When South San Francisco High School’s Joey Moro suited up for his first alumni baseball game last season, he figured it would be a pretty casual affair, with pot-bellied old timers sipping sodas and eating hot dogs talking about years gone by.
He was in for a surprise.
“The first time I played this game I thought it was going to be a big joke, but it gets pretty intense,” Moro said. “[The alumni] get angry when they make mistakes, too.”
Moro, a senior pitcher/first baseman/outfielder, and his varsity Warriors teammates, played the alumni on Saturday at Orange Memorial Park in a South City tradition that goes back to the 1980s.
The varsity won 4-0, its second straight win over the alumni after about 10 consecutive losses.
“We took a lot of pride when we were here at South City, and it’s nice to see these kids out here playing good baseball,” said Tony Lucca, a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher for South San Francisco in the early 1990s who went on to play at Oklahoma State before playing professionally in the Florida Marlins organization for three years.
“It’s a day to come out here and have fun and reunite with some old friends and stuff like that, but I think it shows these kids that even though we’re out here, ‘old guys,’ we’re out there competing trying to kick their butts, so they’ve got to come here ready to play,” Lucca said.
Lucca, who graduated in 1993, and his older brother Lou Lucca (class of 1989), were among more the 30 alumni team coached by Bob Brian, the iconic Peninsula sports figure who retired in 2001 after a state record 51-year coaching career (47 at South City and four at Gustine High in the Central Valley).
The Lucca brothers are the last South San Francisco players drafted by major league teams (Lou Lucca also played for Oklahoma State and played minor league ball for 17 years, including parts of 12 seasons in Triple-A).
Tony Lucca is now the Canada College head baseball coach, and Lou Lucca coaches at perennial state power St. Bonaventure in Ventura.
Alumni traveled from as far as Las Vegas, Redding and Ventura to play for the coach, most of whom still call him “Mr. Brian.”
“Mr. Brian has touched us all in so many ways,” Lou Lucca said. “He’s like family to me and my brother, and obviously you can see how all these other guys feel about him too. That’s because he loved us, so we all come out here every year for Mr. Brian.”
The alumni team featured teenagers to players in their 40s and 50s.
The youngest players were pitcher/outfielder Anthony Gomes, outfielder Shadi Azar and pitcher/first baseman Kevin McGovern – all recent graduates and current red-shirt freshmen playing for Tony Lucca at Canada.
“It’s kind of funny actually,” Gomes said. “They look like kids.”
The oldest alumni player was 55-year-old Rob Goldstein, who now lives in Alamo.
“I felt like a kid last night when I got my uniform out all ready to go,” Goldstein said. “Nothing like putting on your uniform.”
The game wasn’t official and didn’t matter to anyone outside a small South San Francisco baseball community, but in the heat of the battle things did get heated, with plenty of chirping directed towards the umpires.
When alumni player Danny Dellamaggioria was thrown out at first on a close play ending the top of the second, an alumni player yelled, “That’s home cooking.”
Brian was equally displeased with what he thought was a low strike zone as he was with the results, as the varsity took an early lead and the alumni never really threatened.
The alumni may have had two former professionals in their lineup, but the plucky varsity team wasn’t intimidated. They took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on Brad Los’ run-scoring single, and broke open a 2-0 game in the sixth on Ramzy Azar’s two-run double.
Varsity starter Joe Marcucci, who was credited with the victory, struck out seven batters and allowed two hits and one walk in four innings.
Relievers Ryan Mohr and David Karditaz combined for five innings of four-hit ball.
Alumni starter Tony Lucca, who took the loss, allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits in four innings of four-hit ball. He struck out two batters and allowed three walks.
“The [varsity] practices every day, and that’s a big advantage, but these [alumni] still have spirit,” Brian said.
Brian was known for developing exceptional baseball aptitude, requiring all players, regardless of ability, to take a 100-question test on the fundamentals of the game.
“You had to get 90 percent or you didn’t play,” Brian said. “You could take it again, but then you had to get 100 (percent).”
But more than developing great talent and winning championships, players say what separates Brian from other great coaches is that he always cared about his players. Several alumni said Brian has called offering congratulations on weddings and condolences upon hearing of funerals.
“When I was a student here he was out here at 7am, raking the field by himself so we can have a field to practice on,” Tony Lucca said. “It’s something you really don’t appreciate when you’re a kid.”
Brian, who is now 85, believes that today’s player hasn’t changed as much as many people think. And the principles of effective coaching, he believes, are timeless.
“You have to have discipline but you also have to have love,” Brian said. “The kids have to know that you care about them.”