Clovis High’s assistant baseball coaches didn’t give it a second thought two years ago when the program’s CEO, James Patrick, attended the American Baseball Coaches Association annual convention at Anaheim.
“He always does,” says Patrick’s 30-year deputy, George Chandler.
But not for this reason: Seven months following a Central Section record-tying 33-5 season and Patrick’s eighth section title, he was on that December night named ABCA’s National High School Coach of the Year.
“He didn’t even tell us he was up for the award,” says Chandler. “We didn’t have a clue. I found out by seeing a picture on Twitter. I’m like, ‘Really?’ That’s James; he wants nothing about him; it’s all about the kids. He’s got his footprint stamped all over this program, but it’s the kids’ program; it’s all about Clovis High.”
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He’s got his footprint stamped all over this program, but it’s the kids’ program; it’s all about Clovis High.
Cougars assistant George Chandler on coach James Patrick
No question, but there’s more now that can’t be deflected: The wannabe football coach back in the day now is one win from achieving what no other has in section baseball: 709.
Consider the magnitude of that: Central Section baseball’s first pitch was thrown on Christmas Day 1894, when Tulare beat Bakersfield 10-7, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Clovis’ Lloyd Merriman Field, when the Cougars host Clovis West in a Tri-River Athletic Conference game, Patrick will attempt to break a 708-win tie with Fresno County Athletic Hall of Famer Mike Noakes.
Humbled by the stage, to the point he considers it “embarrassing,” 32-year coach Patrick does allow the monumental number – whether it’s delivered Tuesday night or at Clovis East Thursday night or at home against Hanford West Monday morning to open the Fresno Easter Classic, whenever – is a “significant milestone.”
708 Central Section career-leading win total in baseball shared by Mike Noakes and James Patrick
Perhaps most impressive: Patrick has made relevant a program that wasn’t.
His first league title in 1995 was the school’s first in 42 years. And the Cougars’ section championship in ’95 was the first for a program launched in 1907.
In 30 years at Clovis after beginning his career with two at Memorial, he’s won 12 league titles, seven section crowns, had three teams finished top-ranked in the state and two No. 1 in the nation (1997 and ’98).
“It’s easy to have a good team that doesn’t have rules and doesn’t work hard,” he says. “If you have talent, you’re going to win. But to have a good culture of winning year after year takes a lot of hard work, and there’s been a lot of hard work that has gone into this, and I’m proud of that.
“I’m proud of the fact I’m part of a competitive baseball area and a community that has truly embraced baseball while I’ve been here.”
To have a good culture of winning year after year takes a lot of hard work, and there’s been a lot of hard work that has gone into this, and I’m proud of that.
He hasn’t had a losing season, averaging 22 wins a year for his career. Further, that has come generally against formidable competition both in nonleague and league play.
Before diving into the nationally aclaimed Tri-River Athletic Conference 20 years ago, he often tangled with Noakes-coached Bullard powers in what was the section’s elite league, the North Yosemite, at the time.
Noakes coached 26 years at Bullard, then a final six at Central, retiring as a head coach following the 2002 season. He continues to assist Ron Scott at Fresno City College.
All along, Noakes has continued to pay attention to the Cougars, knowing that being passed by Patrick was “inevitable.”
And he applauds Patrick for the achievement: “It’s a combination of things. First of all, he’s a fabulous coach and, through the years, developed this culture of tough-guy baseball players who come in there with expectations to play well and to win. Obviously, he’s had good players and a loyal cadre of assistants through the years. That’s what basically gets Clovis over the top and being consistent every year.”
He’s a fabulous coach and, through the years, developed this culture of tough-guy baseball players who come in there with expectations to play well and to win.
While Patrick, 58, will get the golden number, 709 – and more while expecting to coach for a “couple more years” – he hesitates to accept the mantel of being the section’s best all-time.
“For a lot of people, Mike will always be the No. 1 guy,” Patrick says. “He’s an icon, a great winner who set the standard for all of us.”
Patrick is 708-242-3 for a career winning percentage of .744.
But the Patrick numbers hardly stop there.
Throw in sons Kevin (285-162-2, 15 years, Reedley, Madera and Clovis West) and Chris (178-88-3, 10 years, Clovis North) and that’s a family total of 1,171-492-8 for a winning percentage of .703.
Is there a common thread that runs through them?
Absolutely, just as Dad would have it: hard work, fundamentals, promoting being a good teammate and, above all, respecting the game.
The sons played a combined seven years for him at Clovis, winning three section titles. And Chris, who started for the 1997-98 mythical national champions as a freshman and sophomore, remains sixth in section career hits with 169, according to Barnett.
“Something I learned from my dad a long time ago is we’re in control of our body language,” says Chris. “If you’re winning big or down by 10, you should have the same demeanor, controlling the controllables. And that’s huge.”
Kevin adds: “More than anything, dad taught hard work, be on time and do things right. His career can be defined as a commitment to excellence. You know what you’re going to get when you face him: His teams are going to be fundamentally sound and prepared.”
Which brings up an entirely different issue – the sons banging heads with Pops in the TRAC.
“We’ve kind of gotten used to it,” Kevin says. “But if I’m going to lose to somebody, I’d rather it be him.”
The sons talk about their father having but two hobbies – baseball and family.
“That’s probably why he’s so good at what he does,” Kevin says. “And he’s a great father and family man.”
Chris says his respect runs much deeper than following his Dad’s lead on the baseball field.
Referring to his father and mother, Cecilia, he says: “They’re loving and caring. The way they put others before themselves mean so much to my wife (Witney) and I, we try to emulate that as much as we can.”
James Patrick finds immensely rewarding how former players have given back to the program.
Most visible – and it’s a spectacular sight – is what former four-year infielder John Torick is responsible for at Lloyd Merriman Field.
Owner of Redneck Ink, a sign-making company in Clovis, he and his general manager, Colby Anderson, have given the facility a facelift that may separate it from any high school baseball venue in the country.
It features pro-like four-inch Cougars blue padding on the outfield wall; a triple bullpen’s back-padded wall displaying seven large laminated action pictures – six former pitchers flanking the program’s late pitching coach, Dick Selma; and the exterior concrete wall wrapping around the homeplate bleachers showcasing 4-by-8 foot team posters of the program’s seven section champions in addition to the program’s Hall of Fame.
Torick charged not a cent for a project he values at $125,000.
“I’m not where I am today if not for James Patrick,” he says. “He not only taught you to be a winner, he got you ready for life. Baseball was big, but teaching us was so much more.”
James Patrick’s coaching career
- League championships denoted (Central Sequoia League, North Yosemite League, Tri-River Athletic Conference
- CS: Central Section champion
- s: state No. 1 ranking
- n: national No. 1 ranking
- * suspended for second half of season