Scott Muckey keeps building winners at Crespi

At the entrance to the bench, Scott Muckey sits on a sturdy but fading black briefcase that he inherited 13 years ago from his father. Holding a clipboard and wearing sunglasses, Muckey uses his fingers to signal to catcher Alex Gonzalez what pitches he wants thrown.

For 24 seasons, Muckey has been the baseball coach at Encino Crespi High, and the biggest surprise is how he even made it to year No. 2. He was a college coach and always intended to stay a college coach.

In 1986, he lost his position as head coach at Los Angeles Valley College because of budget cuts and was going to spend only a year at Crespi in 1987 before searching for another college position.

“By the end of the year, I said, ‘I’m not looking. I love it here,’ ” he said.

And so the Celts enter their fourth decade with one of the most respected baseball teachers at the helm of a program that keeps producing top players and outstanding teams.

“He lets us be us,” third baseman Austin Walker said. “He lets us play baseball and have fun.”

Muckey treats his players as if they were adults, which is risky considering teenagers are sometimes tempted to cross the line that separates good behavior from bad. Then again, that’s what life is all about, learning lessons, and Muckey wants his players to be responsible for their actions and decisions.

His program is run like a college program. He gives his players the knowledge and preparation for the next level, and there have been many success stories, from Jeff Suppan ( Milwaukee Brewers) to Trevor Plouffe (2004 first-round draft choice), from Sean Gilmartin ( Florida State) to Carlos Lopez (Cal State Fullerton).

But it is how Muckey develops the seemingly unsung players that’s most impressive, from turning average pitchers into high school standouts by having them throw sidearm or calling upon a senior who has never started to become a leader and key player.

Crespi is 15-3 this season, a year after winning the Southern Section Division II championship. The Celts won the Diamond Sports National Classic last week and won the Easton tournament earlier. It hardly means that Crespi is going to win another section title. The first challenge is getting into the playoffs, and that’s no easy accomplishment in a Mission League that has had four schools win or reach a section final the last four years.

If there’s one thing Muckey does particularly well, it’s train pitchers. He’s a guru in that department, whether calling the pitches or teaching someone how to move the ball around the plate. The Celts have so many competent pitchers this season they could play consecutive doubleheaders and still have pitchers available.

And next season, another Suppan arrives, Dylan, a promising eighth-grade pitcher who’s the nephew of Jeff Suppan. The cupboard will never be bare when it comes to pitchers at Crespi.

Muckey never takes himself too seriously.

“We’re there to have fun and challenge ourselves,” he said.

Players, parents and alumni know how fortunate they are to have a college coach working at the high school level.

And Muckey’s presence has helped raise the quality of coaching for other schools in the league. He has set a high standard, and trying to reach it is good for everyone involved.