Rival Southland Coaches Team Up to Guide Squad in Summer League
During the college baseball season, they are fierce coaching rivals in District 3 of the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics.
But this summer, Rich Hill of Cal Lutheran and Tony Barbone of Azusa Pacific will be coaching the same team.
Hill will coach the Chatham (Mass.) squad in the Cape Cod Summer Baseball League and Barbone will be his assistant.
The league is financially subsidized by major league baseball, which provides balls and wooden bats, and features many of the top players in the NCAA Division I. It is regarded as the nation’s premier summer league for college players.
Hill and Barbone are the only NAIA coaches in the 10-team league, which conducts its season from June 14 through mid-August. The teams are within an hour’s drive of each other on Cape Cod.
This will be Hill’s second year there. Last summer, Hill was an assistant at Brewster. Barbone is going for the first time.
Hill said he earned of the 1989 opening through a Division I coach.
“We were playing San Diego State in a winter league game and their pitching coach was with Brewster and he said he wasn’t going back (the next season),” Hill said. “So I applied and I got it and that kind of opened the door for this position.”
He heard about the opening in Chatham from Bobby Whelan, who was coach of the team last season but left when he became coach at Dartmouth.
“I had known Bobby Whelan and when he got the job at Dartmouth; he said he didn’t think he’d have time to coach the team,” Hill said. “He had mentioned it would be available and if I wanted to apply I should go ahead.”
Then, at the National Baseball Coaches convention in January in San Francisco, Hill approached Barbone about possibly becoming his assistant. Later in the month, Hill learned that he had been hired as Chatham’s coach.
At first, Hill said, a lot of people didn’t understand why he chose Barbone--coach of a district rival--as his assistant.
“People thought I was crazy to take Tony Barbone with me because we’re rivals and we fight like dogs on the field,” he said. “But he’s such a good coach, especially with the pitchers. I just thought he could really help us.”
Besides, Barbone added, they have become pretty good friends.
“Rich and I have a pretty good relationship and our teams always play good, spirited games against each other,” he said. “Throughout the entire (district) season, we were talking back and forth about this and we’ve become pretty close.”
Barbone said, however, that it will be a strain to be away from his wife and two small children for most of the summer.
He also had to get clearance from Azusa Pacific, but he reached an agreement with Athletic Director Cliff Hamlow.
“We came to an understanding of how we’re going to work it out, so that I take care of the things I have to do here,” Barbone said. (Hamlow) . . . was very supportive.”
Barbone said it would be worth the strain because coaching in the league is an opportunity that most college coaches do not get.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about it,” he said.
Hill has fond memories of his Cape Cod season.
“It’s definitely a great experience as a coach,” he said. “I had a great time last year. It was fun as an assistant and it’s going to be a good experience as a head coach this time.
“You have the elite college baseball players in the country playing in one of the best vacation spots in the country. It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.”
Not only is there strong fan support from each town, Hill said, the league is a haven for major league scouts.
“It’s extremely good in terms of exposure,” Hill said. “There are at least five or six scouts at every game. They want to see what a kid can do with a wood bat.”
Hill said the league is similar in structure to a minor league.
“There’s great competition but it’s not the pressure situation that exists in the minors,” he said. “They (players) all have a day job, a place to stay and they know they’re going back to college regardless of what happens.”
With the attention from the major leagues, Hill and Barbone agree that coaching in the Cape Cod league provides good exposure for themselves as well as the NAIA and District 3.
“I think this is really great for our district,” Barbone said. “It speaks very well for our league and the type of baseball we play. The NAIA is seen in some ways as the ugly stepchild of the NCAA, but I think we’ve always been a very good district for baseball and we’ve done very well against NCAA teams.”
Added Hill: “When you’re coaching at the small-college level you have to really coach. A lot of people don’t realize the difficulties of coaching at this level. We’re not always blessed with great players but we’ve still won a lot of games.”
That was true for both Cal Lutheran and Azusa Pacific this season. Azusa Pacific won the regular-season district title and finished with a 34-12 record, losing to Cal Lutheran in the final of the district tournament. Cal Lutheran advanced to the NAIA area playoffs before losing in the final to Lewis and Clark College of Portland, Ore., 35-16.
But Hill wants to cast aside any rivalry with Barbone, at least for the summer.
“I want to forget about the Azusa Pacific and Cal Lutheran rivalry for a while,” he said. “I just want to bring home a championship (at Chatham), and that’s how Tony feels.”
In its final season of competition in the NCAA Division II before moving up to Division I next season, Cal State Northridge finished short of winning a national title.
But the Matadors came close to a title in several spring sports.
The closest call may have been in baseball, where Northridge reached the Division II championship game last week only to lose to Jacksonville State of Alabama, 12-8, in Montgomery. The Matadors (39-22), who began the Division II World Series seeded second, behind Jacksonville, couldn’t hold a 6-1 lead in the championship game.
Northridge also came close to a title in women’s softball, dropping a 6-2 decision to Cal State Bakersfield, its California Collegiate Athletic Assn. rival, in the title game two weeks ago.
Four other Northridge teams finished among the national leaders in the spring season. The Matadors placed second in men’s track, fifth in women’s track, third in men’s golf and tied for fifth in women’s tennis.
That left the school with 34 national titles in 12 sports. Nine of those titles were won in men’s swimming and four in women’s softball and swimming.
College Division Notes
Two players from Cal State Northridge were selected to the NCAA Division II All-American baseball team. Scott Sharts, who led Division II with 29 home runs, was named as an infielder and Craig Clayton as a designated hitter. Sharts is also a pitcher and Clayton is an outfielder, first baseman and pitcher. . . . Two other players from the CCAA, outfielder Pete Weber of UC Riverside and catcher Doug Noce of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, were also chosen to the 15-player squad.
The Cal State San Bernardino men’s golf team capped an outstanding season by finishing in a tie for fourth with Wittenberg of Ohio in the NCAA Division III tournament last week at Jekyll Island, Ga. The Coyotes started the tournament ranked fifth in the division.