The Quiet Guy in the Dugout : Mira Mesa Coach Won’t Lead Cheers, but He’s the One Behind the Winner
It was a typical celebration scene last May 30 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium when Mira Mesa High School wrapped up its first-ever San Diego Section baseball championship with a 7-2 victory over Patrick Henry.
Fans from the county’s largest school (in enrollment) poured onto the field to congratulate their champions, and the players jumped wildly in jubilation. But there was something missing: the Mira Mesa coach.
Larry Elliot certainly did not resemble Tommy Lasorda that day. Elliot is not the kind of guy who raises his arms and leads a charge out of the dugout to celebrate the final out.
That just isn’t his style.
While his players celebrated the win last May, Elliot relaxed in the dugout, content just to sit back and smile.
“I’ve been trying to tell everybody this year that we just have good athletic talent,” Elliot said after the win. “I had nothing to do with it.”
Or at least that is what Elliot, who prefers to remain behind the scenes at Mira Mesa, would like everybody to believe.
“Maybe we, as coaches, toot our horn a little too much,” Elliot said. “I coached a water polo team two years ago and we didn’t win a game. I was doing the same things then that I’m doing now. The only difference is that when we won the championship last year, I had a lot of talented players.”
But Elliot’s talented players had lost twice to Patrick Henry during the regular season before beating the Patriots in the championship game.
Maybe the coach should take some credit for helping to make the difference in the final game.
“To tell you the truth, the best thing I could do last year was keep my mouth shut,” Elliot said, laughing. “The only thing that surprised me when we won the championship last season was that other people were surprised.”
In the Baseball Encyclopedia, Lawrence Lee Elliot’s name is listed just ahead of eight players with a last name of Elliott.
Larry Elliot: Born March 5, 1938, San Diego, Calif. Bats: Left. Throws: Left. 6'2", 200 lbs. , the listing says.
Elliot played for four seasons as an outfielder in the major leagues. In his first two seasons, 1962 and 1963 with Pittsburgh, Elliot batted 14 times and had three hits. The next two years, he had more playing time with the New York Mets. He finished with 15 career home runs and a .236 batting average.
“I don’t like to think back to those days too much,” Elliot said. “I wasn’t that good at the big league level. I played for 13 seasons, mostly in the minors, and when I was done, I told myself that I would only look ahead.”
Elliot played his final two major league seasons under legendary manager Casey Stengel.
“Casey was a tremendous teacher,” Elliot said. “The only time I like to look back on those days is to use a story or something to help get a point across to my players now.”
Elliot returned to school after his playing days to earn his teaching credential. He has been the baseball coach at Mira Mesa for 10 years.
“What I enjoy most about coaching is teaching the kids,” Elliot said. “I love it when the rest of the coaches in our league (the City East), and I get together and talk about baseball. I love the game and I knew that I wanted to get into coaching.”
Elliot’s strong point is his one-on-one teaching. Sometimes, his players say, he can almost go overboard.
“He had so much knowledge that sometimes we had trouble picking all of it up,” said Chris Wrieden, who played for Elliot from 1980 to 1982. “He would do a lot of individual instruction and he would get involved in practice.”
Elliot still likes to get in the cage and take some batting practice, and he doesn’t mind pitching a little, either.
“He’d throw batting practice to us and you could never hit him consistently,” Wrieden said. “He taught us that you don’t have to throw hard to be successful. He’d throw the ball 50 miles an hour and spot it. It impressed me that he was so tough to hit.”
On the wall of Elliot’s office hangs a picture and adjoining newspaper article about Fulton Vickery, his coach at Madison High School.
“He used to always stress the importance of feeling like a member of a team,” Elliot said. “And I try to stress that. How our kids approach baseball is how they will approach a lot of things they do later on in life.
“You have to emphasize how important it is to be a member of a group that is trying to accomplish something. The players have to realize that they have to be held accountable for their actions as a part of the team. That’s the way it’s going to be for them later on.”
However, there are still times when the coach must stick up for his team. During a preseason game at Point Loma a couple of seasons ago, Elliot pulled his players off the field after having a disagreement with the opposing coach. The argument centered on the ball and strike calls by the Mira Mesa catcher, who was making the calls since there were no umpire for the preseason game.
“We were surprised he did that because he was usually so quiet during games,” Wrieden said. “But this time, he was mad. We were proud of him.”
Elliot is also a stickler for having his team work hard. He likes his players to run and get in shape. Sometimes, no matter what the circumstances.
“One time we were on one of our runs and it started hailing,” Elliot said. “We’ve had some characters on our teams in the past, and they went a little crazy. But we didn’t have much choice other than to finish up.
“Those all were the good times. But I think I’ve matured some since then. I have to try and remember that coaching is basically like teaching: We have to work hard to do well.”
Last year, Mira Mesa was only 15-6 entering the San Diego Section playoffs, but the Marauders got hot at the right time. Senior right-hander Willy Morris pitched a two-hitter to lead Mira Mesa past Mount Carmel, 2-0, in the first round, and then the Marauders came from behind to beat Vista, 5-4, in the 3-A semifinals.
Morris, who finished the season 10-0, then fired a six-hitter to beat Patrick Henry for the title.
“Willy didn’t get a lot of attention, but he should have,” Elliot said. “Every time I handed him the ball, he went out there and won for us.
“I don’t know if we were the best team in the county last season, but we were certainly lucky enough to play well at the end. I guess it was just our turn.”
In that May 30 game, Mira Mesa had opened a 7-0 lead after four innings and then cruised to the championship. In the end, it was apparent that the best team had won.
And that was the way Larry Elliot viewed it. His team had won the title, and he was going to give his players all the credit.