Jeff Stout did not know where Yucaipa, Calif. was when he applied for a physical education/baseball coach position at the town's one high school in 1976.
Now, more than four decades later, Stout retires having put Yucaipa (Calif.) High on the map as a prep baseball mecca.
|809 wins, fifth-most in California history|
|19 league championships|
|Three section titles|
|37 playoff appearances in 41 seasons|
|24 professional players*|
|Six major leaguers*|
|*Through May 2017|
Stout, 67, concluded his 41st and final season as a Yucaipa's coach on May 17 when the Thunderbirds lost in CIF-Southern Section Div. 2 playoffs. He finished with 809 career wins, fifth-most in California history, and was inducted into the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015. His accomplishments include 19 league championships, three CIF-Southern Section championships, more than 150 college players and 24 players who went on to play professionally, including supplemental first-round picks and current big leaguers Matt Davidson and Taijuan Walker.
In 2013 Davidson and Walker became the first pair of high school teammates to play in the same Futures Game, an honor of distinction for Yucaipa and a testament to the program Stout built.
"It's been a great ride at Yucaipa for 41 years," Stout said. "Four decades of different ballplayers. It's been quite a run."
Stout was long admired as a fair but tough coach whose tactics worked through multiple eras as the relationship between parents, players and coaches shifted. It was an attitude that worked well in Yucaipa, a farm town 75 miles east of Los Angeles where pickup trucks, tractors and rolling hills make the community more akin to Kentucky than Southern California.
Under Stout's watch, the Yucaipa High baseball program came to be what defined the city itself.
"Growing up as a little kid, not even close to high school, you always kind of looked up to Yucaipa High School players and that logo," said Davidson, the White Sox's third baseman. "I thought that was pretty unique. As a kid normally you more look up to major league baseball players, but in our town you looked up to Yucaipa High School players and coach Stout and wanting to play for him."
Stout's roots in baseball are long.
He was a standout amateur middle infielder in eastern Los Angeles County in the 1960s and was drafted three times, finally signing with the Royals after they picked him in the fifth round in 1969 out of Mount San Antonio JC. He played six seasons in the Royals system and his teammates included George Brett, Frank White, and Al Cowens on a legendary 1972 class A San Jose team. In fact, it was when White displaced Stout starting in San Jose's middle infield that Stout knew his shot at becoming a big leaguer was likely over.
"Frank was obviously a great second baseman with great speed and at that point the Royals had put in AstroTurf, and he had a lot of the fast-twitch things they needed," Stout said. "Frank was having a pretty good year and he got promoted up, that was pretty much it."
Stout retired from playing after 1974 spring training and returned home to southern California. He finished his education at Cal Poly Pomona and acquired his teaching credential, but a statewide hiring freeze limited Stout's options for a job.
It was under those circumstances he made a phone call that changed both his life and that of the community he would come to call home.
"I called a gal in the job placement office I knew pretty well," Stout recalled. "I was a physical education, single-subject credential so it had to be a PE job. She went through the entire book and said there was nothing available and she got to the very last page and turned the page and she goes 'Wait a minute, here's a physical education teacher and baseball coach position at Yucaipa High School.' So I quick sent off an application to the school district. To be honest, at that point I didn't even know where Yucaipa was at."
Stout got the job as a 26-year-old with no previous teaching or varsity coaching experience.
By his second season Stout had Yucaipa in the section semifinals, a run highlighted by a quarterfinal victory over a Walnut High team coached by Marcel Lachemann.
"That team and that precedent set the stage right there," Stout said. "To be able to say we can achieve, we can go on and play higher level ball, it kind of set the tempo."
A decade of dominance followed, but it wasn't until the 1990s Yucaipa won its first championship. The 1991 CIF-Southern Section Div. 2A championship game was played at Anaheim Stadium between Yucaipa and Norte Vista from nearby Riverside, Calif. Yucaipa started lefthander Tyrone Hill on the mound, three days before the Brewers would make him the No. 15 overall pick in the draft. Norte Vista had already beaten Yucaipa twice that season and started righthander Brian Edmondson, a third-round pick of the Tigers that year and future big leaguer.
Behind six innings of one-run ball from Hill and a big day from third baseman Brian Sosa, a 36th-round pick that year and future Mariners minor leaguer, Yucaipa beat Norte Vista 6-2 to win the school's first section championship.
"I think that first one is always most special," Stout said. "Even though we won some others and been to the finals some others . . . that first team was really special."
Yucaipa went on to win section titles in 1993 and 1994, and overall Stout's teams made the CIF-Southern Section playoffs in 37 of his 41 seasons.
Stout's legacy of success stretches beyond high school baseball. Major leaguers who played for him include Mark Teahen, Corky Miller, Matt Carson and Scott Snodgress, in addition to Davidson and Walker. He continues to have his former players drafted, with a Yucaipa product taken in three of the last four drafts and another expected to be picked this year in Grand Canyon outfielder Tom Lerouge.
It's a complete and total legacy of baseball, and one Stout will be remembered for long after his final game.
"The impact he's had on that city is so huge," Davidson said. "Everybody is very proud to wear that Yucaipa logo around town or say they played a certain year or won this or that. That is what the town is known for and it's all because of him, really only because of him. They should put a statue of him up there.”