Junior American Legion baseball has long been a development staple for high schools across the country — and the Davis chapter of our nation’s pastime has been no different.
Over the past 13 school years, Blue Devil varsity teams have averaged 20 wins per season, captured a half-dozen league crowns and won two Sac-Joaquin Section titles.
DHS coach Dan Ariola gives much of that credit to the learning curve presented by his Junior American Legion squads; teams that help sophomore and junior players get intense, competitive experience during two summer months.
In recent memory, Bob Creely — the Devils’ junior varsity mentor — has handled the team.
This year the mantle, at least temporarily, has been handed to DHS freshman coach David Watts.
After a 3-1 start, Watts is pleased with what he sees and talked a little about what he’s trying to accomplish with this team.
“We want them to get more higher-level, game-time experience,” the 42-year-old Watts explains. “Pitchers will get more innings, defensive players get additional time (on the field) and batters get more experience against good pitching.
“For many of the players, the competition we face will be better than what we faced during the (school) year. They will be challenged.”
In American Legion at this level, many of the schools on the schedule feature their varsity standouts. In Davis, the core varsity Devils work with head coach Ariola in a series of weekend “tournaments” with schools like Jesuit and Pleasant Grove.
Casa Roble, Cordova, Christian Brothers and El Camino use Junior Legion as their prime summer experience.
“It is good for (our guys) to face pitchers who have played on their school’s varsity teams,” adds Watts, who just completed his second year as freshman skipper.
Watts is steeped in baseball.
He grew up a Giants fan in San Francisco and San Mateo. A graduate of Uplands High (Hillsborough), Watts went on to play at Lewis & Clark (Portland, Ore.).
He’s coached Little League baseball in town, is a six-year veteran of the Woodland Adult Baseball League’s Cougars and remains a practicing attorney.
He and his wife Christina have five children: Jonah, 14; Roland 11; Aubrey, 9; Violet, 5; and Bronwen, 11 months.
The busy Watts nonetheless finds time for love of baseball and believes this summer’s Jumior American Legion team should be strong.
“Most of our players have played for several years in Little League and travel teams, so we have a very good base from which to work,” Watts told The Enterprise. “However, we cannot rest on that … we need to continue to get better.
“The boys know this.”
It’s the goal of the Legion summer: Hand off polished diamondmen to Ariola’s successful varsity program.
“Between practice and games, our goal is to make every player better by the end of the season,” Watts continues, pointing to assistant coach Jed Miille as a huge contributor.
“He brings good baseball knowledge and works well with the players,” Watts says. “Jed can break down an element of the game and explain to the player not only what he expects from them, but why it is important that it is done this way.
“He comes with energy and a thirst for the game.”
Miille, whose brother Jake pitched for the Devils and now plays senior American Legion for Post 77, is the son of former DHS JV coach Brent Miille. Jed Miille, a 2006 DHS graduate, was on the Blue Devils’ 2004 section-champion squad.
Jaret Kahoalii — another Blue Devil baseballer (Class of 2003) — drew Watts’ praise for his work with the pitchers.
Kahoalii calls the pitches and coaches first base. Miille can be found in the third-base coach’s box when Davis is up.
Meanwhile, in the dugout, Watts is constantly teaching during games.
“My goal is to impart my love for this game to these boys,” Watts said after one recent practice. “I will try to help them make it to the next level — whatever that may be — but I also want them to remember that this is a game and it should be fun.”
Understanding the strategy of the game — “The more they know the why of what we are doing, the more they will appreciate the game” — is something Watts wants to impart.
“Some say that baseball is a boring game, but the more you learn about the strategy of the game, the more you realize baseball is a thinking man’s game and the more interesting the game becomes,” says a smiling Watts.
He also knows wins make it more interesting, and so far this season, Davis Junior American Legion is very entertaining.
Notes: Next up for the locals is a Saturday doubleheader against Christian Brothers at Davis High. The first pitch is set for 10 a.m. On Tuesday and Thursday of next week, Watts and Company head to El Camino for 5:30 p.m. starts before returning home June 25 to meet Franklin of Stockton. … The team roster features Solomon Biers-Ariel, Gavin Cosgrave, Ben D’Angelo, Kyle England, Jacob Guerrero, Gabe Gutierrez, Ian Miramontes, Ricky Pacciorini, Noel Parente, Brendan Pohl, Kris Prince, James Richardson, Noah Riffle, Greg Rohnstock, Mason Shorts, Alex Timmons, Pierce Tujo, Andrew and Eric Walker and Ray Young. … Creely, a teacher at Korematsu Elementary, will stay connected with the team. He is the “general manager,” handling off-the-field arrangements. He could return to the American Legion dugout in the future.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.