This coming Saturday the life of John Stevenson, Coach Stevenson, will be remembered and celebrated.
I grew up in a sleepy little town in Southern California. A town called El Segundo. A town sort of lost in time, a regular Mayberry. The main street through town is called Main Street. Flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the west, LAX on the north, aerospace industry on the east, and a Chevron refinery on the south, El Segundo is an enclave of relative safety just miles from Los Angeles. When I lived there the population was somewhere around 12,000. There is still only one high school and when I attended El Segundo High School it had less than a thousand students. Not the kind of town that you’d expect would routinely turn out brilliant baseball players and winning baseball teams. But that’s exactly what has happened there…and it happened for decades. And that was because of the leadership of one man who loved the game…Coach John Stevenson.
Coach Stevenson dedicated his life to the youth of El Segundo for 50 years. He was never my coach, but he was my teacher. I took freshman social studies/history from him. However, the biggest lesson I learned from him wasn’t learned in the classroom. Have you ever heard of Scott McGregor? George Brett? They are just two of the Gundo boys who went on to play professional baseball. There have been six of Coach’s players who have gone on to play in the major leagues. Many more played in the minors. The lesson I learned because of these players was that if I worked hard, and played well, I could be as successful as anyone else…that being from a small town and not being particularly privileged was not something that should hold me back. This lesson was one of two great gifts he gave to me.
I’m not gonna lie…Coach kinda scared me. He was intense out on the field and he wanted his players to play good baseball. I don’t know if it’s true to say this or not, but it seemed to me that he’d rather his players play good baseball and lose than to play lousy baseball and win. The game mattered to him. Sometimes I would cringe when he would yell at the players that made mistakes. Everyone in the stands knew when Coach wasn’t happy. But if he felt that his players were on the receiving end of bad baseball, like a bad call from an umpire, he was out there in the face of the offender to make sure that the same standards applied to everyone on the field, not just to his players. Coach is California’s winningest baseball coach of all time. A record that is likely to stand for a long time.
The other great gift that Coach gave to me was the gift of baseball itself. My favorite high school memories revolve around baseball. I loved going to those Friday night games at rec park. I still love a really good game of baseball. I don’t even care who is playing. To me, the sound of a wooden bat squarely contacting a baseball is one of the most thrilling sounds in sportsdom. I was privileged to have two brothers play Eagle baseball for Coach. To this day I am proud of the kind of ball they both played.
Thank you Coach, for investing your life into the lives of other people’s children and for helping them, helping me, learn that in life, as in baseball, you get out of it what you put into it.
El Segundo, and baseball, will miss you…