When Cal State Dominguez Hills first-year pitching coach John Verhoeven's major league baseball career ended in 1983 after five rather obscure seasons, he confronted a dilemma many former ballplayers face.
"Suddenly, I wondered what I was going to do for a living," he said.
A college graduate pushing 30, he considered a teaching job, but "with my wife and I having two kids, making $20,000 a year when I had been making $60,000 didn't seem too appealing."
So Verhoeven, who once played for the Angels, returned to his Mission Viejo home and placed an ad in the Pennysaver:
"Former major league pitcher available to give pitching lessons."
He received more than 20 phone calls the first day. Unexpectedly, Verhoeven had started a new career, one that blossomed into his own indoor baseball school near Anaheim Stadium and now, his first college coaching job.
And after a rocky start, he appears to have taken control of the Toro pitching staff. Dominguez Hills allowed an average of 10 runs a game in its first five games, but after taking two of three games from fourth-ranked UC Riverside, Dominguez Hills had the best record in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. The staff's earned-run average had dropped well below 4.00, and the staff's confidence appeared to be brimming. Shutout victories over Cal Poly Pomona and Chapman College last week marked the first back-to-back shutouts thrown by the staff since 1984.
"It's still early, but I think the pitching is coming along now," Verhoeven said.
Coach George Wing agreed.
"He is really doing a great job with our pitchers," Wing said. "It was difficult for him at first, because we hired him so late. It took him awhile to get to know our staff."
Verhoeven got the job unexpectedly in December, a month before the start of the season after the sudden resignation of Tom Pokorski. Wing, a third-year coach who has yet to have a winning season at Dominguez Hills, viewed the replacement search with consternation.
"I needed a good pitching coach," he said. "I'm not a pitching guy. It's never been my thing."
Plus, Wing figured, Dominguez Hills ballpark favors pitching. With its 12-foot green-tarped fence 400 feet from home plate and swirling afternoon breezes that blow into a batter's face, pitchers can prosper here. In fact, Wing built the team around speed and execution, not power hitting.
Although Wing met Verhoeven at a baseball camp last summer, his name did not immediately come to mind after Pokorski's resignation.
"My wife (Rody) suggested I call him, so I did," Wing said. "He wasn't in, but five minutes later he returned my call."
Wing offered Verhoeven, who grew up in Long Beach and played baseball at Valley Christian High in Cerritos, the job without a formal interview. Verhoeven, who has since moved to Yorba Linda, recently took over management of a Paramount trailer park owned by his father. In addition, his baseball school, which he runs out of a warehouse with former Angel Don Aase, has been growing.
But Verhoeven was quick to accept Wing's offer.
Explained Verhoeven: "I thought, 'What the heck.' The (trailer park) is only 10 minutes from Carson and the timing involved was right. Besides, it was something I have always wanted to do."
Verhoeven was introduced to the team Jan. 7. He calmed some of the nine-member staff by saying he would not attempt to alter their pitching mechanics, but rather try to teach them how to use their mechanics "to get people out."
The staff had trouble adjusting at the start of the season, losing two games to Arizona, 12-6 and 10-6, but Wing stood behind Verhoeven.
"Remember when I said that pitching will be our strong point?" he said after a 14-6 loss to U.S. International University last month. "Well, I still think it will be, but it might take a little more time than I expected."
Not long after that game, Verhoeven began to call all the pitches. It was not necessarily a pleasant task for the tall and lanky former set-up man, who was 3-8 with four saves scattered over major league seasons with the Angels, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins.
"As a pitcher, I would have hated that (if it was done to me)," he said.
But Verhoeven came to the realization that college pitchers don't have the same advice available to them that professional or even high school pitchers do.
"First, these pitchers on the college level don't know each other, so they don't talk to each other (about how to get hitters out)," Verhoeven said. "When I was a player I could go into a place like Kansas City and ask (Dan) Quisenberry how he would (get a certain player out).
"Second, the pitchers here don't know the college hitters they are facing very well. They might be facing JC transfers for the first time in a game, or, maybe they play a team only once in the preseason and see a hitter only a few times."
Toro hurlers weren't happy at first with Verhoeven's decision to call the pitches, according to ace Mark Tranberg (5-1), but "the way we have been pitching lately no one can complain."
Tranberg, who has developed a slider under the tutelage of Verhoeven, says the staff has responded well to Verhoeven. Tranberg entered the series against Riverside with a 1.72 ERA.
"He's an ex-major leaguer," he said. "We all look up to him so much."
Said Verhoeven: "I came to the realization that they could use my expertise as a pitcher as to how to set up batters. I knew how they felt about it, but I felt I had to do it. George (Wing) wanted me to do it, and I think they have become open to it, but with one eye open."