The nature of coaching community college athletics is usually one of constant rebuilding. Athletes remain for no more than two years, creating a turnover of players that tests a coach's adaptability and, quite often, patience.
Harbor College baseball Coach Jim O'Brien faces such a problem with the 1985 Seahawks--but the outlook is far from grim.
Last year, O'Brien was named community college baseball coach of the year for the second time after leading Harbor to a 31-8 record (best in the school's history) and its second state championship.
However, the Seahawks lost 14 players to four-year colleges and professional baseball. Seven were starters and the rest included all of his top pitchers. Add to that a season-ending arm injury to his top returning pitcher, Steve Woodell, and what's left for O'Brien is a monumental coaching challenge.
"We're practically starting from scratch," O'Brien said. "We're a very young team, but we also will have incredible depth, possibly the best I've ever had here."
Harbor is an odds-on favorite to defend its Metropolitan Conference baseball title. The Seahawks (8-4) opened the Metro season with a 15-3 thumping of Pierce College last Tuesday at home. Right fielder Frank Spates drove in three runs with a home run and a double and scored twice. Catcher Greg Bochesa and first baseman Gregg Hokuf each collected three hits.
Four pitchers worked effectively, allowing Pierce only three unearned runs on four hits. Starter Dan O'Dell went five innings to register the win, while Dave Alexander, Phil Price and Joe Gliksman were equally impressive
"Our pitchers were a little jittery in the beginning," O'Brien said, "but they have begun to settle down."
O'Brien emphasized that this team is not overpowering but will rely on speed, defense and solid pitching to repeat last year's performance.
Key players include Bochesa, Price, catcher Ray Gomez and center fielder Robert Hartwig.
Bochesa, who is recovering from a broken finger, led the Seahawks last year in home runs (10) and runs batted in (43). He is a strong catcher and can also play first base.
Although he has yet to commit to a starting infield, O'Brien said leading candidates are Hokuf at third, Jeff Howes at shortstop, Jeff Kimbro at second base and either Spates or Dan Fouts at first.
Ryan Chenoweth, Tony Clark, Randy Frazier and Kyle Lundy will compete to flank Hartwig in left and right field.
Price, strongest of the new pitchers, will be used in a short relief role if O'Brien can settle on three dependable starters among O'Dell, Alexander, Kenny Collard, Larry Johnson and Gabriel Mendez. Only Mendez played last year.