by Alex Valdes
As they had done since they were little, Andy and Kelly Coan went through the pregame rituals, preparing for yet another baseball game. Only this time, there would be no game. The Palo Alto Oaks' semipro team had to cancel Sunday's Western Baseball Association League doubleheader with the Oakland Expos because too few Palo Alto players showed up--seven out of a roster of 23.
Tony Makjavich, who has coached the Oaks since 1954, said it was the first time that he had to cancel a game for lack of player attendance.
"This is amazing," Andy said. "Where is everybody?"
The Coan twins, who just recently turned 29, have been playing faithfully for the Oaks during the past 10 years since graduating from Gunn High, where both were three-sport stars in football, basketball and baseball. In what may be their final season for the Oaks, they still represent another era, in which dedication, hard work and a sense of personal responsibility were treasured values.
Those traits--as well as a lot of athletic ability--enabled the Coans to excel in sports at Gunn and later at Foothill and San Jose State. Among many honors, Kelly received an All-America nomination in baseball and, as the Titan starting quarterback, broke an SCVAL record for completions in a season and others for yardage and completions in a single game.
After graduating from Gunn, the Coans played baseball for two years at Foothill College and then two years at San Jose State. Andy played a year of football for the Spartans and later played on a football team in Pescara, Italy, for a year.
The competitive fires still burn for the Coans, and they do their best to stoke them by playing with the Oaks, in pickup basketball games and also in the Air It Out, four-on-four, passing league. Their team won the title two years ago.
And the Coans have done well for themselves in the working world. Kelly is a radiologist at Santa Teresa Hospital and lives in San Jose, and Andy works for LDDS Worldwide Communications and lives in Burlingame. He is planning to get married in September.
But for all their ability, hard work and persistence, the Coans never received what many thought they had a good chance for--a shot at playing professional baseball.
Many scouts checked out the Coans during their years at Gunn, Foothill and San Jose State, and Kelly appeared to be en route to the pros after his senior year at San Jose State.
"A head scout said he had it all set up, that I was going to go to Florida and play for the (Cleveland) Indians," Kelly said. "Then, the night before I was supposed to go, he called and said they were signing a local guy and they wanted to save on airfare costs."
Said Makjavich: "All the scouts checked them (the Coans) out. The deal was their size. They had the desire and the ability and the heart, but you have to be bigger, like Jamal (Harrison). I said they should at least get a chance to play "A" ball, and see how good they could do. But every scout had his own view of it."
Kelly said he remembers the days when a pro contract seemed close to reality.
"I can't tell you how many scouts called and said we're going to take you, we're going to take you," he said. "I tried to pretend not to notice them out there, not to talk to them and play my game."
The Coans had to settle for the next best thing, playing semipro ball for the Oaks.
"Every year Tony Brewer calls me up to come out here," Kelly said. "I still love it. The need to compete is still there, alive and well. But I think this is probably my last year."
Andy said he is trying to avoid the softball scene, which he tried once before with bad results.
"The competition wasn't there," he said. "I was taking it seriously, and these other guys were fooling around and going for beer after."
Though playing pro baseball is probaby a fading prospect for the Coans, Makjavich said the twins haven't dropped off in ability since their prime years.
"I would give them a shot," he said. "I think they would do wonderfully . . . If I had 15 players like them, I would have no problem."
If Makjavich had 15 players like Kelly and Andy Coan, the Palo Alto Oaks would have played a couple baseball games Sunday.
Palo Alto Post 375 is in Southern California this week, hoping to rediscover the formula that led to a 12-0 record to start the season.
After its quick start, Palo Alto has been plagued by injuries, illness and an exhibition tour to Japan by starting shortstop Kevin Okimoto. All those factors contributed to a recent three-game slide that dropped Post 375 to 15-5 as this week opened.
Palo Alto first fell to San Bruno Legion, 8-1, as Post 375 managed just three hits and committed six errors. On Friday, Palo Alto visited Menlo Park DiMagio at Flood Park and again had just three hits and five more errors in an 8-3 loss. Menlo School graduate Jeremy Horowitz blasted a two-run homer to pace the Brewers.
Despite having Okimoto back from his trip and commiting just one error, Palo Alto still suffered from a lack of hitting and enthusiasm Saturday in a 3-1 eight-inning loss to visiting San Mateo Joe DiMaggio. Just four Palo Alto hitters reached base during the first six innings.
Chris Cupak's single and Brian Lin's double sent the game into extra innings, where San Mateo won it with a two-run homer in the top of the eighth.
Palo Alto, which played at Redondo Beach on Tuesday night, opens a five-day tournament in Escondido beginning Thursday.
The Los Altos Express started strong and finished strong, which was good enough to capture fifth place in the Under-18 division of the NorCal State B Tournament that concluded Sunday in Millbrae.
Palo Alto High senior Erika Smith picked up both pitching victories as the Express, comprised of mainly Palo Alto and Gunn players, went 2-2 in the two-day tournament.
Smith pitched a five-hitter in Saturday's opener as Los Altos rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth to pull out a 5-4 victory over host Millbrae. A two-out single by Gunn's Carrie Fuller scored Lindsey Dressler with the winning run.
After dropping a 7-3 decision to the Diamond Queens and a 7-2 decision to San Carlos, the Express supported Smith's three-hit pitching by pounding out 11 hits to defeat Burlingame, 8-3, in the fifth-place game.
An An Rodriguez had three hits to pace the attack while Smith, Mia Sibug and Jessie Vernon added two. Smith and Sibug drove in two runs.
Los Altos scored all the runs it needed in the second to grab a 4-0 lead. Jennifer Belpasso singled, Rodriguez singled, Vernon was safe on an error, Smith singled in a run and Sibug doubled home two more.
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