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End of an Era at Harbor College : Baseball: The day after Seahawks won the state title, Jim O’Brien, the coach of 15 years, resigned.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Less than 24 hours after leading Harbor College to its third state baseball title, Coach Jim O’Brien announced his retirement at a press conference Wednesday.

The 52-year-old coach made the decision after his finest season in 15 years as Harbor’s coach.

Not only did the Seahawks (51-5) set a state record for victories, they also went undefeated in the playoffs (8-0) and the Southern California Athletic Conference (20-0).

Wednesday’s announcement was not a surprise. In February, O’Brien told a Times reporter that he would retire if his team won the state championship.

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O’Brien said he gave the decision a great deal of thought.

“When you’ve been involved with baseball as long as I have, it’s a very difficult decision,” he said. “I want to be able to spend more time with my family. . . . I’m going with my family to South America and Mexico to meet my twin sons, who are on a retreat.”

O’Brien will remain as Harbor athletic director and he will continue to work with the baseball team as an assistant coach.

Tony Bloomfield, top assistant for the last two years, is expected to succeed O’Brien.

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Bloomfield, 28, who played baseball at West Torrance High, was an All-American shortstop at Harbor in 1983. He completed his college career at the University of Nevada-Reno in 1985 and has coached at the high school, community college and college levels.

“Tony is my recommendation to the administration,” O’Brien said. “He’s energetic and competitive. He’s been doing all of our recruiting and he’s a great recruiter. Harbor’s program will continue in great style.”

Bloomfield is looking forward to the possibility of succeeding O’Brien, although he realizes that there would be pressure.

“Of course there’s going to be pressure,” he said. “I mean, I’m taking over for a legend, but I feel we’re always going to win at this program. We’ve got kids knocking the door down to come play at Harbor.”

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O’Brien led the Seahawks to state titles in 1978, 1984 and 1990, and he has had eight teams in the state tournament. All finished third or higher.

He also led Harbor to 11 conference championships. His record is 460-176-2.

“O.B.'s the best coach I’ve ever played for, and the smartest coach I’ve ever been around,” said Harbor pitcher John Ingram, who went 8-0 this season.

O’Brien is regarded as a motivator. He described his players throughout the years as “a bunch of little guys that have a lot of fire and play hard.”

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Bloomfield said O’Brien can motivate almost any athlete.

“He’s a great motivator who gets the most out of his kids,” he said. “Look at this team. We don’t have incredible talent. Our talent is like anybody else’s. We just play above our level. We always play hard.”

Before coming to Harbor in 1976, O’Brien coached North Torrance High to eight Bay League titles and two CIF 4-A Division championships (1971 and 1974). The Saxons also were a CIF 4-A runner-up. In 1973, he was named California high school baseball coach of the year.

O’Brien was also successful as a player. He was a starting outfielder at Brigham Young University from 1958-1960.

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He spotted Harbor’s championship ability early this season. In February, O’Brien predicted a state championship and said this was perhaps the best team he’s had at the school.

“We’re scrappy and very coachable,” he said early in the season. “And we’ve never had this much good pitching. I just love this team, I really do.”

Bloomfield said the Seahawks were determined to win the state title. “We expected (the state title),” he said. “We had a bitter taste in our mouths after finishing third last year.”

O’Brien said overconfidence was the biggest obstacle for this year’s club to overcome.

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“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves from day one,” he said. “We had one goal in mind, to win state, and we wouldn’t have been happy with anything less.”

Ingram, who pitched the 5-2 victory in the championship game against Chabot, said everyone knew this was Harbor’s year. After all, Harbor wins state titles every six years.

“Ever since we got our hats this year, we wrote ‘1990 state champions’ on them,” said Ingram, a left-handed sophomore. “We just knew. We played together as a team.”

Orange Coast, Rancho Santiago, Pasadena, Fresno and Diablo Valley were the only teams that beat Harbor.

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The Seahawks opened the regional playoffs at home with a two-game sweep of Miracosta. The next week, Harbor beat Rio Hondo, 7-4, in 12 innings and Golden West, 9-4, to earn a spot in the Southern California Regional final. The Seahawks beat Golden West again (4-3) in the championship game at Cerritos to earn one of four spots in the state tournament at UC Irvine.

Golden West Coach Roberto Villarreal was impressed with Harbor. “They’re just great,” he said. “They have a great club over there. They’re always tough. There’s a reason why they’re No. 1, and there’s a reason why they’re 47-5 (Harbor’s record at the time).”

Behind Jeff Hunter’s (11-0) pitching, the Seahawks routed Santa Rosa, 19-6, in their state tournament opening game Saturday. Harbor beat Chabot, 10-9, in Sunday’s semifinal and again in the championship game Tuesday. Chabot, the North’s top seed, finished with a 43-12-1 record.

“There’s no doubt about it, they have a great club,” Santa Rosa Coach Ron Myers said. “Their short game is outstanding. They do a lot of things right.”

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Perhaps the reports of O’Brien’s possible resignation helped motivate Harbor. Bloomfield seemed to think so.

“Knowing O.B. was going to retire is part of the reason why they played so hard all year,” he said. “They always gave it their all.”


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