A couple times, when explaining what was going on, Paul Maytorena reached with his right hand and tapped the back of his head. It was there, he said, where the action was. Started a few months ago.
Something ain’t right, dude. Whaddya gonna do? Figure it out, fella. Ain’t got all day. I’m gonna start RAISING MY VOICE. It was a cry to action. Might as well have been a cry into the void.
“I’m not a big fan of change,” said the man who announced this week he was resigning as coach of Casa Grande baseball team after 23 years at the high school. “It was the longest relationship I ever had,” he said.
Why would Maytorena change? His teams won 74.9 percent of their games. Never had a losing season in his 20 years as head coach. He has won enough awards he could wallpaper his house. He has won enough hearts he could run for mayor of this town. Oh, and one other thing.
“I want to die in the dugout,” Maytorena said. He loved coaching and the sport that much. He loved baseball the way he loved to take a breath. Casa baseball was his second skin. He wore it everywhere. Why would anyone want to rip off their skin?
And the game itself? He has been playing or coaching it since he was 5. Five! Maytorena was still counting his toes when baseball entered his life. Now, 42 years later, he had to man up. His grinding teeth lost some of their enamel when the decision became apparent.
“I tell my players all the time — ‘Pre-pitch! Pre-pitch!” he said. “Before every pitch think about what you should do if the ball is hit to you. I used to yell the players — ‘The ball is coming to you!’ Now the ball was coming to me.”
He’s 47 with no retirement package; an off-campus coach in high school doesn’t build a bank account. He asked himself: What happens when I get to 67? What do I live on? My press clippings? My winning smile? My incredible alacrity when I work with others?
Maytorena had spent all this years working at jobs that could accommodate his off-the-grid coaching hours. The past four years he was in charge of the valet parking at the Graton Casino. He’d go to work at 5 a.m., get off at 1:30 p.m. in time to go to practice. Before that he worked 16 years as a physical trainer at a health club, which fit perfectly with his degree in kinesology and exercise science from Sonoma State.
Maytorena was making ends meet but he wasn’t fooling himself. “It was a roof over my head and three hots and a cot. But we valued people relationships instead of monetary things.” Some of the time he was living with his ex-wife, Casey, co-parenting their two daughters, Tatum (now 15) and Brooke (17). Other times, he was living alone.
In the beginning, when the girls were infants, Maytorena needed help and got it. He still recounts with a warm smile how much help he had with changing diapers. Jonny and Joey Gomes did their time as did current Casa assistants Ralph Gentile and Gordie Wirtz.
“I’ll never forget Jonny and I acting like two monkeys trying to put together a crib from IKEA at 10 o’clock at night,” he said.
Maytorena never refused a kindness and offered plenty.
The Gomes brothers stayed with Maytorena for two years. So did Louis Ott. And 20 years ago when he took over the program when head coach Bob Leslie died, Maytorena wasn’t given a lot of warm-up time.
In short order Adam Westcott, Rob Garibaldi and Leslie passed. All were important, key figures in Casa’s history. All left an indelible mark. All were significant losses that devastated the school and the city. Maytorena, then in his 20s, admitted he had to mature quickly.
“I had to get my big boy pants on then,” he said. “Now I have to get my big boy pants on again.”
Maytorena had to look deep into his future and decided what to do about it. A proud man, Maytorena does not favor the image of being helpless in his 60s, unable to take care of himself.
“I teach the kids all the time to be held accountable,” he said. “Now it’s time for me to be held accountable.”
Now it’s time to think past pitch counts, to think long-term as opposed who’s going to work the ninth.
On Nov. 16 Maytorena begins working for Slakey Brothers Plumbing and HAVC Supply company in Santa Rosa. He has an eye on sales eventually. He has no experience in sales.
On the other hand Maytorena is living right now with his ex-wife. So maybe he knows the art of persuasion.
“One game I had to leave early to catch a flight,” he said. “But I just didn’t want to leave the team. So I started an argument with the umpire. I told him, ‘Throw me out!’ He kept saying, ‘I can’t throw you out!’ I told he had to.”
Eventually Maytorena made the umpire an offer he couldn’t refuse. Like a good salesman Maytorena said a word that sealed the deal.
Last Saturday it hardly mattered what Maytorena said. Once he told the team he was resigning, he could have recited a recipe for cheese dip and got the same reaction — silence.
“No one said a word,” Maytorena said. “I kept hoping someone would say a word. I slowed down and spoke slower. Nothing. They were in shock.”
He clutched up a bit when he began speaking and it never got any better. He said it was toughest thing he ever had to do. He said it was like breaking up with someone you never wanted to leave.
Now for the first time in 42 years Maytorena will not be on a baseball field this spring. Asking him what he imagines that to be like is like asking what he sees when he stares into the void.
His face now is the face of his players from a week ago. Blank. Searching. Finding nothing.
“I’m going to be uncomfortable,” said Maytorena, uncharacteristically emotionless. He doesn’t speak slow. He doesn’t aimlessly wander through the language. If he does pause while speaking, it’s only to catch his breath. Yes, he will be great at sales. But right now the salesman is looking for the right words.
He can only come up with these: “Maybe I can swing a fungo again.” Maybe? One day, somewhere, somehow, for someone, Paul Maytorena will be back. A love like this, well, let’s just say he’s going through a trial separation.
To comment on Bob Padecky’s column email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.