Tag Archives: Bob Hart

Junior Bulldogs Baseball Camps Are Filled With Joy, Enthusiasm

By Rick Assad
 

 

An overcast sky gave way to an early morning sun as a dozen boys ages six through nine excitedly took the field for the fourth day of the first session of the Junior Bulldogs Baseball Camps at Burbank High on Thursday.

Dressed in baseball caps that ranged from the Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, each attired in a blue Bulldog T-shirt, armed with sleek aluminum bats that were game-used and brand new and topped off with sleek-looking, pro-styled gloves, the group that included Landon Bailey, Grant Baker, Leo Beebe, Kalin Chin, Clarke Crowther, Kyle Doche, James Gentile, Max Recchia, Ryan Recchia, Dominick Sheetz, Clark Stanis and Dale Vantrease, eagerly took the field.

When asked if it’s fun to participate at the camp, Baker answered in the affirmative. “Of course,” said the nine-year-old who plays Little League for the Ninja Tigers and has a game on Saturday. “We did all kinds of games like over-the-line and four corners.”

For the dozen kids at the Junior Bulldogs Baseball Camps, it’s time to stretch. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

Overseeing the camp is Bob Hart, the longtime coach of the Bulldogs along with assistant coach Tony Ciccone.

“I just enjoy instilling the joy of the game to them,” Hart said. “I find that very pure. Very simple. Adults can be complicated. Kids aren’t that complicated.”

Hart said some players actually began at these camps.

“I’ve had kids in my program currently that were in these camps,” he said. “There’s a lot of immeasurable amount of satisfaction in watching a kid who struggles early in the camp and then watching him evolve by the fifth day to the point where his self esteem starts to skyrocket and he feels like he has a place. He’s a contributor. Everyone wants to contribute. These kids are no different.”

Also assisting was Mike Graceffo, a longtime coach in Burbank, who retired from his job at the Parks and Recreation Department in 2016.

Five of Hart’s players were also there lending a hand and they included Jakob Duarte, Oaklee Spens, Justin Robinson, Josh Balos and Curtis Peters.

Here’s a youngster about to take his swings. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

Spens has volunteered for these summer camps and has been assisting since he was a freshman.

“Yeah, it’s really fun,” said the junior center fielder who batted leadoff for the Bulldogs of working at the camps. “You kind of get to go back to how you grew up and see how they grow up. You get to teach them. It’s nice to give back.”

Spens then talked about how he developed a love for the game.

“I started really little,” he noted. “My grandpa started teaching me at a really young age. He’d take me to the park and I fell in love with it. It’s full circle.”

Duarte has also been involved with the camps since he was a freshman. “It gives you an opportunity to give back to the program a little,” said the junior first baseman/pitcher. “When I was a kid I went to these camps and thought it was really fun. Yeah, there’s a commonality between me and the kids. It’s still baseball.”

The three-hour camp began with the youngsters running around the baseball field just like the big-league players.

Then four lines with three boys in each line was formed as each stretched to make sure their muscles would be ready for the day’s activity which began with short toss.

It’s all about the team and of course teamwork. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

Next on the agenda was the formation of three teams of four as each threw the ball to the next boy.

Once that was over there were two teams of six boys in a straight line as they each threw the ball to the next boy.

The winning team was judged by how fast and accurate the tosses were.

What followed was a simulated game with a Bulldog player taking a  knee and then tossing the ball underhand as each boy took his cuts.

If the ball was hit between the cones, it was a single. If it went further down the line, it was a double, but if it was caught, it was an out.

A young camper gets ready to field a grounder. (Photo Courtesy Mike Graceffo)

The day was capped with Graceffo, who has been a Burbank-area coach for 41 years, tossing the ball underhand to the boys in another simulated game, but this time running to the bases.

“I love it. I love just being with the kids. They keep you moving. They keep you young. I just love coaching baseball. They’re just so full of energy and life and they’re brutally honest,” Graceffo said. “They just love it. They just love being out here. There’s no motive with little ones. They’re just out here to play and have a good time.”

Graceffo then added: “One of the biggest things I find enjoyment in coaching is seeing kids develop,” he said. “Kids that I coached when they were six years old and now they’re young men doing great things in society and doing great things in their city and giving back to their community.”

There were a few breaks in between as the boys ate ice pops, drank water, talked about movies and of course baseball and baseball trivia.

There are three more sessions and boys and girls are welcome and will be held on June 17-21 for ages 11 through 14, July 15-19 for ages 6 through 10 and July 29-August 2 for ages 11 through 14.

For those parents interested, they can to go to www.burbankhighbaseball.org for more information.

Back in a Hartbeat

The high school baseball season is still young and yet the Burbank High has already had its biggest victory of the season and it is worth far more than any Pacific League or CIF Southern Section championship.

That victory came as a result of the work of local paramedics and doctors at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.  They are credited with helping save the life of coach Bob Hart, who is now in his 13th year with the program.

Coach Bob Hart (Photo by © Ross A Benson)

Hart suffered a massive heart attack on January 30 while the team was having practice.

Although it set him back temporarily, Hart has not missed a single inning this season.

“It happened on the field, but it really took place in my office. I went and sat down in my chair in my office and I could feel something was just not right,” Hart recalled. “I didn’t hesitate much and called my (assistant) coaches over and had them put the boys in the locker room. I didn’t want to subject them to the site of the whole thing. I called 911 and the paramedics showed up very quickly.”

Hart said when he first started feeling uncomfortable he tried to do what he could to minimize the pain.

“I initially was sweating quite a bit and I felt like I had heartburn times a million. I laid down to try to stretch it out so to speak and I could tell that wasn’t going to be the case,” Hart said. “Normally my instincts are I grew up in an era where you sucked it up and toughed it out, but I kind of had an instinct that something wasn’t right.

Coach Bob Hart (Photo by © Ross A Benson)

I suffered a major heart attack, a massive heart attack. (There was) 100 blockage. They call it the widowmaker,” Hart said. “I’m fortunate that I got on it quickly. The paramedics did an amazing job and the doctors did an amazing job. I spent a few days in the hospital and then I was fortunate enough to come home and I was back to work within three weeks.”

The 58-year-old coach who graduated from Burroughs High in 1978, said the incident has changed his life in so many ways.

“To be honest, I haven’t felt this good in 20-25 years physically and mentally, clarity wise. The support I have received from parents and my friends is the off the chart, heartwarming and amazing,” Hart said. “In a strange way, it has been a blessing of sorts, a second chance at life and a reset for me personally.”

Burbank High Co-Athletic Director Patrick McMenamin is one of the many people who have supported Hart in his return.

“We are very glad to have Coach Hart back on our baseball field,” McMenamin said. “Coach Hart has been the face of Burbank High baseball for more than a decade now.  Our program is in very good hands under his leadership and guidance.  Above all, he does an excellent job of teaching our student-athletes how to become responsible young men of character and integrity.”

Hart said he is now focused on doing what he didn’t take as seriously before.

“I’ve always taken care of other people and never really focused on my own health. This is giving me an opportunity to be that way and I’m taking advantage of it,” Hart said. “I changed my diet completely. I do quite a bit more walking than I was doing before.  I’m blessed to be here.”

When it came to deciding when to come back to work, Hart said the doctors left it up to him.

“Everyone is different.  They said whatever I can handle,” he said. “They encourage you to get up and start moving. They were all for me getting back to work when I was ready to go. I’m back on the field and feeling great.”

Coach Bob Hart thanks the firefighters & paramedics that treated him. (Photo by © Ross A Benson)

Hart said he recently had a chance to go see the paramedics who helped save his life.

“That was amazing. Those guys are everyday heroes. I wanted to make sure they understood how grateful I was and how lucky the community is to have them,” Hart said.

Hart added that he has received an outpouring of support from the Burbank High community.

“My players have been unbelievable,” Hart said. “My wife was out of town for a couple of weeks and the parents did a meal train for me. They were bringing me healthy food. I have completely changed my diet and I have probably dropped 15 to 20 (pounds) already.”

Although the Burbank High baseball team is looking forward to winning as many games as possible, it has already gone undefeated thanks to the return of coach Bob Hart.

Baseball Preview: Burroughs and Burbank Swing Into Action

The two cross-town rivals will meet on April 24 and May 15 (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The two cross-town rivals will meet on April 24 and May 15 (Photo by Dick Dornan)

By Jim Riggio
Special to MyBurbank

Most high school programs go through their ups and downs, as players graduate and are sometimes difficult to replace. For the baseball teams at Burroughs and Burbank highs, both are fortunate to not be in the rebuilding phase. Many key players return from both teams which have high expectations.

Burroughs

The Indians return 15 varsity players to second-year coach Craig Sherwood’s squad. Burroughs went 14-14 overall and 7-7 in league last season.

Sherwood likes the depth his team has.

Burroughs senior class (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Burroughs senior class (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

“I think we are consistent from one to nine in the order,” Sherwood said. “The question is will they be consistent. If someone stumbles, I have other guys who are ready to play. We don’t have a weak bench.”

Burroughs will rely on seniors right handers Danny Bustos and Thomas Wilson as well as junior right hander Jesse Galindo to get the majority of the starting assignments on the mound.

Ryan Galan has a very impressive off-season and become the everyday shortstop (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Ryan Galan had a very impressive off-season and became the everyday shortstop (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Juniors Kyle Nicol and Jason Whaley will also see lots of time in relief as the setup men.

Senior Max De Amicis, who will also see significant playing time in left field, is the Indians’ closer.

Senior Chris Peres is expected to be the starting first baseman and is backed up by senior Noah Hoed.

Max Haddad (rt) and Max DeAmicis (lt) must supply leadership for an experienced group of Indians (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Max Haddad (rt) and Max DeAmicis (lt) must supply leadership for an experienced group of Indians (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Senior Max Haddad, a second-team all-league selection last season at shortstop, has moved to second base. Senior Ryan Galan, who played second base a year ago, has taken Haddad’s place at shortstop. Haddad and Galan will be backed up by junior Tanner Whitlock.

Senior Brennan Brown and junior Omar Tejeda are expected hold down the third base position.

Senior Aidan Anding, who was injured much of last season, is expected to be the Indians’ leadoff hitter and starting center fielder. Anding had three hits and three stolen bases in Burroughs’ 7-6 season-opening win over Camarillo on Saturday.

“He’s an exciting player to watch,” Sherwood said.

Anthony Bocanegra makes one  of his spectacular catches in right field (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Anthony Bocanegra makes one of his spectacular catches in right field (Photo by Mitch Haddad)

Senior Anthony Bocanegra, who started in center field last season, moves over to right field. Junior Jason Whaley and senior Kevin Navarro are also expected to compete for playing time in the outfield.

Behind the plate, Sherwood has seniors Roy Hirota and Tyler Lewis. Hirota started most games a year ago, but Sherwood said Lewis has greatly improved.

“It’s a dilemma,” Sherwood said. “They both can hit and throw. It’s a dogfight. You want to have guys competing for a job.”

Sherwood said he expects the Pacific League will be tough.

“Crescenta Valley with (Brian) Gadsby coming back, they have to be the favorite,” Sherwood said of the UCLA-bound pitcher, who quarterbacked his school to a CIF title in football last fall. “Burbank is also one of the favorites. They have lots of experience. We’re going to fight for a playoff spot.”

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Burbank

The Bulldogs are eager to improve from last season when they went 8-15 overall and 5-9 in league. Two years ago Burbank won a share of its first league title since 1991.

Coach Bob Hart, who is now in his 10th year, returns 11 varsity players and is looking forward to making big improvements.

Cameron Briggs will be plahying at UC Davis next season (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Cameron Briggs will be playing at UC Davis next season (Photo by Dick Dornan)

“We had a rough year last year, but we’ve worked very hard this year. I don’t think anyone has outworked us this offseason,” Hart said.

Burbank showed promise in a 4-1 loss to Chatsworth, which is generally the top team in the CIF Los Angeles City Section.

Hart said his team is facing injury issues as the seasons begins, but likes the depth of his team.

“Our pitching and defense is our strength,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that can (pitch). That will set us up for tournaments. We’re definitely an improved team.”

Burbank could use up to eight players on the mound.

Ryan Porras is the ace of the Bulldog staff (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Ryan Porras is the ace of the Bulldog staff (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Senior left hander Ryan Porras along with senior right hander Randy Higgens and junior lefty Garrett Dolan figure to get a bulk of the starting assignments on the mound.

Sophomore Danny Porras, who earned all-league honors as a freshman, is expected to start at first base. Junior Adrian Johnson, a transfer from Highland of Palmdale, is expected to take over at second base.

Senior Cameron Briggs, who has signed with UC Davis, is expected to play shortstop and could also contribute on the mound.

Higgens is expected to start at third base.

Senior Chandler Robbins, who has accepted an academic scholarship to DePaul University, is expected to start in left field.

Randy Higgens will be the cornerstone at third base (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Randy Higgens will be the cornerstone at third base (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Senior Alex Minnick, who also has pitching capabilities, is expected to play many innings in center field.

Senior Reece Loock is a strong candidate to get quality innings in right field.

Seniors Ozzy Dominguez and Jake Noud return as catchers.

The Bulldogs also have junior Fischer Cabot, who will pitch and play third base. Junior Jake Zedlar, a transfer from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, is a pitcher and outfielder.

Sophomore Henry Leake is a pitcher and second baseman who finished up for the Bulldogs in the game against Chatsworth.

Hart said he expects the Pacific League to be tough.

“The bottom of the league has gotten better,” he said. “I anticipate us being very competitive.”

Burroughs and Burbank will square off on April 24 and again on May 15.

Burbank Wins First League Title Since 1991 With 4-1 Victory Against Burroughs

Burbank Bulldogs, 2013 Pacific League champions (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Burbank Bulldogs, 2013 Pacific League champions (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

By Dick Dornan
MyBurbank Sports Editor

The championship celebration begins for Burbank (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The championship celebration begins for Burbank (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Twenty-two years of frustration were erased by waves of jubilant emotions after Burbank’s 4-1 victory over Burroughs clinched a share of the Pacific League title. Not since 1991 had the Bulldogs tasted the “championship” fruits of victory. To put it into perspective, not one of the 19 Burbank players had been born yet when the last baseball title was won up on the hill.

Friday night at Burroughs, the Burbank Bulldogs were rewarded with their first-ever Pacific League championship after a stellar performance at the home of their cross-town rivals. For 15 seniors and their head coach, it was worth every grueling day of practice and games for the past 11 months.

“It’s a long road. A lot of moments when things didn’t go well,” said an emotional Burbank coach Bob Hart. “You put your heart and soul in something that matters. I’m really proud of this team.”

Burbank players rush the mound to celebrate the league title (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Burbank players rush the mound to celebrate the league title (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Once catcher Hector Rodriguez caught closer Ricky Perez’s final pitch to end the game, the Bulldogs rushed the mound and dog-piled on each other in pure joy. Players, coaches and parents basked in the limelight celebrating the title. But no one was more deserving and satisfied than the skipper of the Big Blue.

Hart, in his ninth season at BHS, has seen his program rise up to an elite level of excellence that prides itself on a labor of love and a passion for the game of baseball. It came to fruition alongside a coaching staff loyal to Hart and dedicated in its vision to bring a championship to Burbank High. Ironically, Hart and his staff (Craig Sherwood, Tommy Perez and Tony Sandoval) are Burroughs alumni.

Coach Bob Hart gets doused in celebration (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Coach Bob Hart gets doused in celebration (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

While their hearts will forever bleed red inside, it was true blue on the outside on this evening. After getting doused with a bucket of water by Ricky Perez and Harrison Hernandez, an elated coach reflected upon his championship team.

“You can’t teach toughness. Our guys were a little tougher than some of the teams we played,” Hart said. “When you play catch, and you have warriors on the hill and the best coaching staff in this league, you win games.”

“I can’t even put it into words. My freshman year coming into varsity I really thought we were going to win that year. Turns out none of the seniors were really into it. I’ve spent the next three years with these guys and finally to win league it just means the world,” said Dylan Mersola, a four-year starter who is batting .366 on the season. “We have so much chemistry. Everyone just gets along great. Since day one we are all friends. We come out every day and put in work for this result.”

Burbank (16-8, 12-2) scored at the outset of the contest. Perez led off the game with a double to right field. He advanced to third on a balk and scored on a throwing error by pitcher Luis Pereyra.

John White dives safely under the tag of Anthony Robles (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

John White dives safely under the tag of Anthony Robles (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The Bulldogs opened a 4-0 lead in the very next inning courtesy of four singles and mental lapses on defense by the Indians. Dylan Mersola’s one-out two-run single to left field highlighted an inning where Burroughs (16-11, 10-4) shot itself in the foot with several uncharacteristic defensive miscues.

The Indians had their own offensive struggles as well not converting golden opportunities against Burbank ace Angel Villagran in the third and fourth innings.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, Indians shortstop Brian Pozos hit a soft dribbler back to Villagran to end the threat.

After Akira Abderrahman doubled to give JBHS runners on second and third with one out in the fourth, Patrick Christopher hit a comebacker that ricocheted off Villagran’s glove for a single and an RBI to cut the deficit to 4-1. On the ensuing at-bat, Pereyra laid down a bunt on a safety squeeze that Villagran cleanly fielded with his glove and flipped a perfect throw to Rodriguez who tagged Abderrahman out at home. Chris Davies then hit into a 5-4 fielder’s choice to end the inning.

“We practice that all the time in PFP (pitcher fielding practice). It felt so good,” Villagran said of his great toss. “I was trying to keep my composure. Keep the ball low, get the ground ball and get out of the inning. Basically let the defense do the work. I wasn’t too worried about them scoring if I do my job.”

Angel Villagran recorded his 7th win of the season (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Angel Villagran recorded his 7th win of the season (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Villagran pitched six quality innings allowing five hits and one earned run. He improved his record to 7-4 with an ERA of 1.90. In league, Villagran is 7-2 and an earned run average of 0.96.

Perez went 3-for-4 with two runs scored, a stolen base and his fourth save of the season. He is batting .471 in league with two huge games against his former school, Burroughs, where he attended as a freshman.

Jimmy Cramer of Burroughs had two hits on the evening and scored the Indians lone run.

“We earned it. Every day in September and October we were grinding,” said third baseman John White. “It feels so good to finally be here. This is the best group of guys I could imagine.”

“It feels great to be a champion. That’s what we worked for all year,” Villagran added. “It feels so good I just want to go celebrate right now.”

The victorious Burbank coaching staff (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

The victorious Burbank coaching staff (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

And celebrate they did. In a series dominated by Burroughs over the last two decades (39-4 through 2012), Burbank swept the season series from the Indians for the first time since the late 1980’s.

The CIF Division II playoff pairings will be announced on Monday afternoon here at MyBurbank.com.

Burbank Baseball Swinging for the Fences in 2013

Burbank at work during practice (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Burbank at work during practice (Photo by Dick Dornan)

 

By Dick Dornan
BurbankNBeyond Sports Editor

Bob Hart returns for his ninth year as coach (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Bob Hart returns for his ninth year as coach (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Experience is invaluable to the makeup of a high school athletic team. For the Burbank Bulldogs, experience will serve as the backbone for a team with high expectations. This season’s edition of the blue and white has put the pedal to the medal with an intense off-season training regiment from June till the present.

Championship aspirations are at the forefront with 15 seniors and 11 returning lettermen comprising the 19-player roster.

“We have a good group of guys who work hard. I think we are ahead of the game,” Burbank Coach Bob Hart said. “I anticipate competing for a league title and nothing less. It will be a very competitive league down to the wire. We need to come out strong and establish ourselves. We need to take control of games, send a message early and expect to win.”

Burbank hasn’t won a league title since 1991. Pacific League teams such as defending champion Crescenta Valley, Arcadia and Burroughs will provide the toughest obstacles on the Bulldogs’ quest to finally break through. Last season BHS went 13-10 and 10-4 in league (second place) but were knocked out in the first round of the CIF Division II playoffs.

Angel Villagran

Angel Villagran

Replacing All-league pitchers Daniel Starkand and Andrew Hernandez as well as battery mate Paul Frias behind the plate will be the top priorities for Burbank in 2013.

Angel Villagran has emerged as the ace of the Bulldogs staff. Villagran evolved into a “complete pitcher” during the off-season according to Hart. Filling out the rest of the staff will be Shaun Troy and Gavin Bushey who are competing for the second spot in the rotation as well as Martin Silva and Joey Bogenschutz.

Catcher Hector Rodriguez has the challenging task of filling in the shoes for Frias who now starts for Fullerton College. Hart refers to Rodriguez as the team’s “most consistent hitter” and a player capable of having a breakout season.

Aside from pitching and catching, Burbank returns an infield and outfield that will rival most teams in the league. Leading the way will be shortstop and four-year starter, Dylan Mersola.

Dylan Mersola

Dylan Mersola

“I’m really excited. We have a lot of seniors. Everyone gets along well, our chemistry is great and we are all working hard,” said Mersola, a first-team All-League selection last year. “I want to win league. We haven’t in a long time. Our program has really stepped up since my freshman year. I’m ready to go.”

Mersola’s infield partner at second base will either be Nate Zavala or Chris Okimoto. At the corners will be first baseman Harrison Hernandez who batted .380 a year ago and third baseman John White.

White has overcome his share of injuries that took away his sophomore and junior seasons on the varsity. To his credit, he prevailed and became a better player as a result.

Lacing up his cleats and being back on the diamond has White smiling from ear to ear.

John White

John White

“It’s everything to me. I get emotional just thinking about it,” White said. “I’ve never played a season healthy since eighth grade. It’s going to be a fun experience and I wouldn’t want to spend it with any other team.”

Patrolling the outfield will be centerfielder Ricky Perez, a three-year starter who can play anywhere on the field as needed. He is in contention to be the team’s closer on the mound.

“I’m a utility guy. If they need me to play a certain position, I’m willing to play the position as long as it helps the team win,” said Perez, a second-team All-League honoree in 2012. “We have a chance to win league this year and go far in the playoffs as well.”

Leadoff hitter Ian McKinnon will man right field while Angel Roman and Sebastian Santoro battle for the left field position.

“What will separate us from first place and third or fourth place is if the guys bring it every game,” said Hart, who begins his ninth year at the helm. “If we bring it and the focus is there, I like our chances.”

Burbank is preparing for a sprint to a league title (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Burbank is preparing for a sprint to a league title (Photo by Dick Dornan)

Burbank begins its season on Saturday, Feb. 23, at home against Saugus at 11 a.m. as part of the Easton Tournament. The Bulldogs will then travel to highly-regarded Simi Valley on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m.

Pacific League action begins on March 15 against Hoover at BHS at 3:30 p.m.

During Spring Break, the Bulldogs will fly to Tuscon, Arizona to partake in the “Lancer Baseball Classic” hosted by Sal Pointe High School from March 18 – 22.

“It’s always exciting opening day. I always look forward to that day,” Hart said. “The smell of grass and all the clichés. It’s a good thing.”