| March 12, 2022
By CCL Reporter, Kathryne Padilla --
A successful season with the Conejo Oaks doesn’t just lie in the hands of the athletes taking the field or the coaches behind them. Director of Operations, Rebecca Willson holds most of the success of the season on her back and contributes to the growing foundation of genuine relationships within the program.
Willson grew up in a baseball-oriented household where her dad was a coach, and her older brother played the game. At first, growing up she was not too fond of the sport, but it eventually grew on her and even played softball in her childhood.
“I love being around it. Obviously, I'm not coaching, and I don't want to coach or anything like that. But I love being around baseball, and like the happiness, it brings people just like talking to the fans,” Willson said. “I like just being out there in the atmosphere of it.”
She was first introduced to the Oaks when her older brother was on the coaching staff. He initiated the conversation of Willson helping the team with game-day operations on some occasions if she was able to. Willson has a Bachelor of Arts in Hospitality and was an event planner at the time, which made her a perfect candidate to help with operations.
At first, it started with helping with a few games, and then slowly she began to take on more responsibilities as she continued returning with the team.
“Every summer I kind of just added more things for myself to do. So now I just kind of do a little of everything and try to help coach out as much as possible,” Willson said.
This coming summer will mark her fourth season with the Oaks.
Preparation for the new season doesn’t begin a couple of months before, in fact, Willson feels like she gets a two-week break before having to begin planning and organizing the new season. Her long list of responsibilities includes but are not limited to housing athletes, transportation, providing food, marketing and social media, managing the intern program, ordering uniforms, and overseeing all daily operations.
“Every summer it's something I love to do … one more thing gets added every summer and I think it's great. I think more of it is just trying to build our program and make it bigger,” Willson said.
Last season, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant effect on how operations were run. Willson switched gears relatively quickly and still found housing for athletes. She even made several grocery runs to ensure the players had food but also kept their safety intact.
In her first initial interaction with the players, she is able to get a sense of who the players are as people. “Some of the times I can tell right from the get-go how they're going to be, or you know how this is going to go if I need to whip any of them into shape,” Willson said with a grin.
The work that Willson does behind the scenes doesn't go unnoticed. She does whatever it takes to relieve some of the stress for the coaches if needed, but it also contributes to the genuine relationships that the Oaks create with each of their players during the season.
The bond that is created with these athletes is one that Willson and head coach David Soliz have seen is long-term.
“It's a two-month connection that just seems sometimes when you connect with a player, it's so much longer than two months. It just feels like you've known them for a long time and it's really cool,” Willson said.
Longtime coach for the Oaks, David Soliz, also feels the same that summers in the California Collegiate League is all about baseball, and so much more.
Soliz shared a moment when he saw Brandon Lewis (UC Irvine, Los Angeles Dodgers), an Oaks' alumni, while attending an all-star game in Boise, where his brother was managing at the time.
“I see a player standing off and I'm like, is that him? That's Lew. He’s standing, so I text him and I said something like, ‘make sure you stand up straight,’ and he texts me back, ‘Are you here?” Soliz said.
The following day, Soliz was able to greet Lewis and received a bear hug from the athlete which Soliz shared, “He didn’t have to do that, a couple of years later.”
Moments like the one Soliz experienced are the ones that keep himself and Willson returning.
Owner of the Conejo Oaks, Mike Scioscia, and General Manager, Randy Riley, built a program that revolves around genuine connections which creates such as positive and welcoming atmosphere
The duo has created an environment where athletes are able to not only focus on developing high-level baseball skills but building long-term relationships with all involved in the organization.
Soliz loves that Scioscia is hands-on with the Oaks' players, coaches, staff, and interns and present during the summer. Scioscia has been at practices and on-field during workouts, but could also be found sitting in the stands at the Oaks’ games.
“He was at every single home game for the early work. He would do his drills, talk to the guys and the players loved it. Sometimes he would go home, change and come back and just watch the game in the stands; that’s how much he cares,” Soliz said.
Riley could also be found at Oaks games. His generosity and love for the organization plays a big part in the success of the Oaks.
“He does what is always best for the league and he's always done what's best for the team, and each player. There's no player that goes without...[Riley]'s there [and] takes care of it,” Soliz said.
It is evident the Oaks has created a solid foundation that has continued to be the basis for the organization and has grown into something larger than life. While there are only two months during the summer season, it seems that the Oaks jam-pack years of relationships that ultimately continue for years to come.
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