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Gahr High baseball continues to be one of Southland’s top programs

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter •April 23, 2020

The first thing Gerardo Perez wanted to do when he took over the Gahr High baseball program in 2005 was keep the legacy going left behind by Tom Bergeron. It is safe to say that the legacy still continues and is getting better like fine wine.

In the past 20 seasons, the Gahr baseball program has produced a winning percentage of .658 and when next season begins, Perez will get his 300thvictory most likely within the first few weeks. But he will be the first to tell you that it is not about the wins that the Gladiators keep on getting. It’s getting the most out of the players, most of whom go on to play collegiate baseball and/or get drafted by a Major League Baseball franchise.

Gahr has always had players reach the “Big Show”, long before Perez took over. You have to go back to 1981 when Shane Mack was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. More notable names after that, and before Perez became the head coach, have been Bret Barberie and Valentino Pascucci, both of whom were drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1988 and 1999, respectively.

Before he took the Gahr job, Perez was already connected to a lot of people that had played in the program. He says he was blessed to have played for some of the best coaches around, including George Horton, Dave Serrano and current associate head coach at Texas Christian University, Bill Mosiello. Horton was at Cerritos College from 1976-1977 and again from 1980-1990. Serrano was at Cerritos College from 1988-1990 and from 1992-1994 and Mosiello was at Cerritos College from 1987-1990. Perez, who graduated from Cerritos High, played at Cerritos College in 1989 and 1990 was the Cerritos College head coach in 2003.

“I wanted to make sure I get my hands on the steering wheel and just kind of make sure that we continue to bus or [keep] the train on the track, probably with a little bit more of a developmental approach because I was in college for 12 years before I got to high school,.” Perez said of taking over Gahr. “Player development and getting kids better was pretty important.”

Perez’ connection with Coach Bergeron, as he calls him, still continues to this day. Greg Bergeron, Tom’s brother, graduated with Perez’ wife Kelly Inouye-Perez, the successful head coach for the UCLA softball team, and they keep in touch with Coach Bergeron consistently.

“There’s still a lot of alumni connections that we’re connected to just because,” Perez said. “Coach Bergeron was really close with my wife as well. I just know Tom got the most out of his teams; they were extremely competitive. I got a lot of the Gahr players at Cerritos College when I was there, and those kids were fundamentally sound, mentally tough, and very committed. So, they had a big jump over the kids from other high schools.”

Since 2004, there have been 70 Gahr players that have either played collegiate baseball or have been selected in the MLB Amateur Draft right out of high school. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Kris Medlen graduated the year before Perez took over and played at El Camino College before transferring to Santa Ana College. At the time, Greg Bergeron was coaching El Camino College but left after Medlen’s freshmen season. Perez recalls that Medlen did not know what to do after Greg Bergeron left El Camino College. He worked out at Gahr before transferring to Santa Ana College to play with Hall of Fame coach Don Smith. Medlen, who is retired, is now an announcer for the Braves.

“Even though he graduated the year before I got there, he would back and throw bullpen [sessions] and I think everybody would see it,” Perez said of Medlen. “[Chris] Devenski was just very committed and worked extremely hard and Jake [Faria] was just like a surgeon; very detailed in his work. You knew it was just a matter of time before he got an opportunity.”

In Perez’ first season at Gahr, the only senior to play collegiate baseball was Eddie Murray, who went to UCLA, while Greg Cain was drafted by the New York Mets. Perez said that he wanted to put a lot of emphasis on the academic side because, as he puts it, kids who do really well in school are more consistent on the field than the kids who do not as far as homework assignments and being held accountable in the classroom.

“I think it was a little bit different perspective,” Perez said. “Remember, I was in college since the fall of 1992. So, I have had teammates and kids that I have coached in college get drafted. It was pretty special to have a high school kid get drafted. But I was really focused on trying to have Greg Cain being prepared, because it’s a different life; it’s a really hard life.

“What [the kids] don’t see is how consistent you have to be as a human being on the field and off the field in order to get there,” he continued. “Because it’s every single minute of every single day and you’re around older people and older kids and it’s not an easy thing. I just wanted to make sure that Greg was going to be prepared for that.”

Perez would go on to say that when you recruit in college, you’re a little bit more selective, whether it’s ability or personality, and you’re targeting certain positions. Then, you’re not really developing those people as much.

“You’re developing more on the field than off the field,” he continued. “In high school, I always say that pretty often that a kid who is with me for four years is really not one kid. He’s really four different kids because a 15-year old is not the same as a 16-year, not the same as a 17-year old and is definitely not the same as an 18-year old mentally and emotionally.”

Perez considers the Gahr baseball program like an AP classroom. There’s expectations and the coaching staff tries to get everybody to reach their full capabilities on the field and off the field. He says the biggest thing is there’s a college out there for everybody and whether they choose to go to that college is up to them and their parents in the end.

“In doing so, I think our kids are prepared, and I think people know that,” Perez said. “It’s one of those things that pays you back and I think colleges know that if they want a kid or a pro guy; a baseball player out of Gahr, they know they’re getting a complete human being that’s been held accountable, whether it’s in the classroom or in the weight room or on the field or whatever.”

Even though the Gahr program has always been successful, advancing to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs 37 times in school history and winning 29 league titles, the number of players continuing their baseball dreams has grown over the past three seasons. From 2004-2017, there were a combined 42 players who either played in college or went straight to the minor leagues. From 2018 to this past season, there have been 28 players that have been, or are about to play collegiate baseball. Perez cites that more kids are coming into high school prepared academically as well as mentally and emotionally

“I think a lot of it has to do with kids coming to the high school with the expectation that they’re going to go to college and play already,” Perez said. “They already know they’re going to have to do well in the classroom because if you don’t have grades, you’re not going to move on.”

There are currently two former Gahr players in the MLB-pitcher Chris Devenski, who graduated from Gahr in 2008 and is with the Houston Astros, and 2011 graduate Jake Faria, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays but was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers last season. Faria was given his outright release from the Brewers in January.

From 2007-2011, there have been two more former Gahr standouts that have been drafted, but not called up to the majors yet-Victor Sanchez (St. Louis Cardinals) and Brenton Allen (Washington Nationals). Perez said once one of his former players gets to AA or AAA, he begins to follow their progress. Social media wasn’t around that much in 2005 and Devenski and Faria never got the chance to tell Perez they were called up. He found out from other people, but then later reached out to both of them to congratulate them.

“I was extremely proud,” Perez said of Devenski and Faria. “Both of them have different journeys along the way. [They] were two different kids, two different situations, two different organizations and I was so proud of both of them. I can’t even put it into words.”

Other former Gahr standouts who are still in the minors are 2013 graduate Kevin Franklin, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds but is now with the Atlanta organization, 2014 graduate Jaime Estrada, who was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, and Je’Von Ward, who graduated three years ago and is with the Milwaukee organization.

In 2018, nine of 12 Gahr seniors played collegiate baseball. The next season, nine out of 14 seniors continued their baseball careers and this past season, which was cut short after nine games due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, 10 more seniors are pursuing their baseball goals.

“Every season is a different journey; a different ride,” Perez said of the 2018 season. “I think this season, we were starting to come together. Don’t look at our record because we’re always competing against really top teams early. We played nine games, 63 innings [and] we were extremely competitive for 60 of those 63 innings. We were just starting to put it together. It’s tough to consistently line up against our schedule with five freshmen and a couple of sophomores that were key players. The seniors were able to support those guys.”

“It’s really special when you get a kid who makes it to the big leagues,” Perez later said. “But when the kids are graduating from college and playing in college, I think that’s something that’s going to be a lifelong memory and something that impacts them for the rest of their lives, and that’s really important.”

If Long Beach Poly High has more National League Football players than any other high school in the country, Gahr could be one of the top high schools with a pipeline to the MLB.

“Part of the beauty is nothing ever comes easy for us,” Perez said. “Cerritos High School has a completely different culture over there, as well as they should, and every school is unique to itself. But I can tell you that there’s nothing that really comes easy for us. I think that helps preparation mentally and emotionally as the kids go through their four years at Gahr High School. They have to work, and they have to be excellent in a lot of different areas.

“I think overcoming challenges…the more challenges you overcome it kind of defines who you are,” he continued. “And when you play minor league baseball, there’s going to be a lot of roadblocks; a lot of challenges.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to Gahr High baseball continues to be one of Southland’s top programs

  1. Tom Reply

    April 24, 2020 at 10:38 am

    Faria wasn’t released, he was designated for assignment and when he cleared waivers, assigned to AAA San Antonio. This was done to make room for a bat, but he is still in the Brewers plans.

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