For Cecchinis Baseball Is A Family Affair
Like many parents, Glenn and Raissa Cecchini have rarely missed an opportunity to watch their sons play high school baseball games. But unlike their peers, the Cecchinis do not take in the action from the bleachers. They can be found in the dugout, as the husband and wife have been coaching high school players—including their sons, Garin and Gavin—since 1987.
The Cecchinis (pronounced chik-kee-nee) are well-known and respected in the baseball industry. Glenn and Raissa have helped build one of the country's best high school programs at Barbe High in St. Charles, La., while Garin is a third baseman in the Red Sox organization and Gavin heads into his senior year as one of the top shortstops in the 2012 draft class.
Family members have been teased that they would make great subjects for a reality television show, which is probably true. Between Glenn's energetic and high-volume approach to coaching and Raissa's calm, collected, but stern demeanor, they are a sight to be seen. Add in that their sons are top prospects and have charismatic features as well, and you get a story that should top anything spoiled housewives have to offer.
The Under Armour All-America Game powered by Baseball Factory will see Gavin playing shortstop, just as his brother did two years ago. However, Glenn will be stepping into the national spotlight too, as a coach for the American team.
It's just another episode in the Cecchinis' story, but this one carries the weight of a final-season premiere. It won't be the first time, nor the last, that Glenn has coached one of his sons outside of the spring season, but at historic Wrigley Field and on national television, it's unlike any experience he has had before.
"I wasn't a big leaguer," Glenn said. "To be on a major league field that Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, so many great players played on, it's a pretty cool thing.You're thankful, grateful and humbled. It's going to be special."
Garin, 20, and Gavin, 17, have worked tirelessly to improve their game and compete at a high level, but they also have the benefit of good genes—Glenn and Raissa have their own athletic backgrounds. Glenn was an outfielder from Camarillo (Calif.) High, the same school that produced Delmon Young and Joe Borchard. He played two seasons at Moore Park (Calif.) CC before making his way to Southwestern Louisiana, now known as Louisiana-Lafayette.
Playing for the Ragin' Cajuns allowed Glenn to meet Raissa, an athlete from Sulphur, La., about an 80-mile trip from Lafayette on Interstate 10. She played basketball and participated in rodeo events.
"I rode calves and roped steers," Raissa said. "I had been doing it my whole life."
Turns out she was good at it too, going to the high school and college national finals and boasting a hefty collection of medals, trophies and belts.
When they finished at Southwestern Louisiana, Glenn and Raissa each took jobs at Barbe. The spring of 1987 was Glenn's first season as head coach of the Bucs, and he made a proposal to Raissa, one that started arguably the best part of this story. He told her that they could build a dynasty at Barbe, but it would take a full effort from both of them.
That's when Raissa got into coaching baseball and brought a deeper meaning to a phrase shared among many in baseball. Ask any coach who has experienced any level of success and he'll likely say this: "Behind every good baseball man, there's an even better woman."
"It would be hard for me to believe that anyone helped build a program like she has," Glenn said. "It's unbelievable the work she's put in, from painting signs to haircuts to throwing BP."
Even people outside of the Cecchini family will rave about Raissa's batting practice sessions. Garin jokes with his Red Sox coaches that his mom is better, and Gavin still prefers standing in against her. Jesse Cassard, a former assistant at Barbe, concedes to her skills.
"I can throw some BP, but she throws it pretty stiff," he said.
Raissa admits being a female coach at a level dominated by male counterparts was awkward at first, but it didn't take long for her to be accepted and respected. She took pride in learning more about the game, attending clinics and picking the brains of coaches and scouts.
"You didn't see her as a female," Cassard said. "She knows what she's talking about. You don't really think about it. Whenever you're there, living it, you don't notice it. She's a true student of the game."
Married in 1988, Glenn and Raissa saw their first child, Garin, born in 1991 before Gavin came two and a half years later, a few days before Christmas in 1993. Over the last 20 years, the family has helped shape Barbe into a national power, leading the Bucs to five state championships and 17 district titles since 1993. During that time, Garin and Gavin have emerged as top-level athletes with bright futures on the diamond.
Garin played shortstop in high school (with his brother just across the bag at second) but moved to third base after signing a professional with the Red Sox in 2010 as a fourth-round draft pick. He was hitting .298/.398/.500 with short-season Lowell this summer before a 94 mph fastball broke his wrist.
Garin holds several single-season hitting records at Barbe, but he is noticeably absent from the school's career marks. That's because just 15 games into his senior season, one in which he was supposed to prove himself as a potential first-round pick, Garin tore his right ACL on a pickoff attempt at first base.
Despite his season being over, Garin encouraged the team to press on. He took on a supporting role, watching the remaining games from the dugout and cheering on his teammates.
Garin's injury was especially hard on Gavin, as he looked up to his older brother and knew he wouldn't be playing alongside him anymore. Raissa, ever the coach and mother, turned it into a teaching moment.
"With Garin getting hurt, I reminded Gavin that baseball can be taken away from you anytime," she said. "You're fortunate to be where you are."
That season, as a sophomore, Gavin set a school record by hitting 24 doubles. As he heads into his senior year, Gavin is now the focus at the amateur level. While he projects as a first-round talent like his brother, there are several differences between the two. Garin is a corner infielder, showing pop from the left side thanks to a strong 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame. Gavin is more wiry and swings a righthanded bat.
"I have better range and I'm faster," Gavin said. "He's a corner guy because he's bigger. He has a sweet swing and some pop."
"Gavin is a lot faster than me," Garin said. "He squares the ball up really well. He's a smooth defender and I think he can stay at shortstop. He can be a game-changer in defense, running and hitting."
Both were taught to work hard from a young age, which has helped them get to this point. They spent countless hours at Barbe's field, not only taking ground balls and batting practices, but also helping to turn the field from a cow pasture into a stadium that can bring in 2,000 fans for a big game.
"To say they're naturally talented, yeah they're talented, but they've worked," Cassard said. "Nothing has ever been given to them. For people that know them, they still don't know how much time they put in."
Continuing Their Craft
Whether Gavin signs a pro contract or fulfills his commitment to Mississippi remains to be seen, but Glenn and Raissa will continue to shape young athletes, even if Raissa isn't officially a coach anymore. Disgruntled parents took issue with the tandem several years ago, leading to Raissa stepping down as a coach.
Rene Gayo, now the international scouting director for the Pirates, has been good friends with the Cecchinis since he was an area scout in the early 1990s. Raissa credits Gayo as a strong influence on her passion for baseball and he offers his own praise.
"I don't think everybody appreciated what they were seeing," Gayo said. "She's an unbelievable woman. When Raissa had to stop working, that really hurt Glenn. But that's just the way it is. In this modern age, when others are too successful, others don't like it. Once upon a time, we loved that.
"If I had a boy, I'd want him to play for Glenn. His job is predicated on being able to get the guy that can't play. In high school you're a victim of who shows up. The thing that makes him a monster is he can take a kid that can't play and get him a scholarship. His success has been pillared on bringing it out of the kids."
Raissa still plays an important role at Barbe, helping behind the scenes. She says she isn't bitter about what transpired, but was disappointed she didn't get to coach her sons during their springs. But she has gotten the opportunity to do that during the summers, as the Cecchinis traveled with the Southeast Texas Sun Devils, a team that pulls players from Texas and Louisiana. Glenn and Raissa help coach the team while Chip Ferguson—whom they are quick to thank and praise—covers the team's expenses.
And so the parents have one final tour coaching a son, with Gavin less than a year from graduation. This was the first summer where all four weren't together, but baseball is a way of life for them and they don't figure to slow down anytime soon.
"They love the game and the game loves them," Gayo said. "It's a classic example of what high school baseball should be. You're not going to see many like them."