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A wreath was made as part of a memorial for Laguna Beach baseball coach Jeff Sears on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. Sears died unexpectedly Jan. 16. (Ryan Kuhn, SOCoPrepSports.com)

Baseball

Goodbye Coach: Laguna Beach community gathers in remembrance of its high school’s baseball coach, Jeff Sears

A memorial is held on Laguna Beach High School’s baseball diamond

LAGUNA BEACH— Well after practice ended and players went home, Laguna Beach High School varsity baseball head coach Jeff Sears would be seen dragging the infield dirt on the team’s golf cart.

He would go round and round, raking the infield in the classic figure-eight pattern.

“There was not a blade of grass that Coach Sears did not cut, and there was not a speck of dirt that he did not rake on this field,” Jon Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson, a former Laguna Beach assistant baseball coach, explained how Sears used to not let any other coaches drag the field, mainly because his demand for perfection was so great.

There would be days that Sears sent his players home because they were just one minute late for practice.  Sears gave them 14 minutes to finish up at school, run over to the baseball field, get dressed, and be ready for warmups. If they didn’t make the cut, they were sent home.

Sears’ demand for excellence was extreme, but in the end, he genuinely cared for every player and coach under his guidance.

On Saturday, hundreds of friends, family, and members of the Laguna Beach community convened on the high school’s baseball diamond and returned the favor. They came to pay homage to their friend, colleague and coach, who died on Jan. 16. He was 55 years old.

“It just goes to show how important he was to not just the baseball community, but the entire Laguna Beach community,” Breakers pitching coach Jairo Ochoa said. “He meant something to a lot of people, and it’s nice to have that support.”

Thw Laguna Beach community gathers at Laguna Beach High School’s baseball field for a memorial for Laguna Beach baseball coach Jeff Sears on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. Sears unexpectedly died Jan. 16. (Ryan Kuhn, SOCoPrepSports.com)

Sears’ coaching tree is extremely impressive, and Saturday’s showing was a testament to the quality of mentorship that he provided.

Mt. San Antonio College assistant coach Scott Zine spoke a few words on the mic, along with local baseball figures like former Edison baseball coach Cameron Chinn and retired University baseball head coach Chris Conlin. 

Lily Gabora, a LBHS student, sang Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

“Jeff Sears gave 100 percent of everything that he ever had into the [Laguna] baseball program and the Laguna Beach community,” Conlin said. “Nobody loved baseball more than Jeff Sears, and very few people knew the game like Jeff Sears.”

Several of Sears’ peers, friends and players also shared their favorite memories of the late coach; including tales of late night bar hopping, recounts of invaluable coaching advice, and other anecdotes that incited laughter, and in some cases, tears from the attentive crowd.

Each speaker emphasized how masterful Sears was at storytelling, and how much the coach genuinely cared about his players.

“Sears used baseball as a platform to teach. He was using baseball as a platform to build relationships,” Zine said. “All of the baseball stuff was secondary, because he truly cared about you as a person, and what was going on in your life.”

The Breakers’ late skipper was the single most successful coach in program history. He held a stout 143-95 (.601) record over his two stints as head coach, totaling nine seasons.

Along with coaching the Breakers’ varsity baseball squad, Sears worked in the classroom as an instructional assistant for special education.

“I don’t know how he did it, but he just had a way of putting a smile on kids’ faces,” Chinn said. “He had absolutely the biggest heart.”

Before the memorial, the attendees formed a crowd that packed in the bleachers, and spanned all the way across the outfield wall along St. Anns Drive to watch the Breakers play Woodbridge in a winter-ball game. 

Laguna Beach came up short in the seven-inning exhibition game.

After the game, senior pitcher Nick Bonn touched on how the loss of Coach Sears impacted the team’s chemistry.

“It gives us a lot of inspiration and motivation to do well in practice,” Bonn said. “A big thing with coach Sears was doing well on the field and off in the classroom, and I think we’ve really focused on carrying that out.”

Laguna Beach’s baseball team will carry a shoulder decal this upcoming season honoring their coach, as well as wear practice shirts with Sears’ name on the back.

“This field was Coach Sears’ Field of Dreams,” Hendrickson said, looking out onto the Laguna Beach baseball diamond, where in center, Jeff Sears’ number 20 stands alone.

“Just like Ray Kinsella, there would be nights that he would sit and stare at what he built. … This is heaven.”

Chris Bibona is a college student who is heavily involved with the local Orange County media. At the age of 17, he debuted on radio with 101.5 FM KOCI. Two years later, he now hosts and produces his own sports radio show, “Sports Sunday on KOCI,” and has served as sports editor of Orange Coast College’s “Coast Report.” Chris hopes to transfer to an elite university, among the likes of USC, UCLA, Emerson College, and NYU in fall of 2022.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Carl

    January 28, 2022 at 8:38 am

    Thank you for sharing this, Chris. I was blessed to have played baseball in High School with Jeff, and your comments were spot on. The guy always had a love and passion for the game, and was a genuinely kind person.

    I understand he was a tough coach. But I also am certain knowing him that despite this, he genuinely cared for his team.

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