The summer before his freshman season of college, Tom Myers remembers feeling a bit lost.
The southpaw could settle for playing for his local summer baseball team, but it wouldn’t do much to get him ready for playing at San Jose City College.
Enter Tony Makjavich, a 70-something old-timer that reveled in giving young ballplayers a chance to challenge themselves.
Makjavich founded the Palo Alto Oaks in 1950, attracting players from programs such as Stanford and Cal-Berkeley, not to mention upstart youngsters like Myers.
Myers found himself pitching against greater competition – well worth the drive from San Jose to Palo Alto – including during winter ball when the likes of Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley would play in games at Golden Gate Park.
“It was the greatest experience, I found myself gaining confidence with every outing,” Myers said. “I was a high-school kid playing against all of these guys, it was incredible.”
And some 30 years later, Myers chose to take on a similar role – although at a much younger age.
Nine years ago, Myers founded the Santa Barbara Grizzlies Baseball Club, focused on developing young players from middle school through college.
“I always told myself if I had this chance, I would make sure I paid it forward,” Myers said.
This summer, the Club’s collegiate offering, the Coastal Cubs, took centerstage – a team name that reflects Myers’ nine-year run as an area scout for the Chicago Cubs.
The Coastal Cubs are made up of talent from a plethora of Central Coast junior colleges, as well as high school players readying themselves for the next level.
This summer’s roster is littered with players from SBCC, Westmont and Dos Pueblos – all mentored by a staff that includes former minor leaguer Roderick Hutchinson and Lou Lucca.
“The mindset of this team is to really create an opportunity for the junior college, the high school player, that’s going to the four-year level,” explained Myers, who played in a trio of MLB organizations, including three seasons with the Oakland A’s, reaching as high as Double-A. “They are playing the game at a faster speed, preparing them for the next step.”
The Coastal Cubs enjoyed a solid summer, going 20-10, including a loss in the conference championship game at Westmont.
And games are all that the Cubs focus on, with the league featuring games on the weekend, leaving the week open for players to work jobs or attend summer school.
Funding to play comes from a variety of sources, including parents, the players and an occasional donor – with one this summer helping provide uniforms and wood bats.
“This is grassroots, so many people are involved with making it happen,” said Myers as he shook hands of a number of players looking to get involved with the program.
“We have to make fundraising happen as we go, just like the (Santa Barbara) Foresters or teams in the Cape Cod.”
Myers challenges the Cubs team with annual games against the Foresters, a seven-time national champion – even beating them in 2018. (The Foresters exacted revenge in 2019.)
“It’s our World Series, these guys get to play against the best,” said Myers, who pitched for the Foresters in the 1990s.
This season, he also had the team play against other California Collegiate League teams in the Conejo Oaks and San Luis Obispo Blues.
“We want them to aspire to play in these leagues, give them something to reach for,” Myers said.
The Grizzlies program features 14U, 15U and 17U teams, all precursors to the Coastal Cubs.
“With the youth programs, we get to know these kids early,” Myers said.
“In seventh and eighth grade, there are so many social distractions. The club helps keep their minds going in the right direction, it gives them a chance to continue their baseball careers, getting ready for high school when they have to decide if they truly want to commit to getting better.”
The program has seen the likes of Ian Churchill and Kevin Gowdy move on to bigger stages, with Churchill set to pitch for the University of Arizona this coming season.
“We have guys out here that can go pro, it just takes that commitment to making yourself better, which is why we focus so much more on the development of players,” Myers said. “We truly want them to succeed beyond playing with us.”
Myers sees baseball in the Santa Barbara area growing extensively, pointing to the success of all three collegiate programs – UCSB, Westmont and SBCC – as proof that even though the area might not be as big as L.A. or San Francisco, that it can still produce incredible talent.
“We have some of the best, young coaches in the game,” said Myers, who was a pitching coach for UCSB in the early 2000s. “
And they are all having a ton of success. Santa Barbara baseball is at an all-time high, more kids are playing youth ball, and it’s only going to get better.”
For more information on getting involved in the Grizzlies program, visitsbgrizzliesbaseball.com.