Veteran coach Jack Hodges reflects 22 years in dugout

Hodges, known as “the winningest” coach, will man the dugout for the final time tomorrow when the Gauchos take on Santa Ana College Thursday at 2 (Leif Kemp)

Leif Kemp

It has been said that in life, all good things must come to an end. Never has this been more true for Saddleback College baseball coach Jack Hodges. After becoming the schools all-time winningest coach, March 15, coach Hodges has announced he will be retiring from coaching at seasons end.

The announcement marks an end to a brilliant 42-year coaching career for Hodges, who has spent the past 22 of those years at Saddleback compiling a record of 577 wins with only 363 losses, and four ties.

“All baseball coaches teach the game of baseball,” said assistant coach Larry Holt. “Coach not only teaches baseball, he teaches his players life lessons.”

Ryan McDermott, 1996 alumnus and a member of the Saddleback College Hall of Fame

agrees.

“I don’t even know where to start. So many great things I could say about him and his program,” McDermott said. “The one thing that stands out the most about Coach Hodges is he not only taught you to win on the field, he prepared you to be successful in life.”

Holt added that he and Hodges grew up in a different era. They grew as baseball players to not only learn the fundamentals of the game but their era also emphasized how one should behave as people, not just baseball players.

“Working with Coach Hodges over the past 22 years has been a pleasure,” said longtime Saddleback athletic trainer Brad McReynolds. “His program, his athletes, his coaches, and himself have always carried themselves with the utmost Gaucho pride.”

Coach Hodges began coaching in 1971 at Rowland High School in the San Gabriel Valley before relocating to south Orange County to take the head coaching job at Laguna Hills High School in 1980. After 339 wins, it was time for a new challenge.

It was late July 1990 when Hodges took the Saddleback job. The day after he accepted the Saddleback position, he had to leave for a month to attend to a commitment with USA baseball. School was already in session when he returned to 100 or more prospects looking to make the team. For the most part a lot of these players were turned away from other schools.

“That first day we had the players take a few laps around the field, and two of them tripped somehow and broke their arms.” Hodges said. “I turned to my coaches and said, is this how it is going to be this year?”

That team made Hodges’ Saddleback coaching debut a memorable one when Jason Kirrer scored on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth to defeat Moorpark College 8-7, February 2, 1990. The Gauchos were down 7-1 before scoring seven runs in the last two innings. There have been many wins since that memorable day, but an article still hangs in the baseball offices commemorating the victory.

In addition to being the schools all-time winningest coach, Hodges has led his teams to 13 playoff appearances, six state final four appearances, five Orange Empire Conference championships, three state title appearances (1998, 2003, & 2004) and guided the Gauchos to the pinnacle of the sport, winning the 2004 State championship.

The coach with the quintessential year-round tan is a Hawaiian Islands native, and was an all-around athlete in high school where he lettered in football, baseball, basketball, and track. However, baseball has always been his first love when it comes to athletics.

“I’ve always loved the meditative and intellectual aspect of baseball,” Hodges commented. “The game truly takes place pitch by pitch.”

The fact coach Hodges excelled in so many aspects of sport translated well to his players.

I came to Coach Hodges after being up sick all night long,” said Jon Lauderdale, another alumnus on the 1996 team and also a member of Saddleback’s Hall of Fame. “I told him it would be in the best interest of the team if he start another pitcher, I wasn’t 100 percent.” Lauderdale continues, “Coach told me that I was better than most players at 50 percent. I’ve never had a coach have so much confidence in me. He made me work harder. I never wanted to let him down.”

His combination of athletic exploits and intellect earned the future coach an academic-athletic scholarship to Stanford University. In college, he paired down his athletic pursuits to include baseball and football while earning a degree in journalism with an English minor.

After graduating, Hodges was playing with the Kansas City Royals minor league affiliate, the Kingsport Royals of the Appalachian league, when former University of New Mexico baseball coach Vince Cappelli would talk with him on the lengthy bus rides from city to city about the nuances of the game.

“Vince is the reason I got into coaching in the first place.” Hodges said. “He used to say, ‘Jack you’re going to be a coach someday.’ He was a great influence for me.”

Hodges played two seasons for the Royals but won’t ever forget his first interaction with Cappelli.

“I walked into the clubhouse in a shirt with a Stanford logo on it. Vince saw that and said, ‘Oh, a college boy, huh? You’re gonna have a hard time finishing the season on my team’. I took that as a challenge,” Hodges laughed.

“Coach Hodges has developed Saddleback College baseball into a highly regarded program. Not only from the standpoint of being very competitive athletically, but also in the expected behavior of his student-athletes. We have often been commended by the respect and courtesy that our teams have shown when they are off-campus representing Saddleback,” said Athletic Director Tony Lipold. “Jack has given his heart and soul to our baseball program. His leadership and guidance of our student-athletes will always be remembered and appreciated. It will be hard to replace him.”

Hodges will coach his final game at Saddleback on Thursday, April 28, when the Gauchos host Santa Ana College in the Orange Empire Conference finale. Game time is 2:00 p.m.

Assistant coach Sommer McCartney will take over as head coach of the Saddleback baseball program when Hodges retires. McCartney has served as an assistant coach under Hodges for nine seasons, including the past five as a full-time instructor on campus. McCartney served as the head coach at Aliso Niguel High School (Aliso Viejo, CA) from 2001 through 2005.

While the saying all good things must end is true, it is also true that for every ending there is a new beginning. For Jack Hodges his time as baseball coach at Saddleback College is ending, but tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of his life.  

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