Shawn Gilbert and Don Barbara are rookie baseball coaches in the Trinity League this season, but some might say they’ll be the most prepared for the start of league play next week.
That’s because, for the first time in history, Trinity League teams will play three straight games against the same opponent in a Monday-Wednesday-Friday format, similar to the three-game weekend series used at the college level.
That should be familiar enough for Gilbert, who arrived at Servite last summer after five years as an assistant coach at Long Beach State, as well as Barbara, who came to St. John Bosco after six seasons as an assistant at the University of the Pacific.
“It’s what I’m used to,” Gilbert says of the three-game format.
High school teams traditionally play league games on Wednesday and Friday. The Trinity League decided to add a third game to the week, which should give the advantage to the team with the most talented pitchers and not just the best ace.
“The better teams will be deeper,” Gilbert says.
Gilbert’s knows the value of a good pitching staff, even though his background is in hitting. He was initially drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Agua Fria High School in Avondale, Ariz. He passed on that opportunity and was drafted three more times over the next four years before eventually signing with the Minnesota Twins in 1987.
After 10 years playing a variety of positions in the minors, Gilbert made his Major League debut in 1997 and played three seasons for the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Dodgers. He played a season in Japan and three more in the minor leagues before retiring from professional baseball in 2003 at the age of 38.
He went to work as an assistant coach at Fresno Pacific in the program’s inaugural season in 2006 and then moved on to Long Beach State in 2010.
A desire to run his own baseball program lured him to Servite last summer. He was also drawn by the competitiveness of the Trinity League, the reputation of Servite and its faith-based education.
It also kept him close to his home in Cypress.
“I’m just going seven miles the other direction now,” he says.
Barbara took a similar path to St. John Bosco, though he never made it to the Major Leagues. He made All-America honors while playing for Long Beach State in 1990 and still holds school records for career (.429) and single-season (.474) batting averages. He then spent seven years as an assistant coach at Long Beach State before occupying similar roles at Sacramento State and Pacific.
The adjustment from college to high school hasn’t been as dramatic as some might expect, Gilbert says.
“It’s baseball, so it really doesn’t change anything,” he says. “It’s not like it’s a completely different job. It’s the same job. It’s baseball.”
Gilbert also says he doesn’t feel like he needs to be more patient with the players because they’re younger.
“What I find is, you can only hold them accountable for what you’ve coached them,” Gilbert says. “If you’ve coached it, then your patience level is pretty thin, but until you coach it and tell them what’s expected, until they know what’s expected, then you have to be patient.”
The true test will come Monday, when the Friars host Orange Lutheran in their Trinity League opener, the first of the three-game series.