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.