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By Thomas J. Sullivan–
Mention to coach Jerry Garcia that 70 years of age is a long time to be playing baseball, and he’ll just smile. He’s not ready to hang up his bat and glove just yet.
You really can’t blame him; the 2019 Citrus Heights Little League season is just getting started and there’s plenty of work to do.
For 50 years, Garcia has been coaching and mentoring young baseball players in the community. Many of his past players have gone on to play college ball and some have made it to the pros.
The Garcia family, whose last name is pronounced Gar-sha, emigrated to the United States from Santiago, Chile before Jerry was born. He grew up in New York where a first trip to Yankee Stadium to see Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris play ball made him a life-long New York Yankees fan.
“Baseball runs very deep in my family,” he told The Sentinel in a recent interview. “Everyone grew up playing the game and there were some who excelled.”
He said his uncle played semi-pro in the Pacific Coast League and his wife, Marcy, played softball in high school. Both of his sons also grew up in the area playing little league baseball.
Garcia moved to Citrus Heights from Sacramento in 1970, starting his involvement with the Citrus Heights Little League the year before. The years have quickly gone by, and he’s now helping to coach coaches who used to be his players.
He’s also a guitarist, like the other famous Garcia guitarist from the San Francisco Bay Area, but his preferred musical instrument of choice is the drums. Apart from baseball, Garcia sits in regularly with fellow local musicians.
After 50 years of involvement with the Citrus Heights Little League, including duties as a head coach and now as an equipment manager, Garcia shows no signs of slowing down. Then again, in his words, why would he?
He teaches by example, schooling players in both their thinking skills and learning the game’s fundamentals. You’ll see “Garsh,” as his players call him, suited up on the playing field where he still takes regular batting practice, knocking a few well-placed fly balls deep in the outfield and demonstrating his quick-handed infielding skills to his young players.
Garcia was a regular player in the senior baseball league until up until two years ago, but still feels in great shape and said he’d still like to play again.
Participation in the Citrus Heights Little League baseball program has dropped in recent years from a high of about 1,100 when he first started to about 200 ballplayers today.
“Costs are a factor in attracting young ballplayers,” he said, noting the cost to outfit a player can average between $150 to $200 per season depending on the position played.
“We have many generous sponsors and supporters who give very generously to help those who want to play but might not have the resources, the opportunity to play Little League baseball,” he said. “They shouldn’t be discouraged from trying out.”
The Citrus Heights Little League pays $7 per player towards taking care of up to five baseball fields in use each season. Participation fees also go to pay the costs of professional umpire crews which officiate each game.
Garcia loves teaching the fundamentals of the game. “It’s a difficult game to learn and that’s what I remind our players. There are so many skills to learn.”
“It’s very easy for a young player to be hard on himself at any point in a 9-inning game and get discouraged,” he said. “I honestly work to build their self-confidence.”
He also encourages his players to learn all positions to become an all-around player.
“It’s a great way to learn the complete game,” he said. “Coaches like players who are versatile and willing to learn new skills.”
“Simply, I want players to ask themselves, what am I going to do when the ball comes to me and how can I make the best play,” he said. “There’s only a split second or two from when the ball is hit to the defending player’s immediate reaction.”
Garcia has coached several championship Little League teams through the years. He enjoys watching his players mature in their skills as they move up the age brackets of Little League Ball, go on to high school and play college ball.
“I’m always running into former players who say, ‘Coach Garsh, do you remember me?’ They’re a little surprised that I still do.”
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