By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
James Patrick readily admits he didn’t do it alone, but the storied baseball coach now stands atop the mountain as the single greatest baseball coach in Central Section history.
After the Clovis Cougars beat Clovis East 7-1 on April 4 behind the strong pitching of junior Blake Sodersten, Patrick passed Mike Noakes on the career baseball Central Section wins list with his 709th victory.
Most fittingly, at the forefront of Patrick’s thoughts were the players, a staple woven throughout the fabric of his career.
“Well honestly, a little bit of relief it was over, what I never wanted to do what put any undo pressure on the players,” said Patrick, whose career record is now 714-243-3 which includes two seasons at his alma mater San Joaquin Memorial. “Certainly I wanted them to relax and play to the best of their abilities. I never wanted to bring attention to myself. I’m glad we’ve gotten through this now we can go back to just playing baseball.”
Patrick makes it sound so simple: Just play baseball. His teams are widely known for their grittiness and hard work, fundamentals, never getting rattled. Those attributes have translated to seven Central Section championships (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2014) and two mythical national championships in ‘97 and ‘98.
And in true James Patrick fashion, he diverted praise to his players, his staff and the support that Cougar Nation has provided him in his 30 years coaching at Clovis High.
“A lot of those guys have been with me for a lot of years, you can’t coach by yourself,” said Patrick. “Without those guys we don’t have a baseball program. I am 100 percent indebted to what those guys do.”
The significance of the milestone was felt throughout the Valley, notably with his two sons, Chris (Clovis North head coach) and Kevin (Clovis West head coach). Kevin was elected to the Clovis Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012 and Chris in 2013.
“I’m very thankful that I had an opportunity to play on dad’s first valley championship team at Clovis High and that I had the opportunity to coach with him for a couple years before getting my first head coaching job,” said Kevin. “The lessons that Chris and I learned from dad are invaluable. He has certainly has had a huge impact on our career and a lasting legacy on his former players.”
One such former player is pitcher Ryan Cook, the 2005 Clovis graduate and the first player of Patrick’s to reach the Major Leagues. He was an All-Star in 2012 as a member of the Oakland A’s and is currently rehabbing elbow surgery as a member of the Seattle Mariners.
Cook, who was elected to the Clovis Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, took to Twitter to offer his congratulations: “Throughout all of your 709 wins you have impacted the future of countless young men, including myself. Going into each game you made us feel that we were the best regardless of the strength of our own team or the opponents we faced. The tools you gave me as a player not only prepared me for my career in baseball but also in the everyday aspect of my adult life. You have mastered the art of being a high school baseball coach and to say I played for you is an honor. Thank you for helping me become the man that I am.”
Chris, who started at shortstop for his dad in four varsity seasons including the ‘97 and ‘98 national championship teams, clearly reveres his father.
“To do what he’s done for that long at that high of a level is obviously very special,” said Chris, whose Broncos take on the Cougars April 19 and 21 in key Tri-River Athletic Conference games. “He’ll be the first one to tell you that he didn’t win any of those games.”
True, he didn’t field a ground ball or step into the batter’s box in his 32 years of coaching, but the lasting impact of James Patrick is felt for a lifetime – both off and on the field.