Coaching trio proves key to success on the diamond

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Russo watches practice with the team behind him.

Mary Winnick

As baseball season swings back around, The Bark has decided to look into exactly what makes this coaching staff so special and different. These three coaches led the varsity team to victory in both North Coast Section and the Marin County Athletic League in 2015. With high expectations for this year’s team, coaches Mike Firenzi, Tim Grayson and Joel Russo are working hard to help this team play to the best of its ability.  

 

Mike Firenzi:

As a former Giants baseball player, Firenzi has always had his eye out for Redwood and its baseball program. Although he was an assistant coach here in 1987 for three years, Firenzi always wanted to be a head coach.

However, when he was offered a position as the head coach for Marin Catholic, he took the job and managed the Wildcats for nearly 20 years until 2010. Firenzi was then offered a job as assistant coach back at Redwood.

“I probably wouldn’t have taken any other coaching job besides [coaching] here,” Firenzi said, “These are my roots. This is my community, and this is where I want to be.”

Firenzi became head coach in 2015, where he lead the team to victory, winning both the MCAL and NCS championships. The championships placed Redwood at a ranking of 21st in the nation, the highest since they were ranked 1st in 1977. Firenzi was also named the NCS DII Coach of the Year after the championship wins.

In addition to winning both championships last year, Firenzi has also won nine other MCAL championships and four other NCS championships.

On a typical game day, Firenzi is on the field by 8 a.m. to set up and get the field ready, and is typically there for an hour after to help clean up. In addition to spending time preparing the field for game-days, Firenzi also arrives at the baseball field two hours before practice and stays for hour after practice.

“I’m probably [working on the team] at least 40 hours a week in total,” Firenzi said.

In contrast to other sports, Firenzi believes baseball teaches players how to go through adversity because it is a failure driven sport.

“If you can’t deal with failure, baseball is not a great sport for you,” Firenzi said.

Firenzi believes baseball requires a lot of skill because there are so many different aspects to it.  

“We have a lot of time to stand around and think about our failure or our success,” Firenzi said.

 

Tim Grayson:

Assistant coach Tim Grayson has been coaching baseball for 35 years.

“My dad was a coach, my uncles were coaches, I coached my nephew in Little League,” Grayson said.

Grayson was the varsity head coach at Tamalpais, San Rafael and Marin Catholic. He won both the MCAL and NCS championships in 2011 and 2012 at Marin Catholic. In addition to coaching at the high school level, Grayson has also been a Bombers travel ball coach for the past 16 years.

Grayson came to Redwood when Firenzi asked him to be an assistant coach. Along with Firenzi, Grayson is at the field roughly two hours before practice starts in order to prepare the field for the team.

Grayson especially enjoys coaching Redwood baseball because of the values Firenzi has rooted into the players.

“Mike [Firenzi] instilled in these guys hard work, and being a family, and looking out for each other, and pushing each other and just being there to pick each other up,” Grayson said.

Grayson appreciates baseball because of the mental aspect of the game.

“It motivates from hard work, discipline, respect, being a good teammate, and just being a good person in general,” Grayson said.

 

Joel Russo:

Assistant coach Joel Russo is currently coaching his second year for a high school varsity team.

Russo grew up in Mill Valley where he played Little League baseball and later attended Marin Catholic. He played for three years on the varsity baseball team for coach Firenzi where he won both the MCAL and NCS championships his freshman year. Four days after graduating high school, Russo left to play baseball in Italy for a few years. He then returned to Marin to play baseball for College of Marin. Russo decided to take a break from playing baseball after college, but started playing semi pro three years later.

Russo came to Redwood last year when Firenzi asked if he wanted to help coach Redwood varsity baseball as an assistant.

This is Russo’s second year coaching for Bombers as well. Russo believes all of his past coaches have had a vital impact on who he is today.

“I remember every coach I’ve ever had, and for as long as there guys are around and long after they leave Redwood they will remember me,” Russo said.

Russo also hopes to leave the team with good values and lessons for their futures.

“I want to make sure I leave a good impression and give them something to look up to and aspire to as a person, and as a baseball player,” Russo said. “Ultimately, their baseball career is going to end and I want to make sure that what I leave them is long term for their life.”

This also comes into play when giving the team new tips and techniques to try.

“For the most part I try to get them to understand what I’m teaching so that they can apply it on their own rather than me to tell them,” Russo said. “If your players trust you as a coach, they will respond a lot better.”

Russo believes baseball is different from any other sport because of the “dugout culture” that helps build camaraderie among the team.

“The guys that aren’t in the starting line up everyday still have a role to play, and the guys that are out there lean on the guys that aren’t playing,” Russo said.