From the Bench: Blalock’s impact on kids larger than 800 career wins
By Michael Bower
Numbers and statistics are sacred to the game of baseball. It is often how we judge the successes and failures of a player, coach or team.
If there is a record on the cusp of being broken or a milestone on the verge of being reached, it won’t be missed. Baseball tracks everything that matters … so The Bench thought.
At some point in the next week or so, Rancho Bernardo High baseball coach Sam Blalock will become the third coach in state history to collect career win No. 800.
The winningest coach in the county has piled up 798 victories. The Broncos play Mt. Carmel Friday, which means they could possibly be playing for Blalock’s 800th victory Monday at Westview High School at 3:30 p.m.
But while the man with 10 CIF San Diego Section titles will be forced in the spotlight he would rather keep on the kids, The Bench hopes the community — for at least a few minutes — will think about a number high school baseball does not track. A number far larger and more important in the big picture than 800.
The Bench is talking about the countless amount of young men and women Blalock has positively affected throughout his 36 years as an educator and 40-plus years as a coach at Poway, Mt. Carmel and Rancho Bernardo.
Let’s not forget Blalock, 63, has taught many student-athletes life lessons while they were playing between the lines but they now use outside of them.
Yes, Blalock has coached several professional baseball players, including the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels. But the amount of athletes that do not travel down the career path of pro ball far outweigh the ones that do.
“He wants to educate the whole person, and his vehicle to do that was baseball or basketball or in the classroom,” said Rancho Bernardo Athletic Director Peggy Brose, who coached next to Blalock on the basketball court and has known him for some 36 years.
“He goes beyond x’s and o’s,” she added. “It is about treating people with respect, the game with respect and being passionate about what you’re doing. Giving it 100 percent and never cheating the game, yourself or your teammates. Those are the type of life lessons that, if you go back and talk to former players, they are going to say they learned.”
The former player many associate with Blalock is current Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, a Mt. Carmel graduate. Beane not only played baseball under Blalock at Mt. Carmel, but also played his freshman basketball season under him.
“The first thing I think about when I hear Sam is closing in on 800 wins is that I must be old and he is older,” joked Beane, who turned 50 on March 29. “But it is an amazing achievement; and knowing Sam like I do, and having the privilege to play under him, I understand how great he is not only as a teacher and coach but an all-around person.
“There are a lot of things that make Sam special in my mind,” Beane continued. “Even though 800 wins suggests he has been doing it for a long time, he has always had a really young persona. He is always thought of like a young man, and I think that is why he is able to connect with young people.”
Blalock, who was the varsity coach at Mt. Carmel from 1974-1990 and started at Rancho Bernardo in 1991, has shown the versatility to connect with former players and today’s players. He has been such a staple in the community that many Little League players hope to one day play for him.
“Sam has impacted not only former players and current players, but also young kids that want to play baseball for him,” Brose said. “Parents still contact me and tell me their son’s goal is to play for Sam Blalock.”
Naturally, after 40-plus years of coaching, the question of retirement will come up. Blalock will tell you he waits until the end of each season to make that decision.
After the whole debacle this last offseason, when Blalock was reportedly fired and then reinstated six days later, Brose said Blalock is her coach until he decides to leave on his own terms.
“As long as I am the athletic director here, Sam will make the decision on when to leave,” she said. “I think as long as he feels he still has an impact on the lives of the young men he is coaching, he will continue; as long as he is making a difference. I think he still finds great pleasure coming to the yard in the afternoon and hearing the crack of the bat.”
If you happen to wander over to the yard to watch Blalock get win No. 800, stand up and give the man a hand for not only accomplishing the rare feat, but also for the positive impact he has had on all the young men and women over the last four decades.
Show him that while baseball may not be counting, the community and everyone else around him are.
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