SportStars Vault (Issue 83, April 2014): John Gavin And The St. Francis Baseball Tradition Of Major League Talent •
EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re re-running this story from 2014 to celebrate former St. Francis-Mountain View star, John Gavin, signing his first professional baseball contract today (June 27, 2016) with the S.F. Giants.
By DAVID KIEFER | Contributor
The view from the second level of Chris Bradford Stadium was about as good as Chris Bradford could have hoped for.
During a Friday game in Mountain View against league rival Valley Christian-San Jose, the former St. Francis baseball coach (career record: 634-262-6 in 31 seasons) could look down and feel good about what he was seeing.
A couple of weeks earlier, the Lancers were ranked No. 1 in the nation in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association High School Top 25. They were coming off a 29-4 season and a rare West Catholic Athletic League and Central Coast Section Division I championship double — a feat St. Francis last accomplished in 1983.
Opening day for most Major League teams was just days away and the school had much to be proud of in that realm too. No school in the country could claim two players in last year’s World Series, other than St. Francis. That’s where St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Daniel Descalso and Boston Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava played, under Bradford and Chris Volta, who also watched on a glorious sunny afternoon.
On the pitcher’s mound, John Gavin was dealing.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound hard-throwing left-hander allowed three first-inning hits and his first earned run of the season. But only a single walk thereafter marred an otherwise perfect performance during an 11-strikeout, 113-pitch effort. St. Francis won 3-1 behind Gavin’s complete game and improved to 8-1.
There’s no telling if Gavin can follow Descalso and Nava into the Major Leagues. However, the Cal State Fullerton-commit already has shown a level of maturity that would be the envy of any big leaguer.
First, notice his shoelaces. Bright green. There is a reason for that. They signify Gavin’s involvement in Lace Up Stand Up, an organization aimed at empowering students against bullying. The group was created by St. Francis graduate Ryan Miller, a quarterback at the University of San Diego.
Though Gavin was introduced to the organization by Miller’s sister, St. Francis senior Brianna, it also is a subject he has a deep connection with. Whereas Miller was bullied from the fifth through the seventh grades, Gavin had a different perspective.
“In middle school, I was kind of bigger than everyone else,” Gavin said. “I felt I was kind of a bully. I regret a lot of the things I did, but all I can do is move on from those things and try to be a better man because of it.”
One moment changed Gavin’s life.
“Someone told me she wanted to commit suicide because of me,” Gavin said. “I felt so bad, I didn’t go to school the next day. I wrote her a letter and apologized. I went into the principal’s office and I apologized.
“It was surreal to have that experience. In no way shape or form, was it right or just. It got to the point where I needed to mature and grow up. That’s where I turned my life around.”
By all accounts, Gavin certainly has done so. He is one of the most popular and respected students on campus.
But the key for this team may not be pitching, but hitting. With starters Gavin (3-0, 0.25 ERA, 28 IP, 37 Ks, 7 BB) and Tyler Deason (3-1, 0.00 ERA, 20 IP, 14 Ks, 7 BB), St. Francis has the pitching backbone to contend for league and section crowns. However, St. Francis’ low .282 batting average may keep every game close.
The WCAL season “is as big a grind as you can possibly imagine,” said coach Mike Oakland, in his eighth season at St. Francis after serving as an assistant at Santa Clara University. In the WCAL, just about every team has at least one NCAA Division I recruit on the mound.
As Gavin is aware, every pitch can mean the difference between victory or defeat in a league that’s so competitive.
“My job is to keep us in the game,” Gavin said.
The team’s main goal is to win CCS, but Oakland admits a team has to be lucky to get through the single-elimination format unscathed. Last year, St. Francis benefited from Bellarmine’s quarterfinal loss to Palo Alto, thus avoiding Justin Calomeni, the Bells’ pitcher who shut out the Lancers twice.
“You have to be consistent to win our league,” Oakland said. “But the CCS is about getting hot and being lucky.”
“Our offense is going to have to get better. Our defense and pitching are really sound, but we have to develop our bats by the end of the year.”
Perhaps the Lancers can take a lesson from Nava, who was such a late bloomer that he was 4-foot-8 and 70 pounds as a freshman and 5-5, 150 as a senior. When he earned his first high school varsity hit, Bradford took the ball out of play and gave it to Nava’s father.
“I was thinking to myself, it might be his only hit,” Bradford said.
It was the only hit of his junior season, but as a senior, Nava earned the center-field spot and provided a coach-on-the-field style, with a mastery of fundamentals, though he hit only.260.
“Daniel had all the baseball actions,” Volta said. “But he was undersized and the game was a little faster for him at that age. He wasn’t a very big guy or very strong. If he did square up the ball, it just didn’t go very far.”
Nava became only the fourth player in major league history to hit a grand slam in his first at bat and the second to do it on the first pitch. He is now a regular for the defending World Series champs.
In contrast, Descalso “could flat out hit,” Volta said.
“He’s the only guy I ever thought: This guy can play in the major leagues,” said Bradford, who coached four of them.
The lesson … it’s a good time to follow the Lancers, as Bradford can tell you from the second deck at Chris Bradford Stadium.