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August 15, 2014

The View from the Loge Level

The Mentors Behind the Managers

by Daron Sutton

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Seeing 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 prep pitchers touched 95 mph or higher, including San Clemente (CA) 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 who had solid and diverse foundations provided by families and coaches at home.

And if you coaches wonder how quickly the seeds you have planted, nurtured 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/mentor connections 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 might not be in that role at all if it weren’t for Menlo-Atherton (CA) baseball coach Frank Bettencourt. Just as the flame-throwing Allard might someday look into the memory banks to share stories about San Clemente baseball coach David Gellatly, Melvin describes his foundation as being laid at the same stage in his life, but in the mid 1970s.

“(He was) probably as impactful as any person in my life. 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,” Melvin says. “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 one 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,” said Melvin.

The man captaining the ship that's trying to overtake 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 the man who helped push him to professionalism, while providing perspective that keeps Scioscia still active in the amateur game today.

“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. Mr. Bell was a guy who played minor-league baseball in the Giants organization and even played one year with Willie Mays in Trenton,” Scioscia recalls. “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,” Scioscia says. “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, CA, which is akin to speaking of today’s travel and club coaches.

“Tom Dunton kind of took it to another level. 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,” Melvin says. “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 might 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 today.

Daron Sutton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daron's other articles. You can contact Daron by clicking here

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