Turmoil and angst had enveloped the Redondo Union High baseball team in recent years - four coaches in four years, the controversial dismissal of a coach and community discord over the program will do that. It has been a far cry from the stability the program enjoyed during the long tenures of the highly-respected Tim Ammentorp and the legendary Harry Jenkins.
However, the Redondo Union administration believes that stability will be restored in the baseball program with the hiring of Coach Jeff Baumback, who was introduced Monday evening.
A large gathering of parents sat in the bleachers behind home plate as assistant principal John Newman introduced the 30-year old Baumback and recently-hired athletic director Andrew Saltsman, who has been at his post for just over a month. Newman acknowledged that there has been tension surrounding the baseball program but quickly added, "This is a new starting point. A lot of parents have been more supportive and have asked what they need to do to help. For all of us, our goal is for (Baumback and Saltsman) to be here for a long time.''
Newman is confident that the baseball program is in great hands. Baumback will be given full authority to make all the decisions regarding the running of the team but he will have ample backing from the administration, starting with Saltsman, who was drafted out of high school by the Dodgers, played baseball and graduated from Cal Baptist University, and worked for four years in the San Diego Padres organization. Saltsman has spent 11 years as a high school administrator, most recently as an activities director.
"I hope to throw some (batting practice), if my shoulder allows it,'' Saltsman joked.
More than 30 candidates applied for the vacant head baseball coaching position but Baumback blew away the competition during his two interviews. Baumback is a former Cal State Long Beach pitcher, who was college teammates with Angels' star pitcher Jered Weaver. Baumback was the pitching coach for seven years at Long Beach Wilson High, a perennial Southern California power, which in 2007 was selected by Baseball America as the nation's No. 1 ranked high school team.
"It was a combination of things,'' Newman said, when asked what vaulted Baumback to the top of the list. "It was his playing experience, the coaches he's played for, the success he had at Wilson, and his commitment to being here for the long term.''
Baumback pledged that, "I'm here for the long haul.'' He stressed that his objective is to develop players so that they can extend their playing careers on the higher levels of college and professional baseball. According to Newman, Baumback will have a teaching job at Redondo Union, most likely either in physical education or health.
"I'm really excited to bring what I've learned through the years to Redondo,'' Baumback said. "I want to run a program that is an extension of what I learned at Arizona State, Long Beach State and Long Beach Wilson. This is my first go around and it's a great opportunity. This is a great community. It's going to be a process (but) I can't wait to get started.''
No doubt, Baumback got the attention of the parents in attendance when he stated that the top priority for his players was their academics and that he would stress that they complete their classroom requirements.
"Playing baseball is a privilege,'' he said.
Baumback takes over for Bradey Thurman, who resigned after only one year. Redondo Union was 10-18 overall, 2-8 in the Bay League, and lost 10 of its final 11 games. Cassidy Olson originally was hired to take over for Ammentorp, who retired at the end of the 2008 season, after 18 seasons. However, Thurman forced his way into the job, citing a clause in the school district code stating that any certified teacher employed by the district who applies for a position as a temporary athletic team coach and who satisfied the qualification criteria for that position should first be offered the position.
Olson finished the 2009 season before Thurman took over the program in 2010.
Meanwhile, Olson resurfaced at Mira Costa High and in his first season this year led the school to the Bay League championship and into the semifinals of the CIF Division II playoffs.
Assistant coach Mike Witcher has served as Redondo Union's interim coach since Thurman's resignation. Despite being well respected and well liked by the Redondo players, Witcher was not a candidate for the head coaching job because he does not have a California state teaching credential.
Baumback said that he hoped to retain Witcher as an assistant coach, but it appears that Witcher is going in another direction. He will finish coaching the Redondo Union baseball team in summer league. After that, however, Witcher will turn his attention to football. He is an assistant coach at Vista Mar in El Segundo.
"As much as I want to stay, I have some personal goals that I'd like to accomplish,'' said Witcher, adding that the primary one is earning his teaching credential. "There are a couple of directions that I may go,'' he said.
The unfortunate individuals in the program's upheaval have been the players. For the seniors, Baumback will be their fourth coach in four years.
"Not many parents were happy with Coach Olson leaving,'' senior first baseman-pitcher Alfredo Camacho said. "Is it fair? Yes, because life is competitive. But for all of us seniors, we have to fight for our positions all over, again.
Senior pitcher-second baseman Drew Kozian said that the program has suffered the last several years because of all the coaching changes.
"It's really hard to build a program because different coaches have different styles and different strategies to the game,'' Kozian said. "So far (Baumback) sounds like a good guy and it sounds like he knows what he's talking about. Hopefully, he'll stay longer than the last few coaches.''