Sports

Paly frosh-soph baseball learns how tough it is to finish perfect

 

Bob Budelli is all about teaching and learning. He and his coaches teach while their Palo Alto frosh-soph baseball players learn. It's all about preparation on a daily basis to be able to run the bases at the next level.

"You just want the kids at this level to learn the game," said Budelli, who has been coaching baseball at various levels for some 35 years. "It's not so much about winning, but preparing them . . . it's a stepping stone."

It's Budelli's job, and that of his assistants Dick Held, John Suter and Scott Kirsech, to get their frosh-soph players ready for head coach Pete Fukuhara and his Palo Alto High varsity. Anything else like winning, for instance is a solo home run in a blowout game.

Speaking of blowouts, it has been that kind of season for Budelli and his Palo Alto frosh-soph team. In what has been a remarkable season at any level, the Vikings were undefeated in the regular season -- going 14-0 in the SCVAL De Anza Division while finishing 22-0.

On Tuesday, the Paly frosh-soph team made it 23 straight wins following a victory over Los Altos in the first of two season-ending playoff games. The same teams met again Thursday to close the season, but Paly came up short of perfection and dropped a 2-1 decision to finish 23-1.

"The varsity will be set for the next 2-3 years," said Budelli, who lost his best pitcher, Jonathan Gottlieb, to the varsity last weekend for a nonleague game against perennial power St. Francis. Gottlieb will remain with the varsity through the league and Central Coast Section playoffs. "This is an exceptional year."

Budelli figures more of his players will be called up, as well , like first baseman Ole Erickson and catcher Nathan Willis. They're expected to join the varsity for next week's playoffs, which will pit regular-season champ Los Gatos against the second-place Vikings. After that will be the CCS playoffs, more valuable experience for all involved.

Fukuhara has six of Budelli's graduates from last year on his current team, which opened the SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs with a 9-0 victory over Los Altos on Tuesday. The Vikings took a 20-4-1 record into Thursday's rematch and won that game, 10-0.

The Vikings (21-4-1) already have won more games this season than in the previous three. The last team to win more was in 2012, when Paly went 27-7 and lost in the CCS Division I semifinals. The year before that, the Vikings finished 28-9 and captured the first-ever CCS crown in program history.

No matter what happens in this season's remaining games, the Vikings will have one of their best records ever. They will lose six seniors, but Budelli has players to fill those positions players that will be coming off one of the best won-loss records, in any sport, in school history.

Budelli had no idea his team would be so successful this season.

"We come out here and identify roles," he said. "They might be making mistakes, but we're correcting them. It's our job to build up their confidence."

Budelli actually has enjoyed success similar to this. Many decades ago, he was coaching Morey's in the Alpine Little League. One of his players was Eric Byrnes, who later played the outfield with the Oakland A's. Another was John Gall, who starred at Stanford before finding a brief home in Major League Baseball.

"We were 21-0 or 22-0 that year," Budelli recalled. But, he quickly pointed out, this Paly team is another story.

"They've learned a lot," Budelli said. "They have a better understanding of a fast-paced game and what it means to be team-oriented. Winning helps!"

Among some of the other key players for Budelli have been James Roake, George Welch, Jackson Hall, Bryan Hwang, Hyunwoo Roh and Nick Melvin, the nephew of Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin.

"It's been very rewarding. It's proof-positive that hard work pays off . . . You can't teach chemistry," said Budelli. "The relationships the kids have built up are very important."

While a few freshmen start their careers on the varsity -- sophomores Max Jung-Goldberg and Niko Lillios are current examples -- the rest usually start at the frosh-level before taking the next step. Current varsity players Ethan Stern, Riley Schoeben, Ryan Chang and Alec Olmstead all played a season with Budelli.

Seeing the success the former frosh-soph players are having on varsity makes it all the more special for Budelli and his staff.

"It makes us feel good," Budelli said. "That we're doing something right."

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