History teacher fields foundation for baseball program

In the hallway of a San Francisco apartment complex, a two-year-old boy grasps the handle of a plastic baseball bat while standing parallel to a rubber hitting tee. His eyes concentrate on the center of a white wiffle ball while the bat coils back with the torque of his hips, twisting in preparation to achieve the sole action on his mind: to deliver a mighty hit.

“There are pictures of me in our San Francisco apartment when I was about two years old, hitting,” said history teacher and freshman baseball coach Taber Watson. “My father talked down on a lot of other sports. Baseball was his favorite.”

Taber has surrounded his life with the game of baseball since the apartment days. His father, Dan Watson, was a big inspiration for his son’s fascination with the game.

Taber continued playing his favorite sport throughout his youth, including for Redwood’s varsity baseball team in high school. His favorite baseball memory at Redwood was pitching in and winning the MCAL championship during his senior year in 2010.

“I remember the dog pile at the end of the game. I was on the bottom of it which is why I remember it,” Taber said with a chuckle. “Redwood [baseball] had been bad for such a long time. We came back and we beat Drake in the championship game which was cool because I actually went to White Hill for middle school, so they were all my friends who I beat.”

Freshman baseball head coach and history teacher Taber Watson.

Freshman baseball head coach and history teacher Taber Watson.

Taber continued his baseball career at the collegiate level, playing for College of Marin for a year following his graduation from Redwood. From there, he continued to play three more years at Chapman University in Orange, California as a closing pitcher. Taber was awarded a Division III West Coast All-Region award for his pitching performances throughout his senior year at Chapman.

“I did very well and to actually be recognized on a national level was a pretty cool experience,” Taber said. “We were never really good when I was there, so unfortunately it’s an individual award I have to talk about.”

After graduating from Chapman in 2014, Taber began helping varsity baseball coach Mike Firenzi with preseason preparations. The program did not have a freshman baseball coach for the year and Firenzi offered Taber the position.

“I used to leave work at one,” Taber said. “I’d eat lunch and [then] I’d be down on that field mowing, fixing the field, and preparing for practice everyday. I would be there for about five to six hours per day.”

Now entering his fourth year as head coach for the freshman baseball team, Watson boasts an impressive coaching record, having led two out of three of his teams to an MCAL title win. The culture of the program has transformed his winning mindset into a reality.

“We set out to win every year,” Taber said. “That is the expectation here in the program. I’m two for three on MCAL championships. We finished second two years ago. But the expectation here is to win which is drawing people to Redwood baseball right now. We play to win.”

Former Redwood teammate and University of California San Diego baseball alum Corbin Wirta is beginning his third year as the freshman baseball team’s assistant coach. During his time coaching at Redwood, the team’s players have been required to sign a Code of Conduct contract. The contract outlines behavioral expectations for the players during practices and games, including their responsibilities to help set-up and clean-up the field before and after practices and show respect to coaches, umpires and teammates. Wirta stated that the goal of the contract is to prepare the younger players for the standards set at Redwood baseball’s junior varsity and varsity levels.

“[The freshman players] are going to be the culture of Redwood baseball as they go through the program,” Wirta said. “We are getting them prepared to play on the varsity team versus when we see other schools, it is sort of lackadaisical on the freshman side and then they get to the varsity team and the players are not prepared for it.”

The coaches call upon their experiences playing college baseball to guide the players to perform at a very competitive level in high school. They also aim to familiarize the kids with an environment that prepares them to play at the collegiate level.

“Taber and I both played college baseball so we know what coaches are looking for and expect from their players,” Wirta said. “We devise our practices to make sure these expectations are with the players in games and practices in the future. Just constant preparation for the next level. A consistently high level of baseball.”

Over his years as an assistant coach for the freshman team, Dan has valued the opportunity to help push the players to perform to the best of their abilities. Dan aims to make connections with each of the team’s players. This helps him make strides to push each individual to their next level of performance.

“Each player is a different individual,” Dan said. “There are 18 kids here so I have 18 standards in my mind [regarding] what I think they are capable of and where I think they could be.”

Dan accredits Taber’s and Wirta’s college baseball careers for providing them with experience that has proven valuable for helping their freshman teams and individual players excel on the field.

“They’ve played at high levels,” Dan said. “We defer to each other and there is healthy amount of mutual respect for one another.”

The coaches are prioritizing their time to cultivate a winning environment within the baseball program.

“The standard is very high and we are continually working to uphold that standard,” Dan said.

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