Baseball coach rebuilds program from the neck up

To say Jeff Baumback didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he applied for the position of head baseball coach at Redondo Union High School would be a quite an understatement.

Jeff Baumback took over the Redondo High baseball program after serving seven years as pitching coach for Long Beach Wilson. Photo by Randy Angel

The school was looking for its fourth head coach in four years and someone to resurrect the program while bringing stability to the community and Baumback threw his name in the hat as a candidate.

A former pitcher who played at Arizona State before transferring to Long Beach State, Baumback played alongside current Angels’ pitcher Jered Weaver and other major league players Bobby Crosby and Troy Tulowitzki.

After an injury derailed a professional career, Bauback knew right off the bat that he wanted to become a coach. He served seven years as pitching coach for perennial power Long Beach Wilson, helping the Bruins reach three CIF Southern Section title games. In 2007 Long Beach Wilson was selected by Baseball America as the nation’s No. 1 ranked high school team. Baumback felt ready for his first stint as a head coach.

Although Wilson had competed in previous years in Redondo’s annual tournament, that was the extent of Baumback’s experience with Redondo

“When I went for my first interview, I didn’t know anything about the Bay League, let alone Redondo High or the situation its program had been in,” Baumback, 31, said. “To me, Long Beach and the South Bay could have been in different states.”

When offered the head coaching position, Baumback accepted and not only because of the challenges that lay ahead.

“The facilities are what really helped me make the decision,” Baumback admitted. “It’s everything a coach could want for his first job.”

Starting from scratch, Baumback began evaluating players while getting to know the parents and his new surroundings as a physical education and health teacher. It didn’t take long before he became aware of his new school’s rivalry with Mira Costa, meeting some resistance when he wanted to paint the outfield walls green.

“Supporters asked what I was doing. ‘Green is a Mira Costa color’ they said. I replied that 98 percent of the baseball fields in America have green walls and we want our facility to look like a minor league stadium.”

The new coach won’t have long to wait for his field of dreams. Baumback said that in June, approximately $500,000 made available from Measure C will be spent on upgrades, including a $340,000 lighting system, sport turfing, irrigation, new dugouts and improvements to the bullpens and batting cages.

First baseman Dylan Hatch is expected to be a key run producer for the Sea Hawks. Photo by Ray Vidal

While Baumback is excited about the future transformation of Memorial Stadium, he is just as pleased with the support he has received during his transition period.

“The players, parents and administration have been phenomenal,” Baumback exclaimed. “I came in with low expectations of the players, but we’ve got some real talent. We’re going to do things the right way and our seniors, who have had four coaches in four years, are buying into what we’re doing and starting to see that we can do some things on the field.”

Baumback retained Redondo coach Mike Witcher, who ran the Sea Hawk’s summer program and has implemented former minor leaguer Aaron Meyers as hitting instructors while former Redondo and Stanford hurler Jeff Stimpson will help with the pitching staff. Baumback is using the same throwing program Jered Weaver used as a player at Long Beach State.

Former Long Beach Wilson coach Steve Doherty reunites with Baumback as an infield instructor. Doherty played his college ball at Long Beach State before reaching the big leagues with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Baumback said he grateful to have Tim Ammentorp helping with the freshman team and that they “are on the same page.” Ammentorp was the head varsity coach at Redondo for 20 years before stepping down after the 2008 season.

Going into the season, Baumback felt it would take about 15 games for his team to gel. Entering the week, the Sea Hawks were 5-4 with wins over strong programs such as El Segundo, Mayfair and Millikan.

“Eliminating mental mistakes is our goal right now,” Baumback said. “At the high school level, the mentally strong will win. We’re still building our confidence. I want to see players go into every game with a look in their eyes that they’re going to win. Some right now have the look of a deer in headlights. We have a ways to go but we’re on the right track.”

Redondo ace Drew Kozain has two complete-game victories in the first month of the season. Photo by Ray Vidal

Baumback said his tenure at Long Beach Wilson taught him how to run a successful program and that he is a fairly strict coach.

“My players dress accordingly for practices and games or they don’t come onto the field,” Baumback said. “I want them to take pride in all they do – from playing to maintaining the field.”

Almost a month into the season, Baumback feels the strengths of his team is its offense and depth on the pitching staff.

“I really like our lineup,” Baumback said. “We have a lot of kids who can hit doubles and we have some power. Three or four players can run so it’s a good mix. Unfortunately, our key hitters began the season in a slump, which is a rare thing to see.”

First baseman Dylan Hatch and catcher Jake Jiminez return for their junior years after hitting .300 last season. Baumback said Drew Kozain and Travis Fischvogt are coming on as hitters and are expected to drive in runs for the Sea Hawks.

Kozain has emerged as Redondo’s ace on the mound already throwing two complete-game victories. Grant Wessel is the number two starter. Baumback said he has five relief pitchers that have the capabilities getting the job done or becoming a third starter. Joining Fischvogt in the bullpen are Hatch, Adrian Benoit, Kevin Hedlund and Nych Bongiovanni.

Rounding out the infield are third baseman Andrew Baer, second baseman Tyler Hartzheim and shortstop Matt Esparza who Baumback said has a chance to become an extremely good player.

Left fielder Cameron Bennet is a double threat at the plate and on the bases and Richard Atherton worked his way into the lineup as the team’s center fielder.

Baumback feels the weakness of his squad is on defense where players are throwing to the wrong base and missing cutoff men.

“Those are all mental mistakes that we need to correct,” Baumback said. “But the poor decisions can be eliminated with experience and repetition. It just takes time.”

When Athletic Director Andy Saltsman introduced Baumback as the new head baseball coach last July, Baumback vowed he would “be in it for the long haul.”

His experience has taught him that a successful program begins at the Little League level and was elated when North Redondo, Central Redondo and South Redondo Little Leagues merged prior to this season becoming the unified Redondo Beach Little League.

“That merger was a key to our future,” Baumback said. “The All-Star teams will be stronger and have more success in tournament play. The chemistry between players and the higher level of competition will breed success when they reach high school.”

The enthusiasm exhibited by a first-year head coach is expected, but in the eyes of Jeff Baumback, the future of Redondo’s baseball program will be as bright as next season’s playing field. ER

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