People may remember only a few of the plenty of wins there are to choose from. What most will remember about the legendary, former College of the Sequoias baseball coach, the late Bert Holt, was his passion for the game and his attention to detail. Coach Holt passed away December 4, 2015 at the age of 82.
Coach Holt’s teams won 423 games and four conference championships during his 21-year career at COS. His 1970 team won the Northern California championship and finished runner-up to Cerritos for the state title. Four of his former players reached the major leagues – Brad Mills, Bob Ojeda, Steve Straughter, and Jim Wohlford.
“Coach was a continuation of what (former COS coach) Roy Taylor started,” said current COS head coach Jody Allen. “He continued the success and made COS one of the top programs in the state. It’s been a very stable program for the last 50-60 years and there’s not a lot of schools that can say that.”
He retired from COS in 1988 and became an area scout for three Major League Baseball organizations (Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos and Colorado Rockies), and was a daily influence at COS practices and games during the past seven years.
“It was great to have Coach around as someone I could get counsel from. He had that trained eye,” Allen said. “As a head coach you look at an entire program and sometimes details get overlooked. Coach was very much a fundamentalist who paid great attention to detail. Sometimes teams do drills just to do it, but with Coach, he made you do it until it got done right. He was very good at making sure players had clear information.”
That enthusiasm was most evident during practice. Allen added, “He used to walk through the gate onto the field every day before practice and say, ‘Every day at the ballpark is just like Christmas.’ - I’ll miss that greeting.”
Two current COS assistant coaches, Dana Gomez and Jeff Sisk, both played under Coach Holt in the 1980’s. “I saw the way he worked with kids when I was a player and I just wanted to try and do the same,” Gomez said. “He would never beat around the bush. He was always straight up with players. And really, that’s what life is; it has its ups and downs. Either face it head on or take the path around.”
During the past few years, Coach Holt took a particular interest in helping Gomez with the team’s pitchers; something the current pitching coach says will be sorely missed. “Coach had a strong attention to detail. I was still learning from him. I got so used to him being out there every day. It’s going to be hard not having him around, really hard.”
Sisk says it was Coach’s attention to detail that proved to him as a player that not always the most talented were the most successful. “He taught me that fundamentals were of the utmost importance. By doing things fundamentally sound, you not only became a better player, but if you came across a team or players that were more talented, you still had a chance to come out on top if you were sound fundamentally.”
Sisk adds that he, too, wanted to get into coaching because of the influence Coach Holt had on him as a player: “When I first came to COS, I didn’t know a whole lot about the game. The things that he taught me were very important as a player and, perhaps, even more important as a coach.”
Current COS assistant coaches Scott Laird and Andy Qualls both played under Coach Allen, but remember Coach Holt being an integral part of practice. “Coach brought this positive energy to the yard every day,” Laird said. “He kept things light with his jokes, but he had such a keen eye for the smallest details to make a person a better ballplayer.”
Qualls added, “Coach greatly influenced me as a player. One of the main reasons was his detailed approach to the game. During intersquad games, Coach would time every hitter running from home to first base. By doing this, he emphasized the importance of always giving your best regardless of the result of the at-bat.”
Laird and Qualls both agreed that their relationship with Coach Holt really blossomed when they decided to become coaches. Said Laird, “He was always quick to ask questions as well as always be there to answer any questions that I had. Coach never stopped coaching me, whether it was as a player or as a coach.”
Qualls said he was impressed with how active Coach Holt was in his later years: walking a round of golf in the morning, then coming to practice and hitting ground balls, critiquing swings, and fixing pitchers’ mechanics. After that he would go home “to milk the cows, feed the chickens, and if that dang tractor starts, get to that north 40.”
“I always thought he lived on a farm. It wasn’t until later that I found out he lived in the city and that was just one of his expressions,” said Qualls, smiling.
New COS assistant coach Michael Remy says he was well aware of Coach Holt’s icon status in the baseball community. His first introduction was as a player at the old YMCA summer youth baseball camps run by Holt and his mentor, Pete Beiden, who after retiring from Fresno State was an assistant for Holt at COS. Remy, who coached at the high school level the past 20 years, says he later crossed paths with Holt many times while he was a scout. Remy added that coming to the ballpark every day during the fall and just getting to sit and talk with Coach Holt about anything regarding the game was a gift. “He was incredibly sharp, mentally. He would rattle off games from the 60’s – the score, the inning, the outs, the count, what player was in what situation. I can’t remember that stuff from five years ago, that’s how detailed he was. I feel truly blessed and really value the time I got to spend with him.”
Coach Bert Holt may have been one of those fortunate people whose vocation was also a prized part of his life. Whether during his career or “retirement,” he continued to coach both players and coaches with an emphasis on repetition, fundamentals, and attention to details. His enthusiasm and Christmas-like joy for just being at the ballpark will be sorely missed, but his mentorship and coaching has made a mark upon many lives that will continue to be carried on through the coaches and players he touched.