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Arvin High School Baseball Program: The Great News Bears

By Kyle Wylie

Coordinator of School Support Services

Kern High School District

 

In 2005, the Arvin High Bears Varsity Baseball team finished with a 8-13-2 record and 6-6 in the South Sequoia League. The .500 league record for the Bears demonstrated that they were a solid team playing other quality teams. It was in 2005 in which there was a coaching change as the head coach, Ralph Gonzalez, transitioned to the role of Athletic Director and Josh Witcher was inserted to lead the Bears baseball program. Witcher recalled, “It was an extremely rough year for those seniors because of the transition from one coach to a new coach. However, I will always remember that year because of the team and because of Eddie.”

 

Eduardo “Eddie” Lopez was a shortstop and pitcher for that 2005 team and was known for his leadership and presence on the field. “Very dedicated, very mature, hard worker, never complained, always had a smile on his face, and gave 100% in everything I saw him do,” remembers Witcher. Athletic Director Ralph Gonzalez also remembers, “I was fortunate to have him as a student and a player back in 2002 and 2003. He was great in the classroom and a great baseball player as well.” Humbly reflecting, Lopez is grateful for the role models that he had at Arvin High School and in his baseball experience. “I enjoyed my time playing baseball at Arvin High as I grew up playing with a lot of my teammates through little league and have made some lifelong friendships through my time on the baseball program,” recalls Lopez, “I definitely wished we won more games when I played (with a little laughter), but I honestly learned a lot about the game through some great coaches like Josh Witcher, Kristian Nielsen, and Jae Nunez. I got better as a player through their leadership - both with the skill needed for the game and in the mental approach.”

 

Eddie Lopez of Arvin High School was a shortstop, pitcher, and leader for the Bears in 2005.

 

After 2005, the Arvin High baseball program went through a phase of despondency, jokingly becoming the Bad News Bears. Baseball seemed to not be a high priority and as a result, the Bears hovered towards the bottom of the SSL, very rarely winning more than two league games and never getting to double digits in victories for the overall record. For Lopez, the ten year tradition of losing was tough on him. After the 2014 season, the Arvin High baseball program was left without a coach. For Lopez, the decade of despondency was too much for him because for him, it was personal. “Being the head coach here at Arvin high means a great deal to me. I grew up around the culture here. My cousins and my older brother played here at Arvin High (Gerardo Gonzalez, Daniel Gonzalez, and Freddy Lopez) so I would always go to those games growing up,” recalls Lopez, “I remember being pulled out of school in second grade to go watch road games, or going right after school to watch their home games. It was a constant winning program then under Billy Satterfield and Greg Showers, so being able to come back after all of these years with the task to bring the team back to a level that the city knows it can play at, meant so much to me.” So, with a vacancy before him, Gonzalez decided to go with his former student and player. Gonzalez remembers, “We hired Eddie because he was an Arvin graduate who had goals of teaching math at his alma mater. Eddie is a great role model for our student athletes.”

 

In 2015, under the leadership of Lopez, the Bears finished the season 11-10 and 5-7 in league, much improved from the 6-19 record in 2014. In 2016, the Bears were 16-9 with a 6-6 record in league and in 2017, they improved again with a 19-11 record while going 8-4 in league. “The boys have ‘bought in’ to Coach Lopez and his style of leadership as you see them work at practice and how they thoroughly enjoy the game,” states Gonzalez, “Coach Lopez has done a great job of creating an overall winning culture with our baseball program.”

 

Under Coach Eddie Lopez, Arvin High School has turned into a winning baseball program.

 

What has worked for Coach Lopez and the Arvin Bears? “The first thing we wanted to establish was that we are a winning program - no matter what has happened in the previous years with the win-loss record, or what other people think about the program, or how other teams might expect to have an easy win against us - we established the mindset that we are a winning program,” explains Lopez, “So getting that mentality that we were going to make teams grind out games against us and becoming a tough opponent was something we wanted to get done.” Also for Lopez, part of the process of winning is making sure that his team has fun playing the game of baseball. To establish a fun atmosphere, Lopez blasts Rush’s Tom Sawyer before games with a blend of latin music. Laughing and smiling illuminate the faces of the players in everything they do and small skills games are played amongst teammates showing a genuine admiration for each other. Perhaps most important (and most entertaining) is after the game, the coaches select a player of the game and that player gets the honor of wearing and or hoisting a WWE belt until a new winner is crowned after the next game. This ritual is celebrated by the whole team and the winning player is filled with authentic excitement as they hoist the belt into the air.

 

At the end of each game at Arvin High School, the player of the game dons a WWE Championship Belt.

 

A tough opponent is what the Arvin Bears have become. Entering into today’s game against Shafter High School, the Arvin Bears had a 2018 record of  21-5 with a league record of 9-2. “This current team is just a good group of young men that work together and do everything that they can to benefit the team,” states Lopez, “They are a very tight, close knit group, they call each other family and they are constantly picking each other up, even when things aren’t going our way.” However, little did Coach Lopez and his team know that it would be a classic game for the Arvin Bears against the Shafter Generals, truly showing that this is a team and program that needs to be recognized.

 

In the first inning, things were a little shaky for the Bears. Starting pitcher Brandon Seablom was a little errant with his pitches as he seemed to be a little uncomfortable on the mound as he worked up his pitch count for the first few hitters. In the first inning Seablom walked Adrian Gonzalez after a lengthy at bat to Edwin Solis which resulted in a fly out to center field. However, Seablom responded with two quick outs to end the inning. In the second inning, Seablom also seemed to be uncomfortable as he managed to shut down the first batter of the inning, but hit the second batter. “I was a little uncomfortable to start the game, but I managed to find a rhythm after I hit Isaac Nunez,” recalls Seablom.

 

Brandon Seablom of Arvin High School started off a little shaky today, but finished with a NO HITTER

 

A rhythm is an understatement. After the hit batter, Seablom regrouped and retired the next two Generals to finish off the inning. Then he retired the next fifteen Generals after that for a no hitter. Seablom didn’t dominate hitters to the likes of a Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer - rather he worked quickly and efficiently, seeming to find a different section of the strike zone with every pitch. In fact, the next four innings were so quick, that he didn’t have time to realize that he actually had a no hitter in progress. “I wasn’t even thinking about what was happening,” notes Seablom, “In the fifth inning I actually realized that I had not given up a hit and so I started to think about it. Every pitcher knows when they have no hitter going because I sure did.” Seablom worked like Greg Maddux (youngsters watch highlights of him) in that he kept Generals hitters guessing while also setting up his defense with some routine plays. Centerfielder (and point guard of the basketball team) Jose Bautista made some important catches in the outfield and second basemen Adrian DeLeon dazzled the diamond with his glove as he made a critical unassisted double play in the sixth inning to keep no hitter alive. “I have never felt so confident about my team,” stated Seablom, “My teammates showed up today and truly helped me achieve this no hitter. I truly love these guys and this no hitter is their no hitter.”

 

Teammates rush in to celebrate with Brandon Seablom of Arvin High School after he threw a NO HITTER.

At the plate, the Bears also dominated the Generals. Led by catcher Robert Mendoza, the Bears got a bulk of the runs off of home runs. Mendoza went 3-3 with a homerun, two doubles, two runs, and one RBI. But, perhaps the biggest runs of the game came off of a three-run homerun from the Bears #8 hitter in the lineup, Luis Rojas. Moreover, freshman first basemen Christian De La Cruz collected two hits for the Bears as they rolled to a 6-0 victory and 22-5 record with a 10-2 league record. Moreover, the Bears sit in the #2 spot in CIF Central Section Division 5 playoff predictor behind Minarets. “We come to work each day and we work hard,” stated Mendoza, “It has been a grind the last few years because we have had our fair share of losing, but we have stayed together as a group and it feels good to win.” The way the Bears played against Shafter left Head Coach Eddie Lopez at a loss for words. “I am so excited right now that I am speechless,” stated Lopez, “We try to take it one game at a time, but this 10 game winning streak is pretty amazing. We are now a respectable program in Kern County.” But for Lopez, it’s not all about winning, it’s about representing the community of Arvin in a positive light. “I just want them to know that day in and day out these young men are trying to make their school proud and the community proud,” said an emotional Lopez, “They try to do everything well both on the field and off the field. They want to give the school, city and community something to be proud of and for now, they see that as winning as many games as possible.”

Robert Mendoza of Arvin High School went 3-3 with a HR, 2 Doubles, 2 Runs, and 1 RBI.

 

If you remember, in 2005 Coach Josh Witcher called it a year to remember because of Eddie. In 2018, it is also year to remember for the Arvin High Bears because of Eddie and WWE championship belts. The Bears are longer the Bad News Bears, but they are Great News Bears.   

 

 

The Great News Bears are having fun this season as they are now 22-5 with a 10-2 record in the SSL.