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HE'S JUST AN OLD-FASHIONED KIND OF COACH : For John Scolinos, It's How You Play the Game That's Important

May 12, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Coach John Scolinos was standing in front of the visitors' dugout at Hart Park in Orange, arms folded, looking concerned. His Cal Poly Pomona baseball team was down by a run and innings were becoming scarce.

He seemed not to hear the wise cracks of the Chapman College fans poking friendly fun at the way he wears a towel around his neck or the way he scoots along, using the short, careful steps of a 69-year-old man with a 42-year-old football injury.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 14, 1987 Home Edition Sports Part 3 Page 5 Column 1 Sports Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story on Cal Poly Pomona baseball Coach John Scolinos in Tuesday's editions, three school officials were misidentified. Hugh O. La Bounty is president of the university; Dr. James Bell is vice president for student affairs, and Karen Miller is athletic director.

At this little ballpark, with about 30 fans in the stands on a hot Tuesday afternoon, every word could be heard. The few Cal Poly Pomona fans weren't saying much, just lolling about in the sunshine.

But everyone snapped to attention when the umpire at first base called a Pomona player out. The Chapman first baseman had pulled his foot off the bag reaching for the throw.

Scolinos went flying across the field in a springy double-time march, pointing a finger and setting the umpire straight as he went. After a short conference involving both coaches and both umpires, the call was changed.

As Scolinos went scooting back across the field, holding up the game, a Chapman fan took time out from razzing the umpires to comment, in mock exasperation: "Isn't it about time for that guy to retire?"

Scolinos thinks not.

He has been coaching college baseball for 40 years and, as far as he's concerned, there's no end in sight. Ask him when he'll retire and he says, "Only the Almighty knows."

He means that quite literally. Scolinos lives by the Good Book. In casual conversation, he quotes Scripture to make a point. He doesn't preach, he shares, in the sincere hope that it might help.

Scolinos is so old-fashioned that he bypasses corny and comes on like a breath of fresh air. Picture yourself sitting on your grandpa's front porch in the cool of the evening, drinking real lemonade, listening to the crickets and smelling the new-mown grass and the honeysuckle. That old fresh air that's so hard to find these days.

To Scolinos, baseball is a wonderful game that helps turn boys into men by teaching them a whole range of life's lessons--winning, losing, teamwork, self-esteem, respect, discipline . . .

These are the axioms that all coaches talk. John Scolinos has lived them for decades. Rod Dedeaux, retired USC baseball coach who has known Scolinos since they played together in the minor leagues, swears: "He's for real. He is an absolutely sincere person. He loves the game."

Scolinos sees himself as a teacher, doing important work.

Oh, sure, he's a coach, too. He's the winningest active college baseball coach in the country, with a record of 1,097-834.

But he's the one who points out: "I've won more games than anyone else. That's true. But I've also lost the most games. . . . You have to know how to do both. Not that I think you have to like losing, or get used to it. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. You have to be constantly learning and making adjustments."

No need to ask him why he's perfectly at peace with himself doing his life's work on that quiet little campus in Pomona, content to win Division II national titles with young men who make it all worthwhile.

"I'd never last in pro ball," Scolinos said. "My philosophy is 'Surround yourself with good people.' You have to be able to spot the donkeys and get rid of them.

"In the big leagues, I'd be trying to get rid of a couple of donkeys and they'd tell me, 'You're crazy. We just signed those donkeys for a million dollars. We'll get rid of you, Scolinos.' And I'd say, 'Fine.' "

His values may be old-fashioned, but he can sit and, without batting an eye, tell you with concern exactly what's happening with kids and drugs, and with sympathy how crazy a 20-year-old can get in the spring when his girlfriend dumps him.

"Coaching is not easy," Scolinos said. "But working with young people keeps you young and makes it all worthwhile.

"I plan to keep going as long as they want me and as long as I have the enthusiasm--and most important, as long as I have good people around me."

It's a recurring theme with Scolinos. Good people. That's the key to success, happiness, longevity, all things good.

"There are still a lot of good kids around, too," he said. "Kids who have good parents, they're the main coaches. The sad thing is that kids reach the point of no return at an earlier age now. To save them, you have to get to them when they're young.

"I'm always telling young coaches that they have the most important job of all. Little League coaches, Pony League coaches . . . they're the ones. If they get a kid who's a snotball, they've got a chance to get that kid squared away.

"But some young coaches are only concerned about winning. At what price? I do have empathy for young coaches in the colleges, or even in the high schools, who are under such pressure to win. I'm over the hill. I can do it my way.

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