In the conversations and interviews I have had with high school players, most credit and thank their parents for where and who they are.
After their families, a lot of players bring up their high school coach. After all, their coach is the adult many athletes see the most outside of their homes. High school players range from 14 to 18 years old, impressionable ages and a key time in the maturing process. The man you see standing in the third base coach’s box, doling out signs and encouragement, is responsible for more than just teaching the game of baseball to young adults. He’s also there to teach leadership and responsibility.
To many observers, this has been lost in the age of showcases, which tend to have a singular focus—promoting individual players. That’s not to say showcases are bad. They have provided many athletes with the chance to play at the next level—at a cost of course.
But players don’t spend most of their days as a teenager traveling with a summer squad. They are in school from August to June, and the vast majority of high school coaches double as teachers. They see their players every day. Every high school coach has a list of rules for his team and philosophies that he follows. Tom Meusborn is no exception.
Meusborn is entering his 22nd season as the head coach at Chatsworth (Calif.) High. His peers consider him one of the best coaches in the game. There are several reasons to believe them, including his immaculate record, league championships, back-to-back national titles in 2003-2004 and number of players that have gone on to play professionally.
But it’s his rules and coaching philosophies that make him stand out. The Chatsworth players must abide by a few simple maxims: Be on time. Do the right thing and do it the right way.
“We teach our players about responsibility and having accountability,” Meusborn said. “Don’t make excuses and don’t pass the buck.”
It’s easy to see how Meusborn’s teachings could produce so much success on the field, but his goal is for it to have an effect off the field as well.
Winning Isn’t Everything
Meusborn has seen plenty of players go on to the next level, but for every Bryan Peterson or Mike Moustakas or Matt Dominguez, there are dozens of players that see their baseball careers end at graduation. Josh Rawitch was one of them. The vice president of communications for the Dodgers, Rawitch played for Meusborn at Chatsworth from 1992-1994 before going on to Indiana and shifting his attention to earning a sports marketing and management degree. Despite not playing beyond high school, Rawitch is like any other player.
“Outside of my parents, he was probably my biggest mentor through my high school years,” Rawitch said. “You hear about teamwork, winning with class, losing with dignity. We learned all those things. But work ethic was the biggest thing.”
Rawitch and his teammates witnessed Meusborn’s drive and desire to make Chatsworth a better program and the players better people. He instilled into their minds that if they wanted something better for the program, they had to work for it. And he had his three rules.
“He had these rules that still apply today,” Rawitch said. “Almost 20 years later, they’re so clear in my mind. I can’t stand it when things are late.”
Not only does Rawitch use what he learned at Chatsworth, he passes it on. The people in his department see his strong work ethic and it rubs off. He starts his meetings on time and doesn’t take shortcuts. He also teaches Sports Public Relations at Southern California and all of these points come up during the semester.
To express their thanks, not only do others like Rawitch speak highly of Meusborn and the Chatsworth program, but they return for the alumni game in the spring.
“Our thinking is to try to teach them to be ready to be a productive person in the community,” Meusborn said. “We talk about life situations. We talk about character and makeup. Character is what you do on a daily basis and when no one is watching. At times things get real tough and you have to weather the storm. You accept the challenge and work through it. There’s going to be adversity.”
Moustakas and Dominguez were freshmen when Chatsworth repeated as national champions in 2004. They immediately saw how the program ran and what would be expected of them down the road. Meusborn says he had a good foundation to work with for Moustakas and Dominguez thanks to their families. They bought into Meusborn’s philosophies and focused on the team’s success rather than their own.
“The more you focus on the team, the less pressure there will be on you as an individual,” Meusborn said. “They bought in right away.”
They battled adversity the next two years, missing out on City Section titles in 2005 and 2006. As seniors, Moustakas and Dominguez took on the role of being team leaders and helped Chatsworth return to the top with another City Section title in 2007. They were both drafted in the first round that summer and now are on the verge of the big leagues—after facing and overcoming some more adversity in the minors.
“They bought in right away and they didn’t change,” Meusborn said. “That’s huge.”
While this piece can be easily taken as a spotlight on a great coach and his program, it should also be known that there are many others that strive to have the same effect. Looking back, I’m reminded of different times I have seen examples of what these players and coaches have talked about—both in my personal life and work.
This past December, I attended the National High School Baseball Coaches Association awards banquet in Nashville and saw Hugh “Buck” Buchanan of Parkview High (Lilburn, Ga.) get inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame. In the audience were at least a dozen former players and assistant coaches, including Jeff Francouer, who was playing in the World Series just a month before.
Professional baseball is frequently referred to as a fraternity, an elite group that very few get to be a part of. But amateur baseball also has a strong sense of family, and we learn the most from our families.
If anything should be taken from this, it’s the important lessons that can be learned in high school baseball for those that play at the next level, and those that don’t.