January 22, 2009

For Brontsema, The Road Comes Back Around

Jan. 22, 2009

By Cary Osborne
Signal Sports Editor

It's funny how things turn out.

Looking back, you tend to wonder, "What would have happened if I took the other road?"

Not Bob Brontsema.

"Probably the greatest decision I made, professionally speaking," Brontsema says of the road he chose.

Nearly three decades after making his decision, Brontsema is a Santa Barbara fixture, many thanks to his time spent in Santa Clarita.

This is Brontsema's 16th season as head baseball coach at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He has been at the school since 1981 as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

Brontsema will be honored today, along with teammates and coaches, as the 1981 state championship College of the Canyons baseball team enters the COC Athletics Hall of Fame.

"It will stir up memories," Brontsema says of the honor. "I think to a man if it wasn't the highlight of our baseball careers, it would be one of the highest."

It's been 28 years since Brontsema was known as the scrappy second baseman who led the state in stolen bases for the Cougars.

It could have gone a much different route, Brontsema explains.

His schooling/baseball options included the closer Los Angeles Pierce College or walking on to an NCAA Division I program.

Luckily he was a follower at the time, as the lure of his friends took him to COC.

He hasn't followed since.

"He was a premier player," says former College of the Canyons head coach Mike Gillespie.

Gillespie guided the College of the Canyons baseball team from 1971 to 1986. He moved on to coach USC for 20 years, including the national championship team of 1998. He is entering his second season as head coach at UC Irvine.

Gillespie says Brontsema was a huge part of the 1981 COC championship team, a squad that was seeded seventh out of eight teams and would become the school's first state champion.

Gillespie remembers at one point during the season, his second baseman had 41 hits in 45 at-bats. In conference, at the time, he was 27-for-28.

On May 31, 1981, Brontsema got the biggest hit of the season, if not his career.

In the ninth inning of the California State Division I Junior College Championship against Los Angeles Harbor College, Brontsema knocked in what turned out to be the game's winning run with a double.

He ended up advancing to third base. Brontsema's speed then gave COC another run, as he was caught in a rundown after a Flavio Alfaro tapper in front of the plate.

Brontsema would get pelted on a throw from the Harbor catcher and went in to score.

He also recorded the final out on a routine ground ball.

"I was so calm and at peace," Brontsema recalls. "I knew we were going to win. I was sick that day, had a really bad headache and fever. But I was really focused and at peace. Everyone wants the ball in that situation."

COC won the game 4-1.

Then Brontsema went for Santa Barbara.

He's rarely left.

He has won 406 games with the Gauchos, guided future major leaguers including Texas Rangers All-Star shortstop Michael Young and most recently was honored at the American Baseball Coaches Association Luncheon for his outstanding service and dedication to college baseball.

This decade, he has guided Hart High graduates Chris and Matt Valaika and Shane Carlson.

Carlson says a lot of Brontsema's coaching style revolves around his approach to his players.

"He's a very family-oriented person," Carlson says. "He's very down to earth. He doesn't criticize you. He sits you down and explains."

Brontsema says much of the approach comes from his time at College of the Canyons. He specifically points a finger to Gillespie.

"I got into coaching based on my experience at College of the Canyons," Brontsema says. "Mike had a profound effect on my athletic career. I thought this is something I'd like to do for some other kid."

It's funny how things have turned out.

Over the years, ironically, Brontsema has faced off with his mentor.

He went 1-2 against Gillespie's Irvine team in 2008.

Gillespie recalls Brontsema making some familiar coaching moves at times, almost too familiar.

"When situations have come up that he made a decision I distinctly remember, I remember saying, `I like that,'" Gillespie says.

cosborne@the-signal.com