| March 13, 2021
Mike Scioscia needs no introduction — the three-time World Series Champion and former Los Angeles Angels Manager has made his mark on the sports world, to say the least.
Though he is best known for his professional playing and coaching career, Scioscia’s commitment to spreading baseball in Southern California and around the country is another critical part of his baseball identity.
Scioscia’s nonprofit Amateur Baseball Development Group (ABDG) aims to increase opportunities to play the game in Southern California by giving young players everywhere a chance to try out the sport. ABDG is the principal sponsor of the California Collegiate League's Conejo Oaks, and its support enabled the Oaks to take home a CCL Championship trophy in 2018 and remain competitive for years.
ABDG and the Conejo organization have helped thousands of players jumpstart their baseball careers. Sustaining success is always a goal, but the two are also committed to development — allowing athletes to improve themselves as both players and people.
“This is important to us, and we're driven to try to get players, coaches, and programs all the tools they need to play this great game,” Scioscia said.
Scioscia’s athletic journey began when he was an elementary school student, playing for Babe Ruth League baseball teams in the summer and participating in other sports throughout the year. He later earned a scholarship to Clemson University, but instead accepted an offer to turn professional and join the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
While he showed promise as a young player, his ascent to the majors still required plenty of training, resources and mentorship, whether they came from his parents in the Philadelphia suburbs or late Dodgers great Tommy Lasorda.
Nearly six decades later, Scioscia fully understands the importance of developing players and providing athletes with resources to succeed.
“I think I was very fortunate to be around influential people when I was younger, and as far as where we are right now and where I am, it’s time to give back,” Scioscia said.
Throughout Scioscia’s time in Southern California, he noticed that baseball players often had limited access to baseball fields. This was especially true in the summer.
Programs were continually underfunded, sometimes struggling to afford essential equipment. The lack of funding also left many fields in poor conditions, so players frequently had little to work with.
After Scioscia observed these problems alongside ABDG co-founders Randy Riley and Kevin Muno, the trio formed ABDG in 2004. They planned to give out ABDG donations and grants that could be used to purchase better equipment, improve field conditions, hire assistant coaches or perform other crucial functions.
Ultimately, they hoped to better finance baseball across SoCal and give more players a chance to participate in the sport.
“We took for granted that we were going to have an opportunity to experience this game,” Scioscia said. “A lot of players don’t have that opportunity now, so this gets them an opportunity to step up and go to a higher level.”
Another vital part of ABDG’s founding was the creation of the Conejo Oaks franchise, which Scioscia, Riley and Muno formed in 2004 to provide more support to college-age baseball players.
In the next 16 seasons, the organization brought Championship-caliber baseball to Thousand Oaks and featured athletes such as Isaiah Campbell, the Mariners’ second-round pick in 2019, and Brandon Lewis, the Dodgers’ 2019 fourth-round selection.
By becoming a member of the Oaks, college players experience a fine-tuned regimen and workout schedule during the summer. The Oaks' core mission is development. Players return to their respective colleges and universities with an increased skill set thanks to quality repetitions.
“We try to win every game when we're on the field, but… myself, our coaching staff, our support staff, never loses sight of the fact that we are here for them,” said Oaks head coach Dave Soliz. “That is something we hang our hat on and we are very proud of that philosophy.”
Playing in the CCL also gives players exposure to first-rate opponents from programs around the country.
“Do we enjoy playing in the league? Absolutely, it is top-notch competition,” Soliz said. “I can see the direction of the CCL and I’m very proud to be part of that.”
Outside of the Oaks organization, ABDG’s contributions are aimed at youth- and high school-level organizations in need of extra support.
ABDG gives grants to teams for anything they need to improve, ranging from boxes of baseballs to new assistant coaches.
In addition to the Oaks, ABDG has sponsored several other teams, including 14U through 17U clubs, and a Connie Mack league and team. If players don’t make the cut for baseball teams at their own high schools, they can join ABDG’s Senior Minor League.
ABDG has also sought to address the lack of publicly available playing fields during the offseason, another common problem faced by youth baseball players. In 2005, the organization helped build the Conejo Creek Park Baseball Facility in Conejo Valley.
ABDG’s impact on teams and individuals across Southern California is undeniable — “We would not be able to run the Oaks without the daily and long-term support of ABDG,” Soliz said.
Soliz is especially grateful for the support staff ABDG has helped provide him, including assistant coaches Joe Garcia, Mark Fitzgerald and Cody Ramer, athletic trainer Yoshi Shiratori and Director of Operations Rebecca Wilson.
“I could not do it without them,” Soliz said.
The assistance of Scioscia, Riley and the entire ABDG organization has allowed the Oaks to remain competitive, whether through supplying necessary equipment or baseball-related guidance. One of Soliz’s main goals for the team is to continue providing a stellar on-field product to help ABDG in return.
“We’re trying to continue to make the Oaks the best they can be to help support ABDG,” Soliz said. “We're trying to do our part to make our end of it the best as possible so that way ABDG can be proud of what we're trying to do as well.” (Edit)
When it comes to Oaks players and other individuals ABDG has guided, Scioscia is especially proud of the program’s commitment to building athletes’ character.
“We've seen some players come in and maybe you see the talent in them that they don't quite see, they don't have quite the confidence to carry that forward,” Scioscia said. “But by working them out and building their self-esteem as a ballplayer and letting them understand that they can be really good at this particular skill with a skillset that they have, we've seen them come out of their shell, be a better person, carry the confidence that you've wanted the youngster to carry.”
While ABDG has already made a significant impact in its first 17 years, Scioscia hopes the program can continue bringing baseball to athletes across the southern part of the state.
“I think the need is always there and the need always increases so we've got to increase our scope of what we can do,” Scioscia said. “...We want to make sure that in the Southern California area that anyone that wants to have a chance to play baseball gets a chance to play in a program that is equipped with the tools they need to run a baseball program.”
More than anything, Scioscia hopes people will follow ABDG’s example and learn how they can make a difference in their own communities.
“I think it's important for wherever you live for you to try to impact the lives of people in your community,” Sciosia said. “You don't have to do it in the whole world — you can do it one person at a time.”
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