May 24, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Beckman baseball players and coaches try to cope with death of beloved assistant Ray Sikes

Beckman players (from left) Nick McLain, Alec Gomez, Adan Escalante, Keon Ghazimorad, Jakob Guardado and Lou Lucci joined Coach Ray Sikes (middle) for a photo during picture day before the 2020 season. (Photo courtesy Rosalene Ledendecker, Beckman baseball)

Varsity baseball practice this week at Beckman High School just hasn’t been the same; it’s been missing one of the program’s most inspirational and popular leaders.

The Patriot players and coaches have been dealing with the loss of popular assistant coach Ray Sikes, who died unexpectedly Saturday. Cause of death has not been determined. Sikes, a resident of Tustin, was also a former president of Tustin Eastern Little League, where he also coached.

Beckman’s head coach Kevin Lavalle was expecting to see Sikes at practice Saturday like normal but got a phone call with the devastating news. He then had to inform his players.

“It was a shock to everybody,” Lavalle said. “He’s been around in this community for as long as I have and probably even longer. He was the president of Tustin Eastern Little League for a while and most of my players in the program going all the way back to 2010 had some type of connection with him in some way.

“He was around Little League fields a lot and coached football and coached Little League baseball, so everybody knew who Ray was. It’s kind of one of those things where every town or high school or Little League in America has a guy like Ray Sikes and he was Beckman’s version of that.”

Sikes, 60, was a versatile member of the Beckman program. He would do whatever needed to be done, and do it with enthusiasm and a big smile. Sikes loved being at the ballpark and mixing with fans and when he was the public address announcer at home games, his work was high quality.

“For a while, he was just an avid fan, and then he was our announcer,” Lavalle said. “His son, Adam, graduated in 2016 and was a pitcher for us. Adam played two sports. He played football and Ray was involved in the football program as a fan. He might have had some other responsibilities there too.”

Sikes’ other son, Brian, also played baseball for one year at Beckman.

Ray Sikes loved spending time at Patriot Park so was elated when Lavalle asked him to join the coaching staff before last season.

“He was our announcer and then after the 2019 season, I was looking for some coaches and Ray was always here,” Lavalle said. “He was here with Eddie Guardado, one of his best friends and they were always working on the turf field hitting ground balls to kids.

“I knew he had a lot of coaching experience and I knew him personally so I invited him to come out and coach and he was really thrilled at that opportunity and last year, even in the short season that we played, he was our first base coach and coached the outfielders and did a real fantastic job. He was a great assistant coach and he was always the comforting voice.

“The kids would go to him when they needed to talk about something. He was very, very blunt with words and very, very honest with them, but he had the ability to give them the truth but in a real polished way. He had a great sense of humor; that was one of his strengths. That type of guy as an assistant coach is great to have because he could be fun and he could be serious at the exact same time.”

Lavalle said Sikes’ favorite Major League baseball team was Oakland.

“He was a sharp dresser, he would always wear his Oakland A’s stuff, the gold sweatpants and the lime green top,” Lavalle said. “You always knew when Ray was there. He was loud and vocal and funny and smiling and laughing. He was a big personality, that’s for sure.”

The loss hit close to home to former Beckman outfielder-pitcher Jakob Guardado, who was a senior on last year’s team and is now on the Pasadena City College team. Guardado had known Sikes since the age of 8, dating back to his youth baseball days in Tustin.

“He was someone who was always around and so full of life and on my life specifically, when my dad (Eddie Guardado) went back to coach for the Minnesota Twins he would always take me out to go hit and give me something to eat, whatever it was,” he said.

Sikes stepped up while Guardado’s father was the bullpen coach for the Twins from 2015 to 2018. Minnesota was one of the teams he pitched for while playing in the Major Leagues.

“It was almost like he was my dad when my dad was gone,” Guardado said. “He was someone who was always there for you, for myself and others. He wanted you to succeed more than yourself wanted to succeed in a way.”

Jakob Guardado got to know Sikes through the Tustin Eastern Little League.

“Eventually as I got older in Little League, he ended up becoming the president of the Little League I was at and our families kept the relationship growing as my brother and his son became even closer friends and him and my dad ended up becoming great friends as well. We’re just great friends with the family,” he said.

Guardado said he has fond memories of the 2020 season. Even though it was shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sikes was a member of the coaching staff for the first time.

“He ended up becoming our first base coach and he also helped out with the outfielders and I’m an outfielder as well so it was awesome,” Guardado said. “We always laughed at practice and kept everything loose because he kept everyone laughing. It was pretty cool.”

Senior pitcher Keon Ghazimorad said Sikes was also a special person in his life.

“I’ve been working with Ray since before my freshman year, 2017, and over that time, Ray kind of transcended the relationship of being a coach with me,” he said. “He was my friend, my mentor and I could really go to him about anything. He was kind of like a second father to me.

“I could go to him about things that I really wouldn’t go to my parents about. He was probably one of my best friends. He brought so much energy to our practices. Today at practice, it just sounded different. He wasn’t there, he wasn’t cheering. He was always in everyone’s corner. You could always count on him to support you when you were down and lift you up. Then he would help you when you were at your highest of highs and still be there supporting you. I think all of us appreciated that so much from him.

“For all of us, I think our season is dedicated to Ray. We’re going to play in his memory and do everything he wanted us to, play with our energy and play with the swagger we have and show the teams who we are. We want to remember Ray with the way we play and the way we practice. Ray wouldn’t want us to be taken down by this. He would want us to use it as motivation. We already know Ray is going to be there with us the entire season and he’s going to be helping us along the way.”

Senior catcher Robby Loeffler had some fond memories of Sikes as well.

“Me and Ray go really far back,” Loeffler said. “I remember he coached me in winter league when I was 12 or 13. He coached me in Little League and then he did some lessons with my brother when he went into high school ball. I started taking hitting lessons from him starting maybe when I was in eighth grade and every weekend, we would be in the cages.

“He would be showing me how to improve my swing and get better. He was just always there for me. Not even just baseball, I could go to him with anything, we could talk about music or girls or politics, a lot of stuff.”

Loeffler said the players plan to honor Sikes before the season, but are waiting to have discussions with his family before making those arrangements.

Beckman, like other Orange County teams, is waiting for approval from state and county health officials and the CIF to start up in March.

“I really do hope we have a season,” Loeffler said. “I think that’s what Ray would want. If we do have a season, we’re going to win every game for Ray. Everything is going to be for Ray. I know he would love to be on the field. He left everything on the field. I think it would be a great way to remember and honor him.”

Guardado added that the team plans to have a memorial, but no date has been decided upon.

There will be much to remember.

“He is someone who is going to be missed because there was so much life to him,” Guardado said. “It’s almost like you expected him to outlive you because of how much he was there and how much he was always around. You don’t expect someone like that go away with so much life.”

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com