By CCL Reporter Sean Brennan
(IRVINE, CA) – If there’s one word that defines Connor Spencer’s career in baseball, it’s offense. A seemingly natural ability to bring the best out of lineups he oversees has helped him quickly ascend the collegiate baseball coaching ranks, as he was named the sixth manager in Orange County Riptide history.
Spencer’s immediate success with an offensive-minded approach makes sense considering what he achieved as a player. The Orange County native enjoyed a decorated college career at UC Irvine, winning the Big West Conference batting title in 2013 with a .373 average. As a junior, Spencer was a driving force throughout the Anteaters’ historic 2014 season that concluded in Omaha at the College World Series, a journey that he won’t soon forget.
“For me, it was definitely our playoff run in 2014,” Spencer said of his greatest playing memory. “Going to No. 1 in the country, Oregon State – Michael Conforto’s Oregon State – knocking them off, then going to Oklahoma State, knocking them off to go to the College World Series. That was definitely the most memorable moment I had [in my career], I still get together with the guys, we still talk about that.”
Spencer’s ample contributions in Irvine didn’t go unnoticed, as he was taken by the New York Yankees in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. While the competition he faced daily intensified, he didn’t need much time to adjust – not even close to a full year. In his inaugural season of professional baseball, Spencer became the first minor leaguer in Yankees’ history to earn a minor league batting title, boasting a .364 average in the New York-Penn League in 2014.
The two-time all-star ended his professional career after four years to become a national scouting coordinator for Perfect Game. Spencer would evaluate some of the country’s best college and high school talent. Almost immediately, any doubts he had about being suited for off-field scouting, instructional, and coaching roles were eliminated.
Spencer returned to the diamond in 2021 to coach his alma mater, Tesoro High School, and then the Arroyo Seco Saints of the California Collegiate League (CCL). There, he oversaw the Saints’ offense resulting in a semifinal appearance in the 2021 CCL State Championship. Being a native of the OC, Spencer chose to stay closer to home the following summer and manage the Orange County Riptide’s offense and infield. He continued to display his knack for winning in the CCL, coaching in a semifinal game for the second straight year.
In September 2022, Cal State Fullerton Head Coach Jason Dietrich named Spencer the Titans’ director of player development.
“I really didn’t know if I was going to be a good coach, what I thought I was going to bring as a coach,” Spencer said. “And it kind of just fit like a glove, it felt really natural. I kind of felt like I had been doing it for a long time as soon as I was doing it, because of all the years that I played … it all just flowed nicely.”
Spencer used lessons he learned from playing under legendary USC and UCI skipper Mike Gillespie to shape his coaching philosophy – a bullish mindset that emphasizes offense, the area of baseball he knows best.
“I’m far more offensive-minded, I enjoy running offenses,” Spencer said. “To be honest with you, the kind of style that I run after playing for Mike Gillespie is, I’m someone [who] is very aggressive. I like to put the pedal to the metal, and I like to expose defenses a lot. When I smell blood, I’m going to try and get everything out of my offense that I possibly can.”
But Spencer’s impact in 2022 went beyond contributing to positive results on the scoreboard.
As fast-paced and competitive as he is during games, Spencer is known for his laid-back demeanor and never losing sight of summer baseball’s paramount objective: slowing the game down, sharpening players’ baseball IQ and sending them back to school with an improved skill set. Most importantly, he hasn’t forgotten what it means to be a college athlete and put significant effort into developing relationships with his players – seven of which will return to Irvine for the 2023 campaign.
These efforts ultimately paid off, as many members of last year’s squad supported Spencer becoming the team’s next head skipper. Riptide General Manager Moe Geoghegan agreed, promoting him to manager for the 2023 season this past November.
“[Connor] is a player’s coach,” Geoghegan said. “The biggest key for him is becoming a head guy and maintaining that player-coach relationship he had as an assistant … I do think he’s currently a perfect fit for summer ball because I think he has an understanding of what the current players need … And the players that played last year that are returning, the reason they’re returning is because they liked playing for him.”
The jump from assistant to head coach isn’t a small one, but Spencer will come back to the Riptide with increased experience. His No. 1 goal remains to build upon the culture he established last season, which begins with assembling a supporting staff that compliments the identity he wants his organization to bear.
Spencer is retaining multiple coaches from last year’s squad and feels that this season’s staff will provide a perfect mix of insight and relatability.
“We have a staff that I’m very excited about,” Spencer said. “It’s a staff that has a lot of experience, a lot of playing experience and a lot of savvy. And it’s something that I think players don’t necessarily get on other teams around the country, a bunch of coaches that have been there, done that [and] know exactly where they’re coming from.
“I’m excited about that…and I think I have a staff assembled that’s right on that line. We’re able to relate with the players, yet we’ll still be able to get everything that we possibly can out of them.”
Going into every season, it’s unclear how each CCL team will fare on the field. There are many variables throughout the summer, ranging from a group meshing together to the number of injuries sustained down the stretch of the spring college season. Bringing in an experienced coaching staff – led by Spencer – makes Geoghegan optimistic that a player-focused culture will yield on-the-field results.
“You want [the summer] to be a little bit looser than the college season,” Geoghegan said. “I think it’s important that you have a coach that provides a fun atmosphere for the players, where there’s less pressure. We emphasize winning, but we can’t make that the only goal for these guys. We have to provide a place where they like their coaches, they want to come out, they want to work [and] they want to get better.”
If history is any indication of the future, the Riptide are in good hands with Spencer leading the way.
By CCL Reporter Sam Nute
(WALNUT CREEK, CA) – The Walnut Creek Crawdads follow a similar structure to most sports organizations. Longtime owner, general manager, and head coach Brant Cummings runs the day-to-day operations, recruiting players to Northern California, overseeing administration and finances, and coaching his squad through games and training sessions.
Cummings is a baseball guy through and through, dedicating his entire life to the game—and it shows. Cumming was named 2022 General Manager of the Year by his California Collegiate League peers.
Delegating and recognizing up-and-coming talent are important tasks in running any organization.
This year, Walnut Creek’s GM role is occupied by someone fans might not expect. Twenty-year-old Austin Ota is a journalism major at the University of Oregon and spent the 2022 season as the Crawdads’ play-by-play broadcaster and marketing manager.
“Walnut Creek is about an hour away…,” Ota, a San Jose native, said. “I reached out, and I pretty much got the [broadcasting] job right away which was really, really cool to have that job security for a summer as a freshman…” Ota loved the work he did with the team, and he saw the love and care Cummings was putting into all the work he did for the Crawdads.
Ota wanted very much to come back for another year and asked Cummings if he needed help. Cummings offered Ota the job of hiring all the Crawdads’ interns for the summer, and Ota attacked the opportunity.
The job has turned into much more than that.
“I started the intern hiring process in about October and then had them pretty much finalized by January,” Ota said. “Then, over the last couple of months, it’s kind of just grown to me and Brant talking pretty much every day either on the phone or over text. He’s asked me to…find players and set up sponsorship contracts…”
Trusting a sophomore in college to help find players, organize sponsorship deals, and oversee marketing is a bold move that other owners might not take, but Cummings saw something in Ota that he doesn’t see in a lot of people very often. Cummings referenced Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.
“Tony La Russa said this many years ago when he was in St. Louis as the skipper,” Cummins said. “He said, ‘You want to have people that care. When you lose, they’re not giddy about it. When you win, they’re happy, and they’re pleased with the success.
“If I were to describe how Austin feels about our organization, he loves it. He loves the team, and he wants to see us win on the field as well as off the field. And there aren’t a lot of people in this business that feel that way about any of these teams. There are some people that will take positions…It’s just a resume builder. It’s rare to find someone who cares about the team as much as he did…It’s rare to find someone who cares about the team as much as he did.”
The care and love that Cummings showed for the Crawdads leaked over to Ota, who, with his new promotion, led to an increase in the amount of time Cummings and Ota communicated. The pair have developed a strong working relationship.
“We had a call at the end of last season where we just sat and talked for like an hour about what we wanted from this, what I thought could be better…,” Ota said. “Since then, he’s just become like a father figure, like a mentor to me. I feel like I can call him any time of the day; he’ll text me any time of the day and either check on me and how I’m doing personally or ask me things about the team. He celebrates all the little things like they’re the biggest thing in the world, which is really important to me.”
This summer could be a breakout year for Walnut Creek. Crawdads’ fans can expect to see some familiar faces returning for the 2023 season. Texas Tech infielder and 2022 CCL Showcase Game participant, Ryan Brome, is returning to build off his highly successful 2022 campaign. In 39 games with the Crawdads last season, Brome had a .363 average walking 28 times.
Joining Brome on the infield is St. Mary’s junior and 2022 CCL All-League selection, Ryan Ellis. Like Brome, Ellis had an outstanding 2022 summer with the Crawdads, hitting .356 with four home runs and 15 doubles.
Perhaps the Crawdads’ most exciting addition for the 2023 season is University of Nebraska reliever, Corbin Hawkins. In 38.1 innings with the Big Red so far this year, Hawkins has struck out 30 to the tune of a 2.35 ERA and has not allowed a single home run.
“We’re getting these guys that I think are proven hitters [too],” Ota said. “I think we’re going to be really, really good this year. I’m very excited for what the Crawdads are going to do.”
With a mix of returning talent and new blood, the Crawdads are looking to improve on a second-place finish in the North Division and a 2022 CCL State Championship appearance.
Cummings, Ota, and the rest of the Crawdads’ organization could see push for even more in 2023.
(LOS ANGELES, CA)
CCL CELEBRATES 30 YEARS
To kick-off its 30th year, the California Collegiate League released its slate of games for 2023 summer season. All CCL teams will play 35 league games plus select non-league matchups.
2023 CCL POSTSEAON
New for the 2023 summer season will be an updated postseason format. The CCL’s 11 teams will vie for a spot in the 2023 CCL State Championship, a best two-out-of-three game series Friday to Sunday, August 4-6.
Following a coin flip at a regular offseason league meeting, the South Division representative will serve as the State Championship host this year. The North Division will host next year and rotate back and forth between Northern and Southern California in subsequent years.
To get to the State Championship, the CCL’s second and third place teams from each division, North and South, will take part in the 2023 CCL Division Wild Card Round on Tuesday, August 1.
The winners of these two Wild Card games will then play the first-place teams in their respective divisions on Wednesday, August 2 for a chance at taking home the CCL’s 2023 State title.
2023 CCL SHOWCASE GAME
The 2023 CCL Showcase Game will be held at Major League’s Baseball Youth Academy on Wednesday July 12. Close to 60 of the CCL’s best players will be in attendance showing off their skills and talents.
NEW CCL COMMISSIONER
Executive Director, Aaron Milam, announced the addition Dr. Michael J. Simpson as new commissioner earlier this month.
“I am looking forward to celebrating the 30th year of the CCL,” said Simpson. “Collectively we will have an opportunity to reflect on the league’s historic accomplishments and anticipate the excitement of a new season. This summer our teams, players, partners, fans and communities can expect to enjoy an entertaining time at the ballpark and an exhilarating brand of baseball.”
#CCL30Years & #CCLBaseball
Follow all of the action all summer long using the hashtags #CCL30Years and #CCLBaseball.