During the 1980s former California Angel pitcher Mike Witt was one of top hurlers in the American League. Witt was born in Fullerton, raised in Buena Park and attended Servite High School where he was a standout baseball and basketball player.
Drafted by the Angels in the fourth round of the 1978 draft, Witt made the leap to the Angels roster at age 20. At 24, Witt threw a perfect game against the Texas Rangers, a feat that has been accomplished only 23 times in the history of major league baseball. He also combined with Mark Langston to pitch a no-hitter against Seattle in 1990. Witt was a two-time all-star and won 117 games in his 12-year big league career.
However, arm injuries forced Witt to retire in 1993 at the age of 32.
Witt transitioned into coaching at Dana Point High School from 1994-1999. Around 2000, Witt began helping the Santa Margarita Catholic High School baseball program and over the past three years he’s been the Eagles varsity pitching coach under head coach Dave Bacani. In 2014 the Eagles won a CIF championship.
“Mike and I had an instant connection and we hit it off,” says Bacani, who had a 10-year professional career with the New Mets and Boston Red Sox organizations.
“Mike has a cool and calm demeanor and never gets rattled. Players tend to emulate their coaches and Mike stays consistent with his emotions and that provides stability and the players feed off that, it’s infectious. “I go to him a lot to discuss strategy and we’re blessed to have him.”
Witt says he was unsure of his plans once left baseball. “I figured I would play for 20 years, but my career ended abruptly with an arm injury,” he says. “I didn’t know anything about coaching; I was a ‘fish out of water.’
“I wanted to be with my four kids and watch them grow up, so I didn’t pursue a coaching career at the college or professional league level.”
The coaching transition started slowly but it eventually grew on him.
“It was frustrating at first,” Witt says. “My mindset was that I thought everyone knew how to play baseball but I was wrong, so I went back to the basics. I developed a good communication with the kids and had fun with it.”
Witt’s influence has been well-received throughout the Eagles program.
“Coach Witt emphasizes the mental aspect of the game,” says Chandler Champlain, a sophomore pitcher. “When I first got here, I thought I could get by just throwing as hard as I could. I had the attitude, ‘see if you can hit it,’ but he’s taught us how to pitch, what to throw in situations and he’s improved my mechanics.
“He gives us the freedom to call the pitches and make the decisions. I like having that freedom that the game is in my hands. He teaches us to stay calm and stayed focused. “It makes me proud and honored to have such a pitching coach like Coach Witt.”
Champlain’s teammate Konner Kwok has also thrived under Witt’s guidance. “We have mid game talks and he offers constructive criticism,” says Kwok. “He’s has a great background and we all respect that.
“He has shown me different grips and emphasizes not to take the foot off the gas. I have total trust in him and his teaching methods are reassuring.”
“The mental aspect of the game means more than anything to me,” says Witt, who credited his former manager Gene Mauch as one of the people who taught him how to be mentally tough and confident.
Eagles’ catcher Joe Welch says Witt spends a great deal of time with the catchers as well. “We go over the scouting reports on every batter before the game and lay out a plan,” Welch says.
Witt says the high school game has changed since his prep days.
“It’s different today,” Witt noted. “When I was in school, kids played multiple sports but today most of the kids specialize in one sport. They play it year round; they lift weights and have trainers. We didn’t do any of that.”
Witt shared a memory of his 1984 perfect game.
“Around the sixth inning nobody came within 10 feet of me in the dugout,” says Witt, who laughs when he sees old footage of the players avoiding him.
“I remained calm and told myself, ‘that I ‘m not going to change a thing, I’m going pitch the way I’ve been pitching and see where it goes.’
Witt accomplished perfection that day and went on to have an excellent career that resulted in his induction into the Angels Hall of Fame in 2015.
Welch says it best about Coach Witt: “He’s a humble guy and we’ve come through the ranks with him and we’ve developed a trust. He’s like our dad.”