Softball is a family tradition for Redwood High School (Visalia, Calif.) head coach Bob Rooney and his family.
He coached three of his daughters, Keri, Teri and Julie early in his career.
And now in his 25th season as the Rangers’ skipper, is living out the rare opportunity of also coaching two of his granddaughters, senior Jordyn Montoya, and junior Mariah Guerrero.
Montoya is the daughter of Keri and Guerrero is Julie’s daughter.
When the softball season commences in the spring, it’s a family affair.
“It’s been good for me,” Rooney said. “It’s been exciting. Obviously, when they were young, we kind of looked forward to this day in their lives where they would come through Redwood and play Redwood softball.”
Playing for grandpa
When Montoya and Guerrero were younger, they attended Redwood games to support their grandpa.
They ran around the ballpark and rooted for the Rangers.
Even back then, Montoya and Guerrero dreamed of playing for their grandfather one day.
That became a reality for Montoya in 2016.
As a freshman, Montoya was elevated to the varsity squad, but that was the result of her dedication and hard work as she made the transition as a right-handed hitter to a lefty.
She went on to become a four-year starter.
“Nothing was expected,” Montoya said. “I didn’t think I was going to start. I didn’t think I was going to make varsity. He [Rooney] just told me, ‘Work hard.’ And I came out at 5 a.m. to hit on the field. Just to switch over from right-handed to left. We spent so many hours here. When I made the team, it was bittersweet, knowing that all my hard work paid off over the four years. I had to earn my spot every single year. It wasn’t just given.”
That was the case for Guerrero, too.
She wasn’t guaranteed a spot, either.
She had to work for it.
And as a junior this season, Guerrero made the varsity roster.
“It was exciting and kind of nerve-wracking all at the same time,” Guerrero said.
The family tradition likely won’t end with Guerrero graduating next year.
Rooney has two other granddaughters who may don Redwood colors in the future.
Guerrero has a sister who will be in seventh grade next school year and Montoya’s sister is in the fourth grade.
“The stories not over yet,” Rooney said. “We’re excited to see what the future holds.”
More than a coach
On the field, Montoya and Guerrero refer to grandpa as “coach” or “coach Rooney.”
The term grandpa is not an option.
That’s Rooney’s way of separating coach from grandparent.
“I probably ride them harder than I do the other players,” Rooney said. “I did my own kids the same way. I have high expectations for them, too. But I think they benefit from it.”
That has made Montoya and Guerrero better softball players.
Montoya went from batting .219 as a freshman to .347 as a senior. Last year, Montoya helped the Rangers capture the Central Section Division II championship.
And for Guerrero, in her debut season on varsity, she batted .333 in 55 at-bats in 2019. She also served as the team’s pinch runner.
“He’s a good coach,” Guerrero said. “He’s hard on us and he pushes us to do our best. Some days are harder than others to deal with the coaching and stuff but it’s fun.”
Montoya said having grandpa as a coach is a win-win.
“It’s so nice,” Montoya said. “I can’t even describe the feeling. I just feel surrounded by love and support, and knowing on and off the field, that I’m loved either way. Whatever the outcome is, I’ll have that support. Whenever I do something, say I don’t get a bunt down, he’ll be like, next at-bat, ‘Hey, what’s on your mind?’ It’s good to be able to collaborate with someone and distinguish what I need to change.”
Under Rooney, Montoya will continue the family tradition of sending a player to the NCAA level.
Montoya’s mother, Keri, played at San Diego State and Guerrero’s mom, Julie, starred at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Montoya is set to play next season at Merrimack College, a small private university in North Andover, Mass.
Merrimack College athletics will begin their four-year transition to Division I during the 2019-20 season.
Montoya credited her development as a player to Rooney and her family.
“As a coach, he’s very encouraging, very supporting,” Montoya said. “He’s got a lot of knowledge. He knows a lot. You just have to be there to listen for it. It’s tough love. He’s always going to be harder on me but that’s what made me a better player.”