LJHS baseball alumni game: Retired judge reminisces about Viking baseball days
by ED PIPER
Published - 02/23/19 - 11:18 AM | 1057 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
La Jolla High 26th Annual Alumni Baseball Game participants. Robert Coates, seated in his wheelchair, left front, is a retired Superior Court judge. / Photo by Ed Piper
La Jolla High 26th Annual Alumni Baseball Game participants. Robert Coates, seated in his wheelchair, left front, is a retired Superior Court judge. / Photo by Ed Piper
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Robert Coates can remember it as if it happened yesterday: It was 1954, his senior year. La Jolla’s baseball team faced San Diego High, that year’s eventual CIF champion. (There was only one division at that time.) “In my first at-bat, I hit a triple. My next time up, the pitcher was afraid I was going to do it again.

“I hit a pitch off the end of the bat like a pool cue. He thought it was a line drive, so he ducked and spun around. The ball hit him right in the fanny. I got on first base safely with a single.”

Coates, a retired 28-year Superior Court judge, was holding court from his wheelchair in the visitors’ dugout at La Jolla’s home field. The occasion was the Vikings’ 26th Annual Alumni Game, with 21 fellow former players facing Coach Gary Frank’s 2019 varsity in a nine-inning game.

The present varsity thumped the “old guys” 18-3, but that didn’t dim the enthusiasm of Coates or any of the other alumni, including Stan Smith. While Coates, 82, graduated six years before Smith, Class of 1960, the third baseman and catcher/second baseman have become fast friends over the course of several alumni games right on this field.

A.J. Muihlenburg was an English teacher on campus who counseled students. “He taught us Shakespeare and other British literature,” recalls Coates. “On the day I was named team Most Valuable Player, he came over to me in class and said, ‘Bob, I’m very proud of you.’ That meant a lot to me.”

The hot corner player, who recalls having a “terrific arm”, says, “I was hitting just about .400 until I got sick near the end of the season. My last at-bat (after returning from the illness) came against Duke Hottell, an All-City player from Kearny. A lefty, he threw a curveball that was curving at me. I hit it for an RBI.

“Watching a pitched baseball is one of the most beautiful things I can ever imagine,” he says, waxing poetic, his soaring mood matching the bright sunshine of the mid-February day, though a little chill remains from the many rains.

Jim Bass was Coates’ baseball coach. “He was an intense, compassionate guy, and he knew baseball. He said kind things about me to the pro scouts. But I didn’t want to get stuck in the minor leagues in a place like Gila Bend, with no future. (So I didn’t go that route.) Bass later became Superintendent of Schools somewhere.

“There was a distinction at that time at La Jolla High between students from La Jolla and Pacific Beach. I was from Pacific Beach. A classmate who lived in La Jolla Shores remarked to me, ‘It’s sad there’s no way for you to rise in the world, since you have no access to the Beach and Tennis Club.’”
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