Coco Crisp, a 15-year MLB veteran, added to his hallowed professional baseball career last October with two game-winning hits in the postseason, leaving his Cleveland Indians painfully close to winning the 2016 World Series.
But if you paid a visit to a Shadow Hills (Indio, Calif.) High School baseball practice this fall, you might not realize at first that the Knights are now led by the former professional outfield star.
Crisp, who won one World Series title in his career, wears a soft knee brace on his right leg, always has a joke on hand like any dad of four kids and said since his retirement “I just try to eat as much candy as possible and sleep it off.”
The switch-hitter who was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh round of the 1999 MLB Draft has never had a hulking frame. His playing career, and now his coaching career, have been based off one mantra: Hustle.
“That’s how I played. Every ball I hit, I hustled. Every ball I went to catch, I ran as hard as I could and slammed into as many walls as I needed to to make it,” Crisp said.
If he’s got something to do, whether it be catching a fly ball or figuring out how to fundraise, he’s going to either succeed or slam into the padded wall trying.
That’s how he’s spent the first 37 years of his life, the first chunk of which took place in southern California. Crisp went to several high schools around Los Angeles before graduating and attending Los Angeles Pierce College, where he was drafted by the Cardinals.
As a minor leaguer, he was traded to the Indians, who eventually called him up to the majors in August of 2002 to face Tampa Bay. The next series against the Angels, he picked up his first hit in front of friends and family.
Crisp played parts of four seasons in his first stint with the Indians before joining the Red Sox and winning a World Series with Boston in 2007. Crisp also played for the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland A’s before being traded toward the end of last season to his original squad as a key piece of Cleveland’s postseason run, which ended with a Game 7 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
After his high school career, Crisp’s parents moved to Desert Hot Springs, where he also bought a home when he was 20 and lived some during the offseason. Eventually, he moved to Rancho Mirage, which is where he was living, coaching his four kids in youth sports when the head coaching position opened at Shadow Hills over the summer.
He quickly met with athletic director Ron Shipley, who soon realized how perfect a fit the former major leaguer would be for a program looking to take its next step in stringing together a serious postseason run.
In his first jump into high school coaching, both Crisp and his Knights know they have a lot to learn from each other, but they’re loving doing it.
“I enjoy the game. Playing it, coaching it, being around it. I enjoy watching it, which not a lot of guys do. Collecting baseball cards, too, anything that has to do with the game,” Crisp said. “I have a great group of kids. When you come in here, you don’t know what kind of situation you’re going to get yourself in, as far as the kids and parents go – the personalities, the superstar mentalities, the guys who aren’t sure of themselves.
“I’ve enjoyed just being around these guys. I try to keep it light and fun, and they do a good job of allowing me to be myself and come out there and coach.”
Still months away from playing a meaningful game on the diamond with a roster sprinkled with multi-sport athletes, Crisp has his squad on the field this fall practicing four times a week from 6-8 p.m. Monday to Thursday. The bright stadium lights shine as they compete in an intrasquad scrimmage, counting pitchers’ pitches on the mound and pulling kids up from JV to make sure they have guys at the proper positions to make it feel just like a game.
From what he’s taught his new players about his glowing baseball resume, Crisp already has guys giving their all in October.
“I’ve learned more in the last couple months with Coach than I have since I’ve been here,” said Shadow Hills senior first baseman Nelson Sanchez. “It’s hard now to stay focused with school, but you have that drive to keep going, practicing and doing our best, especially since we’re being given all this information. We don’t want to let it go to waste.”
As a switch hitter who led the America League in stolen bases in 2011 (49) and committed just three errors all season in 2009, Crisp holds strengths in all areas of the game that he hopes to transfer to his new players.
One of the biggest, he said, is realizing how hard the sport is to master. Crisp doesn’t flinch at a player mishandling a ground ball in practice or overthrowing the first baseman during a simple drill. Errors are part of the game.
“The number one lesson in this game is it’s hard. As I’m teaching, I just want to make sure I understand that the game is hard on them, too,” he said. “You’re going to make errors, but you have to cut down on the mental errors. The physical ones will happen.”
One thing he won’t excuse? Not hustling.
“That’s what I want to try to help instill,” Crisp said. “Some people won’t ever get it, but the sooner you can try to make them understand that you might be at the same skill level as someone you’re competing with, and if you’re out there really working at it, a coach is going to realize it.”
In the same way, the Knights’ new coach is working hard as ever to learn the ropes of something he has no experience in. The simple coaching part, where you need to know what pitch to call for in a certain situation or how to improve a player’s baserunning skills, that part’s easy.
“But when you take on a job as a head coach, you have to deal with things like parents, fundraising, the personality of kids, spirit wear, travel, dealing with the fields because I have to maintain them myself,” he said. “There’s more and more. Next thing you know, you’re getting overwhelmed a bit.”
Crisp said, though, that he’s surrounded himself with a core group of former coaches and close confidants – from his former college coach to a minor league teammate turned southern California high school baseball coach, Shadow Hills athletic director Ron Shipley and even his dad Loyce, who is one of his assistants.
But it would have been hard to coach with any amount of help if his players hadn’t bought in. It’s one thing to be excited about getting to spend time with a former major leaguer four times a week. It’s an entirely different thing to not get caught star-struck when you’re out on the field.
“It was hard getting past knowing what he did at first,” Sanchez said. “But you have to get past that and do what you have to do and just get back to the basics of the game.”