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Laguna Beach High baseball coach Jeff Sears dies at age 55

Laguna Beach High School baseball coach Jeff Sears.
Laguna Beach’s Jeff Sears throws in a ball during the Kiwanis Club of Greater Anaheim’s 52nd Orange County High School All-Star Baseball Game for seniors in 2019.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Orange County baseball community is in mourning after Laguna Beach High baseball coach Jeff Sears, the most successful coach in the program’s history, died Sunday morning at Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach. He was 55.

Laguna boys’ volleyball coach Lance Stewart said Sears had been living with Stewart and his family for the past year and a half. He was taken to the emergency room on Jan. 10 as he had been having trouble breathing, Stewart said, and his blood oxygen level was below 80%.

“On Saturday night, they put him back on 100% oxygen,” Stewart said. “They had found blood clots in his legs and lungs.”

Sears’ mother and two sisters were traveling from Oregon, Stewart said, and the Laguna Beach baseball boosters have started a GoFundMe to help with travel and funeral expenses. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had raised nearly $24,000.

“It’s rough,” Stewart said, adding that Sears did not have a wife or children. “He loved baseball, and he loved kids. He had a perfect temperament to work with kids ... His family was his high school and club baseball kids. He coached my kids, and they’re both wrecks. They’re pretty devastated, as is everybody. It’s kind of a shock when it happens that fast.”

Sears was Laguna Beach’s baseball coach from 2008-2011, before returning in 2017. The Breakers’ 2011 Orange Coast League title was Laguna’s first league title in baseball since 1963.

Heading into his 10th year as the Breakers’ coach, Sears had a 143-95 career record. He was the program’s all-time leader in wins, and led the Breakers to three of their 10 league titles in program history.

Laguna Beach High School's Varsity baseball Coach Jeff Sears speaks to one of his players at practice at Laguna Beach High
Laguna Beach High baseball coach Jeff Sears speaks to one of his players at practice in 2010.
(File Photo)

Sears was known as a larger-than-life personality, who seemingly always had a story to tell.

Laguna Beach baseball pitching coach Jairo Ochoa said he’d known Sears for more than 20 years, including Sears’ assistant coaching stints at University High and Chapman University, both schools Ochoa attended. Ochoa spent some time with the current players at the field on Sunday afternoon, to be together and pay their respects.

“He’s loved and respected by so many people in the baseball community, from coaches to players, ex-players that have turned into coaches,” Ochoa said. “The baseball community is definitely feeling a void in his passing. He was just one of guys that everyone loved. They all looked forward to playing Jeff. He’s always been one of the smartest guys in the game, and he always kept opposing coaches on their toes. You knew you were going to be in for a good game, and you were going to be in for a good laugh. He was just that guy.”

That was true for CdM baseball coach Kevin McCaffrey, who said he’d known Sears since they were both coaching at University. He said Sears liked the University of Oregon and McCaffrey went to the University of Arizona, so good-natured ribbing would often ensue.

“He was the life of every get-together,” McCaffrey said. “He would come to all of our [CdM] fundraisers, which shows a lot when an opposing coach wants to come and play in our golf tournaments, poker tournaments. He was just always up for a good time and supporting the baseball community. He was an amazing person; I was shocked when I heard the news.”

Jackson Yelland, who graduated from the program in 2020, said he last saw Sears at the alumni game on Jan. 8 before flying back to school. Yelland is now a sophomore pitcher for Kenyon College in Ohio.

“He cared so much about his players and former players,” Yelland said. “I always enjoyed coming home and working out with him ... He meant so much to the team, he meant so much to the city and even the county and baseball in general.

“He always loved seeing us, and greeted us with a hug and a smile. That’s something that I’ll always remember.”

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