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by Editor, Rick Cabral

Paul Carmazzi

Panthers Coaching Legend

 Uploaded 09/24/12
All contents © Rick Cabral, 2012


Among the area’s notable amateur baseball coaches, Paul Carmazzi’s path to legendary status may be the gnarliest.

Growing up in the shadow of older brother Dan, the football star at Christian Brothers and UC Davis, Paul Carmazzi almost didn’t make the Falcons varsity baseball team his senior season. And when told he’d made the cut, head coach Ron Limeberger sheepishly admitted he didn’t have any more uniforms. Eventually, he found Paul an old wool jersey that probably had seen better days when Christian Brothers was located at 21st and Broadway.

“I wasn’t a very good baseball player,” Carmazzi admits. “I just worked really hard at it.”

When he graduated spring 1974, he couldn’t have dreamed that 10 years later he would lead Sacramento City College to the state title game.

Or that a few years later, he would field frequent late night calls from one of his former pupils, a major leaguer who needed the calming reassurance of his former coach, ‘Maz.

==

The summer following his senior season at CBS, Carmazzi was still debating whether to attend Sacramento State or Sac City. Fellow Falcon teammate Chris Gandy suggested Carmazzi join him at SCC and try out for the baseball team, which had a new head coach from Southern California: Jerry Weinstein. 

maz

Paul Carmazzi is a long-time administrator in the
Athletic Department at Sacramento City College.



He did, but developed mononucleosis around the holidays and had to redshirt. That first season Carmazzi hung out with the team and kept score on the bench. Two years later in his sophomore season he fell and fractured a bone in his hand, and eventually earned just one at-bat in the final series against Modesto (he singled and kidded teammates that he led the team in batting with a 1.000 average).

When Carmazzi transferred to Sac State in fall 1977, the school was struggling to find a permanent replacement for long-time head coach Cal Boyes. When the Hornets hired Barry Woodhead, it was their third head coach in three years. Weinstein encouraged Carmazzi to try out for the team, thinking he had a shot with a new coach.

During the Hornets’ fall practice, Paul hurt himself once again, ending any hope of continuing his college playing career. But Woodhead invited him to be an assistant coach on the 1978 team. Sac State then played in the Division II Far West Conference, but scheduled top caliber non-conference teams such as Cal and other Pac-10 schools. In Carmazzi’s first coaching experience, the Hornets finished 15-31-2, Woodhead was relieved and John Smith took over, beginning a 32-year period of stability.

But there was a silver lining to this gray cloud: Weinstein invited Carmazzi to join him as one of his two assistants at Sac City for the 1979 season.

==

Sacramento City College fielded its first baseball team in 1923 and had been the big dog in town for decades. But since the Del Bandy-led years (1962-1970) the program had been in decline. One of the first things Weinstein did was to move his program’s playing field to the SCC campus.

For decades, the Panthers played their home games at William Land Park Diamond #1 (changed to “Doc Oliver Field” in March 1979), long considered the city’s premier recreational ball diamond. The Panthers home diamond was located on its present site, but the rustic backstop sans dugouts was a far cry from the amenity-filled facility the team currently plays in.

In the early 1980s, under Weinstein’s tutelage the Panthers began attracting and developing many of the Valley’s top players. According to Carmazzi, the Panthers were incredibly deep in talent, stacked with reserve players that could have started at most other Northern California community colleges.

Some of the notable players from this period who went on to major league careers were Rich Rodas (1979) and R.J. Reynolds (1980) of the Los Angeles Dodgers; Chris Bosio (1982) and LeVal Freeman (1983) and Greg Vaughn (1984-85) of the Milwaukee Brewers; along with Jeff Blauser (1984, Atlanta Braves).

During this period, Carmazzi scouted part time for San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals and California Angels, while also giving private and group hitting and pitching instruction.

Weinstein—a budding baseball genius—imported the Southern California ethos of baseball, complete with strategies, mechanics and skills that helped transform the college on Freeport Blvd. into a bonafide baseball academy. “Jerry was a pioneer of new ways of doing things in baseball (in the Sacramento area),” Carmazzi explains. “I watched and listened.”

Consequently Carmazzi went into a steep learning curve, becoming a noted hitting instructor. Blauser, who won a World Series ring with the Braves in 1995, called Carmazzi “the man who taught me to hit.”

The one area that set Sac City apart from the rest, Carmazzi says, was the development of video analysis. Jerry and Paul began by videotaping major league stars of that period. After assessing each batter’s approach to hitting, they formulated the common traits found in each successful hitter and then constructed a batting manual for their players.

Additionally, they began videotaping the Sac City players. By showing the Panther batters what they were doing, especially in comparison to the pros’ correct method of hitting, Sac City hitters began the transformation from mediocrity to masher-mania.

That philosophy had a similar affect on the pitching program.

Although he became known for his hitting instruction, it was Carmazzi’s reputation as a pitching coach that landed him a chance to coach his own team and form a bond with future major leaguer, Greg Vaughn.

==

In 1982, Sacramento-native Manuel Perry Jr. was burning out as a full-time youth league coach from his time at Land Park Colt League, Post 61 Legion and eventually Kennedy Legion. In 1981, Perry had led Kennedy Legion to the state title and earned a spot in the eight-team Legion World Series. Perry consulted with Weinstein about a possible future replacement, one who could also serve as the pitching coach in Perry’s transition year (He eventually went on to American Legion administrative positions, from District and Area Commissioner to State Chairman). Weinstein suggested his young assistant.

In 1982 Perry retained the manager role at Kennedy Legion, and brought Carmazzi in as an assistant. ‘He really worked well with pitchers,” Perry recalls. “I thought he would do an outstanding job in that role. And he did a helluva job.”

That summer Carmazzi met Greg Vaughn, better known at the time as a powerful and speedy running back for Kennedy High. Over their two summers together in Legion they became friends as Vaughn found someone he could relate to. He was “like a big brother I never had, a foster dad,” Vaughn told BaseballSacramento.com.

Following his senior summer, Vaughn had a scholarship offer to play football at Washington. At a crossroads, he asked Carmazzi for advice: take the football ride or play baseball at SCC? Carmazzi honestly conceded that Vaughn was more talented in football, but encouraged him to follow his heart. And maybe “try both (sports).”

Vaughn, however, took it as a challenge. “I did not like people telling me what I could and could not do,” he remembers with a chuckle. With a nod to reverse psychology, Carmazzi had dispensed sage advice, while succeeding in recruiting Vaughn to the Panthers baseball program.

In Spring 1984, Weinstein was granted a leave of absence to take an assistant job at University of Miami, which had won College World Series titles in 1982 and 1985. During his time under head coach Ron Frazier, Weinstein witnessed first-hand the burgeoning baseball programs in the southeast. More importantly, that one-year experience expanded his collegiate contacts exponentially, dramatically expanding opportunities for SCC athletes to play for prominent four-year programs in the south.

With Weinstein gone, Carmazzi was left in charge. One of the first things he did was to inform Vaughn he should probably redshirt, explaining “I don’t know if you’re ready.”

Vaughn rejected that idea, but realized that if he wanted to make the team, he would have to work much harder. “Me and 'Maz would stay late, every single day,” Vaughn recalls, admitting he was a football player trying to compete at the sport of baseball.

“He had a real bad hitch in his swing but he could get away with it because he was so gifted,” Carmazzi remembers of a young Vaughn. “He couldn’t throw at all; he had a bad arm. But he could run and he was super, super strong.”

With Weinstein in Miami, Carmazzi led Sac City to a Camino Norte Conference championship and a runner-up finish in the state finals with an overall mark of 33-9.  In recognition of his efforts that season, he was honored as the Northern California Junior College Baseball Coach of the Year and named to the Sacramento Hall of Fame.  During this period, he also managed Kennedy Legion program. 

After a solid sophomore season at Sac City, Vaughn passed up his fourth opportunity to go pro (when the MLB draft had supplemental June and January rounds) and instead accepted a full ride to University of Miami, no doubt benefitting from Weinstein’s new connections.

“My Sac City team could have beaten them (Hurricanes),” Vaughn says with a laugh. At Miami, Vaughn was still considered “a speed guy,” serving as a lead-off hitter. In 1986 he stole 43 bases and drove in 53 runs for the Hurricanes. He was drafted by  the  Milwaukee Brewers  in the first round   (4th) of the 1986 MLB June Draft-Secondary Phase, achieving his dream of playing pro ball.*
== 

Carmazzi+

Paul Carmazzi (center) surrounded by former Panthers
F.P. Santangelo (left) and Fernando Vina.


Weinstein returned from his Miami sabbatical and with Carmazzi as his co-head coach, the Panthers program zoomed to a higher gear. From 1987-89, the Panthers played for the California state title. The ’87 squad, Carmazzi remembers, “was a really good team.” Led by recently-inducted SCC Hall of Famer pitcher Clyde Keller, Sac City lost to Cerritos College, which was coached by a young George Horton, who later won a College World Series at Fullerton State and now coaches at Oregon.

The following season “We’re talking Bad News Bears,” Carmazzi laughs. “We were not very gifted. But we had some super-competitive guys, led by F.P. Santangelo.” In the state finals they came from the loser’s bracket to face powerful Rancho Santiago (now Santa Ana), which had earlier defeated Sac City 15-5 and were undefeated. The Panthers beat them in the first game, forcing a rematch. Santangelo tripled twice in the game, which was won on a Rob Reboin triple and the Panthers captured their first state title since 1953.

“That was special because that team wasn’t expected to do anything,” Carmazzi says. They defeated head coach Don Sneddon, who recently overtook Weinstein as the winningest community college coach in California baseball history.

In 1989 they again faced Cerritos and lost, but in the process Weinstein and Carmazzi had certified the Panthers program as one of the state’s best.

==

Two of Carmazzi’s proudest achievements during his tenure at Sac City have stood the test of time.

In the early 1980s, Weinstein asked Carmazzi to develop a first-ever baseball camp. “Back then no one ran camps (in any sports),” he says in reflection. Shooting from the hip that first year in 1983 they hoped for 50 and got 190 campers to show up. “Our emphasis has always been on the kids having fun and learning,” Carmazzi says. An estimated 30,000 youngsters have come through their camps. The funds have helped offset the Panthers’ equipment costs.

The other project involved building a new ballpark on campus, a dream ever since Weinstein returned from Miami. Together he and Carmazzi successfully recruited Sacramento Building and Trades union to donate materials and labor in constructing the 1,500 seat ballpark, aptly named Union Stadium. It opened in 1988 and lights were added in 1999, giving Sac City the finest baseball park at the time in the Sacramento Valley. In addition to being the Panther’s home park, it has served as the site of the community college playoffs, high school contests, and for one summer hosted the independent professional team, Sacramento Steelheads.

==

In 1991, Carmazzi took a more active role in the administration at Sac City, first becoming a department chairman, then later Assistant Director of Men’s Athletics under Dick Pierucci. When he retired, Carmazzi stepped into the men’s AD role.

Meantime, the Panthers continued to excel on the diamond, finishing second in the state finals from 1991-1993. “It was getting old watching all these other guys dogpile,” Carmazzi ruefully remembers.

In 1997, they began another three-year run in the state finals, but this time they claimed two championships. After the 1998 squad won the state title with a 44-2 record, Baseball America rated Sacramento City College number one in the country. Going out on top, Weinstein announced he was moving on to a professional position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As assistant head coach, Carmazzi was the obvious choice to replace his mentor and long-time friend. However, since he already had a full-time administrator position, and because the college funded only one paid position in baseball, Carmazzi agreed to allow assistant Andy McKay to assume the head coaching reins, while staying on as co-head coach.

They had plenty of talent coming back from the 1998 team, and in that first season without Weinstein, Sac City continued to steamroll all challengers, repeating as state champions. But since then first place finishes have been less frequent, and in  2006, Carmazzi retired from his coaching duties, while taking on an expanded role as assistant AD over men’s and women’s athletics.  During his 28-year career with the baseball program, Sac City participated in 19 state finals tournaments and  played in 12 state championships.

But he didn't leave baseball entirely. With the limited time he had available, Carmazzi assisted Rich Henning in developing the baseball program at his alma mater, Christian Brothers High. There he had the opportunity to run the offense and coach his son, Paul Junior.

In 2010, Carmazzi culminated his coaching career with selection to the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He is one of only four to be chosen from the Sacramento area. Weinstein (2001), American River College's Kevin Higgins (2006) and Gary Engelken of Yuba College (1996) are the other three local coaches who preceded him.

Developments late this summer, however, called Carmazzi back to Union Stadium when Panthers Head Coach Andy McKay announced he would be taking a one-year leave of absence to serve as Mental Skills Director with the Colorado Rockies. Panthers assistant Derek Sullivan has been tabbed interim head coach while McKay is off and Carmazzi consented to return to the diamond to provide leadership and program continuity.

Something he's been doing since his undergrad days in the late 1970s.

 


* Vaughn would go on to have the longest MLB career of anyone from this City College era, 15 years in the majors with five teams. He hit 50 home runs for San Diego in 1998 and became the second Sacramentan to homer in a World Series that season when he hit two round-trippers in the first game against the Yankees (Joe Marty of the 1938 Cubs was the first).

 

 Uploaded 09/24/12
All contents © Rick Cabral, 2012

 

 

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