By Rick Assad
Bob Hart is totally and fully grounded, and this applies to his baseball philosophy, personality, standing among fellow coaches and players, both past and present.
“While I am fundamentally competitive, I don’t focus on numbers as much as I do players,” said Hart, the Burbank High baseball coach who begins his 16th season at the helm in 2021. “We try to get the players to focus on the process, knowing that the result will take care of itself. We promote competitiveness, but within the parameters of doing your job one pitch at a time.”
Hart played several sports at Burroughs where he graduated in 1978, and is in his 37th year as a coach.
The Bulldogs haven’t always won the Pacific League banner, but for much of the time under Hart, who has also coached football and basketball at the prep level, they’ve been competitive.
That’s because they are fundamentally sound, stress defense, pitching, situational hitting and running the bases with zeal.
Longtime baseball coach Craig Sherwood, who is an assistant on Hart’s staff, knows him from both sides of the dugout.
“I have coached with Coach Hart and against him for many years and not only has he grown as a coach, but without a doubt gets the best out of his players and I have always felt they played above their capabilities,” he said. “They play above their heads and they are proud to play for him.”
With Hart’s guidance, Burbank has reached the CIF Southern Section playoffs nine times, including 2013 when the Bulldogs captured their last league title and also made the quarterfinals three seasons ago.
Hart, who attended Los Angeles Valley College and Los Angeles Pierce College, and his coaching staff have been working extremely hard during these unique times.
“Our guys are doing individual workouts as well as Google classroom assignments that we present to them each week,” he said. “In addition, I have some guys that play travel ball in different areas. Other than that, we are going to start when we are told to start by the powers that be. Not looking to be on the forefront of experimenting with players’ or coaches’ health.”
Hart also addressed how COVID-19 has caused so many people to miss out on the little matters that make life fun and exciting.
“As far as the team, it’s affected them, as with most,” he said. “Isolating and missing the things we ultimately take for granted. Connection and time with the things and the people we love.”
Winning is always important and it is for Hart, but whether the Bulldogs emerge with a victory or a loss, he wants his players prepared.
“I internalize everything and play it off. Well at least to some degree that’s probably true,” he said. “But what else is true is that I keep perspective and I don’t look at it as life or death. I see true accomplishment being playing your best baseball with honor. That doesn’t always equate to a win, so it’s the nuanced approach that grants me sanity.”
After a scary incident a few years ago, Hart knows a little something about life and death.
“I feel great,” he said, looking back at a heart attack he suffered. “I lost 17 pounds during this nightmare.”
Hart then added: “Appreciate your life and honor those before you by being the best you can be each day,” he noted.
A teacher in the mold of UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, whose teams claimed an NCAA record 10 national championships including seven consecutive, Hart also wants his players to give maximum effort, regardless of the score or inning.
“Some of the best coaching takes place when your team is not successful. In my experience, to remain even keel is to instill that same value in your team. Consequently taking a more businesslike approach while having fun with it rather than inducing pressure and negativity,” he said.
Reaching the top-shelf when it comes to coaching isn’t a job for the meek or timid, he offered.
“Being a baseball coach or at least a good one is a challenge, but being an administrator of a high school program is a much bigger challenge” he said.
In a very real sense, it does take a village to be successful, regardless of the chore or task ahead.
“It takes quite a few people in terms of support to make it work,” he said. “I have been so fortunate to have amazing parents and an administration. And the leadership I’ve had with my booster club has been off the chart.”
Sherwood knows Hart forward and backward.
“In my 40 years as a high school coach, I have worked with some of the best people around,” he said. “Bob stands out not only as a quality coach, but someone who really considers it his mission to do the right thing by the players. He demands personal responsibility and he helps build their character.”
Being on top as a player or coach requires the same attributes.
“It’s very similar to that of a player. The will to win. The commitment. The preparation,” Hart said of coaching. “The teammate. For the love of the game.”
Hart said that he has had assistance with regard to his coaching tenure. “My coaches, starting from junior high all the way through high school, were hugely impactful for me,” he said. “They include Mike Nugent, Lew Stone, Rich Grimes, Mearl Stone, Dave Jackson, Ken Tada, Bob Dunivant and Brian Hurst. Some legendary names. I could never name one. I think I took a piece of all of them. I didn’t know it at the time.”
Sherwood is among many that Hart trusts. “As a head coach, he appreciates all of his assistant coaches and discusses all aspects with us,” he said. “He wants to hear our opinions and is willing to change his if he hears something better.”
Like those coaches who came before him, Hart’s impact has been felt by many and will be for many years.
“The highlight of my career has been watching boys become men,” he said. “To watch the maturity process. Watch them accomplish their goals. To fail and get up and persevere. My biggest accomplishment is the pride I take in watching kids start their journey and become solid citizens who contribute in a positive way to our world.”
Sherwood pointed out what Hart has meant to Burbank baseball. “I think that what he will be remembered for is taking a struggling program that had a new head coach every year and not only bring stability, but respectability to the program,” he said.