"A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are." - Ara Parasheghian
What the heck is a Seawolf anyway? *(answer at the bottom of this post.)
It was getting late and we were getting a bit punchy. We were huddled around the faint glow of the Macintosh G5. It was 11:30 at night. A school night for the boys. A work night for me. A night where we had no business still being up but we couldn’t go to bed; couldn’t pull ourselves away. We were listening to a college baseball game that was being played halfway across the country.
Let’s back up a few months. I had an opportunity to interview John Goelz, the baseball coach at Sonoma State University, for a book project I’m working on. Goelz is legendary around the area. He’s been at Sonoma State for 23 years and has a reputation of putting successful teams on the field year after year. He's had offers to leave, to bigger schools, pro teams. He's chosen to stay. He loves what he does. When he agreed to sit down with me and let me interview him, I jumped at the chance.
He is an incredibly engaging guy who sleeps, eats and breathes baseball. We hit it off right away and it wasn’t hard to figure out why he was so successful. Despite an very small university budget and a lack of scholarship money, he has managed to rack up enough wins to earn him the recognition of being the winningest coach in Sonoma State history and the 13th winningest active coach in all Division II schools. (Is winningest a word?)
I sat at the feet of the master as he told stories of games and players and coaching moments that were the stuff memories are made of. A little over an hour later, I packed up my digital recorder and headed home. The time had gone by so quickly. I was in heaven.
So when the baseball season came around, I was more than a little bit interested. I was a convert and as the saying goes, converts are the worst. I checked the box scores and memorized the lineup, read the stories and celebrated their good fortune. And they did well. Really well.
So well in fact, that this week they played in the Division II College World Series. It was the first time a team from Sonoma State had ever been there. Last week they boarded a plane for Sauget, Illinois to play with the best of the best from all around the country. Goelz and his boys from Sonoma had made the big time.
So on Monday night, with the score tied 4-4, there was no way I was going to bed. I got on this train and I was going to ride it out. My sons and I watched as the play by play flashed across the screen. Inning after inning went by. 10, 11, 12, 13… the number kept rising. We watched as Sonoma State would bat in the bottom of the inning, hoping for the run that would not come. We held our collective breath as Central Missouri would put runners on in their half of the inning and then cheer as the zero would flash on the screen. We got out of the jam, again.
Somewhere in the 16th inning, the announcer let out a sigh. “Why do I always get these games?” he asked rhetorically. No one was complaining. It was now tomorrow in the booming metropolis of Sauget where the game was being played, a game that had started at 6:00 p.m., the previous evening. No one was going home any time soon.
It was 2:30 a.m. local time when the Seawolves managed to push what turned out to be the winning run across the plate. They had been at it for over 6½ hours. It was a game for the ages. Sitting in the dim glow of the computer screen, I pumped my fist and let out a yelp. We had done it.
Coach Goelz and the Sonoma State Seawolves made it to the semifinal game where they finally fell to Ouachita Baptist on Friday night. It had been an amazing season, the best in the 38 year history of the program. They had put the little program from Rohnert Park, California on the national map. And like that epic 19-inning game on Monday night, one that will soon become another of the amazing stories Coach Goelz will tell.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
*The Sonoma State mascot is Lobo the Seawolf, lobo being Spanish for ‘wolf’. The mascot is derived from the Jack London novel entitled The Sea-Wolf in which the protagonist is pressed into service aboard a boat captained by a man named “Wolf”. The mascot was taken from the book for London’s ties with Sonoma County, specifically the nearby town of Glen Ellen.