Making Waves: How the Orange County Riptide Built a Championship Club Behind Drive, Passion and Ambition

| March 27, 2021

Athletes who play for the Orange County Riptide must fulfill all the typical criteria expected of a college baseball player, ranging from throwing velocity to batting technique. But the Riptide also requires another characteristic of players — the desire to play at the professional level. 

“Our big thing is we only recruit players that still have the dream,” said Moe Geoghegan, General Manager of the Riptide. “If a kid’s like, ‘I don’t really care about a future in baseball, I’m just playing through my college years,’ he’s probably not gonna fit in our organization.”

The Riptide’s desire for its players to aim higher speaks to the emphasis it puts not only on its winning record, but also on individual development and improvement for athletes’ future careers. 

Promoting that mentality has led to success for the Riptide, allowing it to make waves in the CCL playoffs and compete with any summer baseball team on the West Coast. While most sports teams take years to build a winning culture and win a championship, and many never accomplish those feats at all, the CCL’s Orange County Riptide achieved both objectives in just three seasons. 

Geoghegan’s coaching career got off to an atypical start when he was a baseball player at Glendale Community College. Following their first season of college ball in 1996, Geoghegan and his teammates decided to put together a roster of GCC athletes and players they knew from high school. They titled themselves the Scorpions. 

In 2000, Geoghegan moved the Scorpions to a new home in Orange County, after which they became an official member of the Western Baseball Association and won a league championship in their first season. The Scorpions flourished, besting some of best teams on the West Coast and winning the Western Regional Tournament in 2001. 

After back to back NBC World Series trips and having 18 players who were drafted, five of whom made it to the major leagues, Geoghegan decided to step away from coaching and baseball to focus on personal life and priorities.

He considered bringing his former summer club back every few years during his extended hiatus away from the dugout, but was hesitant to pull the trigger. 

In 2015, Geoghegan knew it was time to return to baseball. Though he had most recently served as a coach, he chose instead to become general manager of his new team, the Orange County Riptide. 

Geoghegan went into his first years as GM with a plan in place, but the Riptide’s first two seasons were as tenuous as the team’s namesake. 

The franchise spent its inaugural season as a member of the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League, sporting a lineup of mainly Division II and NAIA players.

The Riptide went on a win streak as the summer progressed, which earned them a spot in the playoffs and later the Championship series. Despite their newly found success, the Riptide had a tough loss in three games to Palm Springs in the Championship. 

“We had champagne on ice and everything and just couldn't wrap it up,” Geoghegan said. “It was a great series, it was a tight series, it was a great experience.”  

While the loss was difficult to accept, Geoghegan realized that he needed to move his team in a new direction and into another league. The Riptide made the jump to the CCL in 2016 with the vocal support of Foresters head coach Bill Pintard and former CCL Commissioner Pat Burns. 

After making the switch, Geoghegan recruited several Division I players for his 2016 roster, but still found that the team did not progress as he had hoped after off-field issues bled into on-field performance. 

“‘16 was a learning experience,” Geoghegan said. “We took our lumps.”

After two up-and-down seasons in the books, Geoghegan decided it was time for a change within the Riptide organization following its 2016 campaign. 

His first shake-up came in October when Tommy Bell, a player on the 2016 team, recommended Tyger Pederson as a candidate for the Riptide’s head coach opening.  

Pederson, a former minor leaguer and University of the Pacific alum, immediately introduced a new coaching philosophy to the club and was chosen to lead the team. Geoghegan was initially unsure about the Riptide’s new way of doing things, but quickly realized what a difference it made in the club’s performance. 

“Early on, I was skeptical about some of the way he was running the offense and stuff,” Geoghegan said, “but I was completely dead wrong.”

With a new head coach in place, Geoghegan set off to build his 2017 team. He took a more direct approach to recruiting than he had in previous seasons and began scouting early, building on his existing relationships with coaches at D1 Universities and other programs across the country. 

One of Geoghegan’s first targets was the University of Arkansas. Although he initially targeted the Razorbacks' starting shortstop, who signed but ended up missing the summer due to academics, Geoghegan also included Dominic Fletcher as part of the package. Fletcher was from Orange County and a was highly recruited Freshman Outfielder who later became the CCL’s 2017 Most Valuable Player and the 75th-overall draft selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  

Another key addition to the team was Delta Junior College freshman Beau Philip, who had the strong backing of Pederson. Phillips was later drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Braves in 2019. 

The Riptide also had a strong rotation and bullpen. 

With so much talent on one team, the Riptide practically found it harder to lose than to win. 

“Some of the statistics were just crazy,” Geoghegan said. “We lost 11 games. We lost seven of those 11 losses by one run. We never lost the game by more than three runs all summer. I mean, we were in every single game, which is crazy.”

As the summer went on, the Riptide never lost momentum despite an accumulation of injuries and an opt-out from one of the team’s most important players. The team forged on with a “next guy up” mentality and a coach who “made every right move,” Geoghegan said. 

The Riptide sailed into the playoffs with a 32-11 record, the best in the CCL South. The team went on to beat the Healdsburg Prune Packers in the Championship game to take home the 2017 Championship title.  

Geoghegan was also awarded the CCL’s 2017 General Manager of the Year Award. 

“2017 was the dream season,” Geoghegan said. “That's your one team that comes along once in a lifetime.”

After having a “perfect summer in 2017” and winning a championship so quickly, Geoghegan admits he had his doubts about the team’s mission going forward. 

“And then 2018 rolls in, you know, and how do you duplicate it?” he reflected. 

The Riptide got off to a slow start in 2018, but won its final two regular season games on walkoff home runs and earned a spot in the playoffs. The team even managed to find its way back to the 2018 CCL Championship after struggling to develop a consistent strategy and lineup all season, but lost 6-2 to the Conejo Oaks. 

However, Geoghegan was satisfied with simply making a second consecutive Championship appearance and set his sights on new goals for the franchise. One of those objectives was finding a new field, and in 2019, the team found a new home base at the Great Park in Irvine. 

“That’s, I think, going to be the move that changes our organization forever,” Geoghegan said. “It has just opened up so many opportunities.”

He hopes to take full advantage of the new space once pandemic restrictions are eased and teams can allow fans into their facilities again. While the 2020 season was canceled for health and safety reasons, Geoghegan considers it a “blessing in disguise” since the organization will now have time to fully prepare for what it wants to do at the Great Park. 

Geoghegan also brought on Director of Baseball Operations Dave Lamm, Assistant General Manager Tim Brown and a full Executive Board to help grow the team and set the stage for future success. The Riptide’s internship program has expanded as well, helping with communications, operations and other parts of managing the club. 

Geoghegan is looking forward to getting Riptide players back on the field after a nearly two year-long hiatus from CCL competition in Southern California. Geoghegan is particularly excited about the roster he constructed for this season, including players from Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, Alabama and Illinois — the highest number of out-of-state athletes he’s ever had. 

“‘17 was a really good team, but this probably is the most exciting team,” Geoghegan said. “We'll see what happens when they come together, but I'm pretty excited about the directions we're going in.”

Regardless of how the pandemic and other factors impact baseball in 2021, Geoghegan hopes to continue working toward the Riptide’s three central goals. 

“Number one, we want to develop our players on and off the field,” Geoghegan said. “Number two, we want to send them back healthy, safe, and hopefully better than they were when they came. And number three, we'd like to see them go on to play some sort of professional baseball.” 

Geoghegan also wants the organization as a whole to continue improving, creating partnerships at universities around the country and making the Riptide a national name. 

“I feel like people in this league know the Riptide are pretty good on the field, we’re just trying to equal that off the field with operations,” Geoghegan said. “We’re always trying to expand with schools to try to get more pipelines and stability. But we want to be one of the teams that carries the flag for the league.” 

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