to Baton Rouge. He’s in his 80s. He’s been here for about a week. He’s helping us coach here.”
Aranda, that bad shoulder still killing him, can’t even throw a football during those LSU linebacker drills.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I usually have a GA do it.”

T-BALL HAD ITS PLACE IN USA – REDLANDS USA, THAT IS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

596px-Tee_ball_player_swinging_at_ball_on_tee_2010
A little baseball player hitting off a tee. The origin of Tee ball is difficult to trace, but onetime Redlands resident Art Till claimed to have invented the process in his Hawaii workshop. (Photo by Skoch3)

Art Till, inventor of T-Ball? In the military, stationed in Hawaii during the 1970s, Till went to work in his workshop one day and developed a stand on which a baseball could be placed, then hit off. It worked out.

“There’ll be people that will tell you,” said Till, “that someone else invented tee ball. I’m quite certain it was me.”

As youth leagues in both baseball and softball get ready to tee off in 2018, including a barrage of tee ball-based leagues, Till’s invention bears some attention.

It may seem strange to an outsider. T-Ball may have changed the plight of youth baseball forever. In a sport that requires a great deal of hand-eye coordination, placing a ball on a tee for a five- or six-year-old instead of pitching it seemed like a stroke of genius.

Eventually, Till moved to Redlands where the sport caught on in the 1970s. “It was such a simple idea,” he said.

Youth baseball in Redlands used to begin for kids when they were about eight-years-old. But as youth soccer players began surfacing in that sport at age five, baseball needed a gimmick to bring youths into its sport at an earlier age.

“This,” said Till, referring to T-Ball, “did the trick.”

Till says he was the one. There were others who made the claim.

It could have been St. Petersburg, Florida’s John Zareas, who claimed he developed tee ball at Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina back in 1960.

During the 1990s, a physician Zareas knows challenged the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel’s claim to the game. Browsing the Internet, the doctor found the name of another man credited with developing tee ball, Zareas said.

Zareas had published a copyrighted tee ball rules book for youngsters in 1965. A copy resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame library in Cooperstown, N.Y., reference librarian Claudette Burke said.

Copies of Zareas’ service records reflect his effort. The governor of New Hampshire nominated him for a presidential Point of Light award during former President George H.W. Bush’s administration. Newspaper articles and television reports have discussed his role in the development of a game now played by an estimated 2.2-million youngsters nationwide.

A Milton, Fla., Reverend, Dayton Hobbs, said he began a local tee ball program in 1960.

The Hall of Fame also has a newspaper article saying an Albion, Mich. man began the game there in 1956.

Bing Broido is president of Tee Ball USA, a non-profit support group for youth organizations. Broido said Branch Rickey, owner of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, had his players use a tee in the 1940s. Later, Broido said, some Canadian players put a ball atop a cow-milking device on a flexible tube.

Who should get credit for inventing the game is a tough call, he said.

Zareas continued to promote tee ball when the Air Force assigned him to Japan, which was where he wrote down rules.

It cost $20 to copyright them. From Japan, the game gradually spread among service families to Hawaii, Southern California, across the southern United States, then to New York and New England, he said.

Hawaii was where Till was stationed. And the onetime Redlander, whose wife Norma was librarian for years at Mentone Elemengary, disputed all of these claims.

Tee Ball USA, a national organization to which Till was not a member, doesn’t charge to belong and sponsors no leagues.

Hobbs, who trademarked tee ball in the 1970s, had been pastor at Milton’s Grace Bible Church for well over 50 years. He said he got the idea to use a tee while reading about college coaching techniques in California. He first used a tee to help a teen team practice its hitting, then started using the tee for the youngest players as a safety measure.

He said he registered a tee ball trademark with the federal government in the early 1970s. “It’s become general because we couldn’t make any claims to tee ball,” he said, crediting the Navy with spreading the game.

Till was sure of himself. “I’m not out to make a big deal out of this. I built the tee and we organized T-Ball games back in Hawaii. I brought it to Redlands when we moved here.”

It was only a possible Redlands Connection.

FROM ART TILL’S DAUGHTER, KELLIE O’CONNOR, March 13:

Please allow me to correct the record on a few of your statements about my father, Art Till and his connection to T-ball in Redlands. You quote Art Till as if you recently spoke to him about this subject. Art Till passed away in June of 1996, almost 22 years ago. Your article makes it sound like Art is very braggadocios with statements such as: “There’ll be people that will tell you,” said Till, “that someone else invented t-ball. I’m quite certain it was me.” My father never made this claim. My father’s claim was that he introduced t-ball to Redlands Baseball for Boys, as it was known then. My father was introduced to t-ball when he was stationed in Hawaii in the 1960s. After we moved to Redlands in 1967 (your article said Art Till was stationed in Hawaii in the 1970s), my father was coaching a farm team that had probably two dozen players. He proposed the idea that the younger players participate in t-ball games on Sundays, so they would not interfere with the Redlands Baseball for Boys regular games and the younger kids would get a positive first exposure to baseball. After confirmation that coaches and parents were on board with the idea, my father went to the hobby shop at Norton Air Force Base to make the first tees. My father, Art Till, never claimed to be the inventor of t-ball but was proud to acknowledge his connection to t-ball in Redlands and was an active coach for many years in town for both his sons and grandsons. May I suggest you refer back to the Redlands Daily Facts article you wrote that was published August 25, 1996, to refresh your memory of the facts.

Hello, Kellie,

First of all, GREAT to hear from you. I’m a little fuzzy on the dates – you write that Art passed away in June 1996, then refer to an article that I wrote in Aug. 1996 about him. Are you sure that article came out two months after he passed away? My recollections, especially since I kept my notes, were that he actually did claim to be the inventor of T-Ball. I kept trying to zero in on that, especially since it’s a relatively spectacular fact (I believed him, incidentally — still do). As for the your assertion that I make it sound like Art is “very braggacodios with statements” … the fact is, he said it exactly that way. He made the claim. I didn’t. I simply wrote it up. I love the additional information about playing T-Ball games on Sunday so not to interfere with Farm games, plus his devotion to his sons and grandsons. Typical good Dad, always willing to pitch in.