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BASEBALL

Woodbridge Experience Offers All-Star Coaching Staff

April 17, 2001|BEN BOLCH

Runners on first and third, one out, down by two in the bottom of the seventh.

Send the runners? Execute a suicide squeeze?

Pardon Woodbridge Coach Bob Flint if he doesn't feel the pressure. It's just that he has a think tank at his disposal in the dugout.

Flint could turn to old pal Bob Ickes, who won a Southern Section title at Mater Dei, or Tom McCaffrey, who won 279 games at El Toro.

Or he could call on longtime colleague Willie Fraser, the former Angel pitcher, or Ken Millard, the dean of Orange County high school baseball.

If he wanted a fresh perspective, he could ask Dan Hankin, a former Huntington Beach player who aspires to coach and one day be mentioned in the same breath as his mentors.

"There's times when I'll say, 'What do you think? Give me an opinion,' " Flint said. "I lean on them a lot. I really do."

But the headstrong Flint knows that the most important decisions are his to make. And his first big decision upon being hired as Woodbridge coach last summer was to assemble a staff.

Fraser and Millard were easy choices as holdovers from Flint's 21-year tenure at Irvine. Ickes and McCaffrey were friends looking for assistant jobs after recently resigning from their posts as head coaches. And Hankin sought a program where he could learn.

"It's like being 12 years old and it's summertime," Flint said, recalling his selection process. "You call all your buddies and you go do something."

The giddiness has subsided a bit with the regular season. Woodbridge, 7-9 overall and 3-7 in the Sea View League, is struggling to find its way. The Warriors have floundered in part because they were a team without a coach over the summer; Flint wasn't hired until September, and by then precious days of teaching had been lost.

But the players are catching up thanks to their all-star coaching staff. Fraser serves as the pitching coach when he isn't away scouting talent for the Orix Blue Wave of the Japanese Pacific League. Flint fills in in Fraser's absence. Millard works with the hitters, Ickes coaches the outfielders and McCaffrey coaches the infielders. Hankin is a utility coach, lending a hand where needed.

"It's definitely been a plus having them," shortstop Joel Clark said. "Everyone on the team has benefited in one way or another. We just try to take in as much as possible."

This season has also been an educational experience for several assistants. After years and years of calling the shots in their own programs, Ickes and McCaffrey are studying their colleagues' philosophies.

"I wanted to come out here and learn," McCaffrey said. "The problem with [head] coaching every year is you don't get a break to learn from other guys. You go to clinics and pick up ideas, but this is time you can spend learning something different. I think it's been time well spent."

The assistants are careful not to teach their own philosophies without first running them by Flint to ensure that they fit his master plan.

And every ego is checked outside the gate at Windrow Park, where Woodbridge plays its home games. It's no big deal when Flint overrules Ickes, even though Ickes has accomplished something none of the other coaches has: a section title.

"It's amazing how well everybody has meshed," Hankin said. "There's not been a day of where there's any infighting at all. A lot of people might go, 'You've got all these head coaches, how is it going to work?' It works beautifully. Bob lets us coach. Our styles and philosophies might not all be the same, but the end result is always the same."

Says Ickes: "We pretty much have all the same philosophies anyway, so it's not that big a change."

Most of the assistants are straight shooters with subtle senses of humor. Then there's Millard. He's the Yogi Berra of high school baseball, spouting gems such as, "My dad, he's like a father figure to me."

Millard is 68, but he's quick to pick up a bat and hit fly balls to the outfielders.

"He has the greatest passion and love of the game of baseball that I've ever seen," McCaffrey said of Millard, the former Estancia coach.

Given the diversity of talent on his staff, could Flint imagine another collection of coaches to surpass his?

"Yeah, Sparky Anderson, Tom Lasorda . . . " he says. "There's a lot of awfully good [high school] coaches in this area. And yeah, you could throw together another staff like this."

But no one has.

And that's why opposing coaches such as Newport Harbor's Jim Kiefer pay extra attention when they play Woodbridge.

"I learn things as a young coach just by watching what their coaches do," said Kiefer, who has known of the older Woodbridge assistants since his high school playing days. "The little things that Coach Flint demands from his players--you're starting to see those in these guys, and I think that there's no doubt that in a couple of years they'll be in good shape."

NOT MISSING A STEP

Orange Lutheran Coach Mark Langston continues to coach the Lancers while he fills in for Rex Hudler on Angel television broadcasts.

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