"Although this year ended without expected closure, I would never trade the time we spent together. Words cannot express how thankful and proud I am of this group."
Camron is a young man who has continually shown growth throughout the four years in this program. He is a stand-up person and we have seen him progress into an unquestionable leader amongst his teammates. Camron will never accept mediocrity, and will push those around him to be the best they possibly can be. As he transitions to the next stage of his life, there is no doubt he will continue his leadership and put himself in a position to change the world. Camron is someone who future players can look to as an example of how to be a well-rounded and respected student-athlete.
A story that stands out when we think of Camron is when he hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to win the first game of the Ryan Lemmon spring break tournament last year. He is the type of athlete that you expect to get things done when in the big spots.
I’ve had the pleasure of being around Yoni most of his life. I coached his older brother when he played at Irvine High. He is an absolute product of his family and their extremely hard work ethic. Yoni is a young man who refuses anything but greatness from himself. He was off to a great start this year with a 0.0 ERA. With all his success on the field, what will stand out most to me when I think of Yoni is his tireless effort to want to be the best teammate possible. He was always concerned with how the team was flowing and how everyone was getting along. He understood there was more to the game than numbers, it was always about relationships.
There are many great moments Yoni had, but two in particular stand out to me. The first, was in our second playoff game last year. We were in a 1-1 tie and Yoni came in and absolutely gave us a jolt with his quick 1-2-3 inning including striking out the last guy, and leading us into our walk-off win. The second, is when Yoni had to play right field against Beckman in a tie ballgame and, of course, the first ball was launched to him. That might have been the most nervous I have ever been for a flyball right at someone. He caught it and we went on to win the game. Kick it down.
Perhaps the best way to describe Jack is the ultimate team relaxer. You could always count on Jack to make a well-timed comment or make a joke that would bring everyone’s anxiety down. In a sport that can be so negative at times, you need someone like Jack who you know will not take himself too seriously and will allow others to feel completely relaxed and be themselves. Don’t get me wrong, Jack is an absolute baseball freak. I haven’t come across too many players in my life that I would trust to roll out of bed and have possibly the best at bat on the team. Coming off of soccer season every year is such a challenge, but Jack was always able to keep himself ready and he almost always had a great team at bat. Jack was a catalyst for us this year at the top of the lineup.
Probably one of my favorite memories of Jack was when we were in the playoffs last year and were getting ready for our second game and having a pretty intense practice. As we hadn’t been in that position for 18 years at Irvine, players were understandably nervous and on edge. I recall throwing batting practice and seeing Jack with his helmet on backwards and using his bat as a pretend gun to shoot the ball out of the air. Everyone, including myself, was able to relax so much after that moment. Those were the types of things Jack did on a regular basis that I will never forget about him.
Jackson is an extremely intense young man who will accept nothing but the best from himself. He was rarely satisfied with his performance, even when he was doing absolutely everything right. Jackson was someone we relied on the last two years to be a rock at the center of our defense. He played a tremendous center field and if there was a chance to make a play, he would do so. As he moves on from Irvine High I hope he carries the best parts of that intensity to allow him to be the greatest possible person and know that he will be successful if he can do that.
When I reflect on what will stick out most when I remember Jackson’s time in the program it would have to be his tendency to always be in the big moments. Jackson was responsible for scoring three game winning, walk-off runs. The probability to even have multiple walk-off wins is already improbable, but to think one person was responsible for scoring three of those runs is almost impossible. However, that was who Jackson was as a player, always someone who was involved during the big moments.
Isaac is someone who came into this program after not having played for a number of years. We are extremely lucky to have someone like him with us over the last four years. There are many selfless players I can think of over the years, but Isaac separates himself when I think of what he brought to this program. His “teammates first” approach was absolutely infectious and others couldn’t help but to want to be around him. Isaac is someone that I will use as an example for years for people to emulate when we talk about being a good teammate. My hope is to have more just like Isaac that not only can produce on the field, but are able to bring his teammates together to all pull in the same direction. There is no doubt Issac will have success in the field of his choice.
What I will remember most about Isaac is our conversations relating to leadership. I was constantly pushing him to answer questions about being the best leader possible and asked him to bring his insight to his teammates. In reality, he taught me a different way to think about what was best for athletes as they navigate the high school world.
Brett is another player who I had the pleasure of coaching his older brother. He was able to battle through some challenges early in his high school days to play a huge factor for us this year. Brett was 4 for 5 on the year with two doubles and three RBIs. Given the opportunity to play out the entire season, it would have been fun to see what he was able to produce. Brett is one of the purest defenders I have seen in a while. He was almost always able to glove any ball in his area. I am extremely proud of the progress he has made throughout his four years in this program and he should be proud of what he is leaving Irvine High accomplished.
When I think of Brett the most obvious thing that comes to mind is his ability to show up and perform. He was always a player who was ready to go no matter the situation. It could be a freezing 7:30 p.m. winter game or coming off the bench in a big spot - he was someone you could rely on. More often than not, Brett came through with a big defensive play or a huge hit to help carry and motivate his teammates.
Elliot is an interesting young man. He has a quiet intensity that absolutely can be felt throughout the entire program. There are athletes in every program that you hope rub off on other players and the way he played the game angry is something I hope other players emulate. Elliot carried himself with swagger that was hard to miss and there was no doubt that this was going to be a huge year for him. He has shown interest in playing baseball in the future and wherever he ends up will be lucky to have a great competitor.
Like many others it is hard to pinpoint only one thing that I will remember most about Elliot, but two come to mind immediately. The first was again last year when we won our second playoff game 2-1, he came up with the biggest hit and RBI up to that point in the season. With two outs and us trailing by a run, he hit a double down the left field line to keep us in the game. The second most prominent thing I think of was how he showed up to almost every morning lift right as we were about to get going and always in his slippers.
Michael is yet another younger brother that I have had the pleasure of coaching. Michael comes from an absolutely wonderful family and you can tell that character and work ethic are characteristics the Simonellas take extremely seriously. He has worked himself into a player that was given an opportunity. Coming into the year we had the conversation that playing time was not going to be a certainty, but through his hard work and dedication he earned himself a starting position opening day. Michael is again a young man who can do absolutely anything he wants in the future and through his work ethic, will do it well. His future is extremely bright and I look forward to following his journey.
There is no way to pinpoint one story about Michael that will encapsulate what he is all about. Michael is a type of young man who does things the right way all the time and that is what I will remember most about him. You knew that if you had a drill set up Michael would be doing it to the best of his ability. He was not someone that ever cut corners which will serve him greatly in the future.
Here’s a tough one. Do you speak of Ryan’s tremendous athletic achievements or the multitude of other factors he brought to the team day in and day out? I will try to do a little of both. Ryan was someone that gave everyone around him confidence when he was on the mound that day. There was a pronounced difference in his everyday demeanor and the day he knew he was pitching. Normally, he is the goofiest person on the field and there were plenty of times I would catch myself wondering what the heck he was doing. Then there was Ryan on days he was pitching. Everyone knew to kind of stay away from him because he was going to be laser-focused on his task at hand. That focus led him to second team All-CIF honors last year and a microscopic .808 ERA this year. I know Ryan is planning on continuing his playing career at IVC and we wish him nothing but the best. He will be sorely missed here at Irvine High.
Three stories come to mind most when I think about Ryan’s playing career here at Irvine. The first one was when we were playing Uni and he had a perfect game going. He ended up with a shutout and allowing one “hit,” but that performance was one of the best I had witnessed in high school. Secondly, was his gutsy performance against Beckman last year that led to our walk-off win and their only loss in league. However, perhaps the story that encompasses most of what Ryan is about was when we tied a playoff game last year and he ran out in front of the dugout, celebrating with a homemade bag of chips on a stick. The umpire warned me that if it happened again he and I would both be thrown out of the game. I was laughing too hard to even be mad at him.
Zaid is one of those special young men that seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. It did not matter if he was struggling or doing the absolute best on the team he was always looking for ways to improve. I was lucky to have a little bit of a closer relationship with Zaid by having him in the classroom more often than others. The way he pushed himself in the classroom and on the field is something that I absolutely admired and am so proud of. He earned himself a starting spot with the way he went about his business on a daily basis and most importantly he was able to pull guys along with him to work as well.
When Zaid comes to mind I always think of a conversation we had one day after practice. He was doing great on the field and had been performing well during games, but he seemed unusually sad. As we chatted he brought up the fact that he was happy that we were doing well playing-wise, but thought we could be doing more to come together as teammates and a family. That is what Zaid is all about. He wants everyone to feel special and as though they belong to the Irvine Baseball family.