As a rookie head coach 10 years ago, Bob Myers guided the Long Beach City College baseball team to its last state community college baseball title.
Now Myers, the school's director of physical education, is getting a big kick out of his new role as the director of the California Community Baseball Tournament now that Long Beach has qualified for the event for the first time in eight seasons.
The eight-team, double-elimination tournament begins Friday morning and runs through Memorial Day, with games scheduled at both Blair Field in Long Beach and at Cal State Long Beach. Long Beach City College (23-12) hosts Sacramento City College (27-8-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Blair Field.
For Myers, who also took the Vikings to the finals in 1977 and 1978 but never recaptured the magic of that '76 campaign, Long Beach's re-entry into postseason play is sweet.
'They Play the Game Better'
"I'm happy for Kenny," said Myers of second-year Viking Coach Ken Gaylord. "This is good for the school and good for him."
But Myers said he sees little resemblance between his 1976 team and Gaylord's present version.
"They play the game better than we did," said Myers, who doesn't beat around the bush with his answers. "All I had was a good pitcher. I gave him the ball and he did the rest."
In 1976, when the Vikings defeated Harbor College for the title in a best-of-three playoff format, Myers relied on right-hander Greg Harris of Los Alamitos, now a relief pitcher with the Texas Rangers.
Gaylord said pitching on his team "has really been coming around."
In the finals Gaylord will rely on starting pitchers Johnny Wenrick and Ed Ramirez. Wenrick, a freshman from Norwalk High, takes a 9-1 record and 2.84 earned-run average into the event. Ramirez, a sophomore from Paramount, is 10-3 with a 2.78 ERA.
In the best-of-three regional qualifying round last weekend at Taft College, Wenrick picked up a save when he bailed out Ramirez in the ninth inning to preserve a 6-4 win over Taft. The Vikings won the series when Wenrick came back less than 24 hours later and tossed a three-hitter for a 6-3 victory.
Long Beach advanced to postseason action after tying Harbor for the Metropolitan Conference title. Leading the way at the plate was catcher Mike McCarthy, from Leffingwell Christian, who batted .360 with six home runs. Millikan graduates Don Sparks (first base) and Brian Turang (infield) drove in 67 runs between them. Gaylord also credited shortstop Albert Guerra from South Gate and third baseman Jeff Sears from Oregon with anchoring the defense.
Gaylord's home-grown team may also reap the advantages of playing in a championship tournament in its own backyard. Blair Field has long been the choice of the state baseball coaches association for the tournament because of its superior facilities. A majority of the Vikings played in the stadium when they were in high school, American Legion or Connie Mack leagues.
"It might help, having just come off the road," Gaylord said. "The kids will be sleeping in their own beds and eating where they usually eat."
The opening round of the tournament begins at 10 a.m. Friday with College of San Mateo (31-7) meeting San Diego Mesa (33-6) at Blair Field and Rancho Santiago (30-8) playing Merced (23-12) at Cal State Long Beach. The losers play at 2 that afternoon at Cal State Long Beach. The winners will play at 10 a.m. Saturday at Blair Field.
College of the Canyons (33-5) plays Butte (31-7) at 2 p.m. at Blair Field before the nightcap between the Long Beach City College and Sacramento. The losers meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at Cal State Long Beach, while the winners meet Saturday afternoon at 2 at Blair Field.