May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

OC baseball coaches remember life lessons that Long Beach State’s John Gonsalves taught

John Gonsalves was the Long Beach State head coach for 19 years. (Photo courtesy Long Beach State sports information).

(FIrst of two parts)

Coaches in Orange County are among those who are remembering former Long Beach State head baseball coach John Gonsalves as a coach who would do all he could to help his players, taught life lessons and cared about their future outside of the sport.

Gonsalves, 78, died on Saturday, May 29 of pneumonia after being hospitalized for about a month. Gonsalves, who lived in Seal Beach with his wife of 52 years Sandy, would have been 79 on Saturday.

Gonsalves, who coached at Long Beach State for 19 years, was well known in Orange County. His sons Johnnie and Jayson both played for Huntington Beach High School. For the last eight years, Gonsalves was an assistant coach for Cameron Chinn at Edison High School.

“He was giving, he was friendly to everybody with his time and talents, it seems like anybody who wanted to talk baseball, he was good to go,” said Johnnie Gonsalves, who also played for his father at Long Beach. “I think he gave tons of guys second chances who went on to have great careers. He helped so many people. He was more concerned about preparing those young men for life after baseball.

“He was a good coach to play for, he was a players coach, he was hard-nosed, he wanted to win and he was a grinder.”

Long-time friend Daniel Hankin, who has been an Orange County high school baseball coach and was an assistant coach for Gonsalves, added:

“John Gonsalves was more than baseball coach, he was the life coach. Gonsalves molded young men into responsible, smart, strong men. He coached with passion and love. After coaching for 19 seasons at Long Beach State he decided to coach at the high school level. He was at Huntington Beach, Paramount and was the hitting coach at Edison, when he passed.

“Gonsalves helped revive the Edison program along with Head Coach Cameron Chinn. Gonsalves not only brought his knowledge of hitting but he brought his wisdom and his skills in talking to players, listening to them and working for a common goal. Gonsalves had a hand in molding hundreds of young people, on the field, in the classroom and at the bar.”

John Gonsalves was named to the Long Beach State Hall of Fame in 1998 and according to athletic officials is one of four people to have their number retired in the 67-year history of the program. His number 25 replica jersey is on the outfield wall at Blair Field. Most of the home games during his tenure were played on the campus field at Long Beach. Gonsalves led a fund-raising project to construct a new field on campus.

Gonsalves played for St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, then for Long Beach City College and Long Beach State before joining the New York Mets organization. He later returned to Long Beach State and in his first season in 1970 led the team to its first Pacific Coast Athletic Association title.

He went on to record 460 wins, the second most in school history. After retiring as coach, Gonsalves continued to provide support to the program, which adopted the nickname Dirtbags when new Coach Dave Snow took over. Gonsalves best season was in 1979 when the squad went 39-23-3.

Gonsalves wound up being a life-long Dodgers fan, but the family also attended many Angels games, his son Johnnie said.

Gonsalves had many friends in the coaching fraternity, who also shared their thoughts on his legacy:

Mike Gerakos, former head coach at UC Irvine: “He was definitely one of the good guys in the coaching profession. He was “old school,’ and I use that term with the utmost respect!  His teams were well coached, played hard and reflected their coach’s respect for the game. That is why I enjoyed coaching against him.  He was proud of his former players and his players appreciated the positive impact he had on their lives.  When I was at University High, I had a number of student teachers from CSULB, and John was their mentor teacher.

“He did an amazing job of supporting them and guiding them through their student teaching.  I looked forward to his observation visits. They would always end with a long discussion about coaching and baseball.  More recently, I looked forward to our games with Edison, where John was an assistant.  We would reminisce about former players and games and kid each other about being old timers and I would tell him to remember that if I was an old timer, he was an old old timer. John was very special. He will be missed.”

Bob Flint, Orange County high school and community college coach: “I knew of John as an exceptional player. When we moved back to California, I was going to be a grad assistant, while starting a masters program. I passed that up when I got hired at Western High. That was 1971. Ever since 1971, we were Seal Beach friends. Like most of my baseball guys, we had a relationship that only coaches have. Good guys, with a deep connection. We’re losing too many of the guys from my time but the memories we’re left with are priceless. John is at the top of the priceless list. Good coach, good man, humble guy.”

Bob Zamora, former head coach at Capo Valley High School who is now an assistant coach with the Cougars: The two got to know each when they were playing in high school. Gonsalves was a senior at St. Anthony High School and Zamora was a freshman at Mount Carmel. “He’s been coaching at Edison for quite a few years and I was still at Capistrano Valley. We saw each other not over a year ago. We played each other in a fall league game. We laughed and told old stories. He was just a good guy, a really good guy.”

Tom Pestolesi, volleyball coach at Irvine Valley College: “My dad was the department chair at Long Beach State when athletics and teaching were combined. I basically grew up on that campus.  Coach Gonsalves, Tom Morgan, Andy Sinclair, Jack Rose, Ed Souter, Randy Sandefur, John Mconnell and all the other coaches and teachers were all working the 49er camps that I went to as a kid. 

“My dad would host all the department get togethers and that group was so tight with each other.  It was a lot of fun.   As I went there my first two years of college I had his coaching baseball class. It was 8 a.m. A lot of athletes were in there.  When any one of them fell asleep he would chuck the eraser at them. He was very accurate. Just a fun and positive man.  Alway smiling.  Never could be in a bad mood being around him. Those days were some of the best of my life.”

Coach Gonsalves is also survived by his grandchildren Cole, Ivie, April and Rylee and great grand-daughter Stella along with Johnnie Gonsalves wife Nancy.

A funeral Mass is planned for St. Anthony Church in Long Beach on Wednesday, June 30 at 10 a.m. followed by a reception at Glory Days in Seal Beach. All guests are encouraged to wear their favorite Aloha shirt in honor of Coach Gonsalves, a wish by his wife Sandy.

The Long Beach State Dirtbags held a moment of silence for Coach Gonsalves before their last game of the season Sunday at Blair Field. Both of his sons were in attendance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Burt first got to know Coach Gonsalves when Burt was a reporter on the Long Beach State school paper covering baseball games. He was impressed with how much Coach Gonsalves cared about his players and how he wanted them to be successful when their baseball careers ended. He was supportive to not only players, but to everyone he came in contact with, including reporters and treated everyone, including umpires, with respect. There is plenty to celebrate about Coach Gonsalves. He made a difference.

PART TWO: Gonsalves had a big impact with Edison baseball

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