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Tough Love Pays Off : Rodriguez's Intensity Helps Put Magnolia on Top in Baseball

May 20, 1997|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — It has taken Manny Rodriguez a mere five years to establish some impressive coaching credentials.

Rodriguez was hired at Magnolia to coach the junior varsity baseball team in 1993. After winning Orange League titles in two seasons, he was promoted to varsity coach, replacing John Hangartner, who left to teach at another school. ).

It had been 12 years since the Sentinels won a league championship, but Rodriguez guided them to the title in his first season, and his second, and, now, his third.

Five league titles in five years.

Magnolia, seeded fourth in the Southern Section Division IV playoffs that start Friday and with the fewest losses (two) of any county team this season, believes it can reach a section championship game for the first time since 1977 and for only the second time in school history.

If nothing else the Sentinels expect to do better than last year when, in the Division II playoffs, they lost in the first round to Moreno Valley Canyon Springs. They want to do at least as well as the 1995 team that reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Sonora.

Did Athletic Director Rick Penn have any idea the program would enjoy this kind of success when he made Rodriguez, then 24, one of the youngest varsity baseball coaches in the county?

"No one could have predicted five straight titles," Penn said. "I just knew we'd get a hard-working coach. I was told he was a no-nonsense, intense ballplayer when he was here at Magnolia, and that was what I was looking for in a coach."

Rodriguez won't make any playoff predictions, especially with traditional powers La Quinta, El Segundo, Pasadena La Salle and Covina South Hills in the same division, but he can't completely hide his confidence in his team.

"There are no superstars out here," Rodriguez said. "All nine players have to do their job for us to succeed. But when they do, I feel we can compete with any team."

There are several good reasons for Rodriguez to feel confident.

His two starting pitchers, Greg Young and Dennis Loza, are a combined 15-1. Together they have toiled 112 1/3 innings, and given up only 91 hits and 31 earned runs.

The lineup does not slug the ball--Colt Martin and Rich Michelson lead the team with three home runs each--but it does hit. The Sentinels have eight players who have scored at least 10 runs, and seven with at least 10 runs batted in. Magnolia has averaged seven runs a game, while its pitching staff has a 2.66 earned-run average.

"I rely on pitching and defense," Rodriguez said. "Both not only keep you in games but also win them for you. I don't want a team that can score nine and give up 13."

Rodriguez insists he has no secret formula for success. He says his team wins because it plays sound, fundamental baseball. He has had the nucleus of the current Sentinel squad with him four years, and Rodriguez believed they would eventually challenge for a section championship.

"I haven't been surprised," he said. "I knew this class would be the one to make a run for a title.

"When I took over the program, there were some juniors and seniors who could have helped, but they were not willing to accept my way of playing. So I cleaned house and brought up six sophomores who did believe in my way. I took a chance, and everything has clicked."

The players say Rodriguez and his staff have made a positive impact.

"He is easygoing, but if you do something wrong, he gets in your face and lets you know," said outfielder Art Garland, 17. "Still, he's very easy to talk to and he has inspired me to want to play in college. He says I can go on to the next level."

Justin Reding, whose brother Josh also played for Rodriguez, credits his coach for making him and his teammates better hitters.

"Many of us weren't that good until Manny got here," Reding said. "I'm one of them. He taught us to go to all fields, about staying back in our [batting] stances. He lets us have our own swing, but showed us the other right things to do."

Making Rodriguez's success even more sweet is that it's happening where he first made his name as a ballplayer.

Rodriguez, who grew up in Anaheim, began at Magnolia in 1984 and became only the second freshman to start (second base) on the varsity.

By his senior year Rodriguez's parents moved out of Magnolia's attendance area and he transferred to Western. One of Western's coaches at the time was Pat Tellers, now the head coach at Sonora.

"Manny was a very competitive player," Tellers said. "A good hitter and good defender. I knew who he was at Magnolia and was happy to see him. He ended up team co-MVP. I'm not surprised by what he's done as a coach. At Western I didn't think he would go that way, but you could tell he had a love for baseball."

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, he didn't go much further as a player. He injured his right arm by the time he got to Rancho Santiago College, and after two years there, could no longer throw with strength.

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