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Wikiup Tennis and Swim director gets call to manage Team USA clubhouse at World Baseball Classic

Ted Walsh moved to Santa Rosa last year to help a relative, learn a new business and settle down with his family. But like the guy in the gangster movie, he got pulled back for one more job.

Walsh, who is helping his father-in-law run Wikiup Tennis & Swim Club, spent a total of 35 years as a 49ers equipment staffer and Major League Baseball clubhouse manager. He will reprise the latter role in March when he serves as clubhouse manager for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Walsh’s preparation for this sort of task began when he was still attending Concord High School. A friend had a dad who worked for the 49ers, and the dad was looking for a couple of helpers for training camp at Santa Clara University.

“I thought it would be one-and-done,” he said recently, sitting in the tennis clubhouse at Wikiup.

Instead, Walsh was invited back to work with the Niners’ equipment manager, and the next year passed up enrolling at St. Mary’s to take a full-time position with the team. He would spend 16 years helping to keep the 49ers’ equipment in working condition and their uniforms freshly laundered.

Though admired for his attention to detail and fondness for practical jokes, Walsh is perhaps best remembered as the guy who taught Jerry Rice to catch left-handed throws. As the Niners were transitioning from Joe Montana to Steve Young, the ever-vigilant Rice wanted repetitions catching the opposite spin of a lefty’s passes.

The nearest available southpaw was Walsh.

“Ted saved my arm,” Young told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “Jerry wanted to catch four million passes a day, and I needed Ted to throw 3½ million of them or I wouldn’t have made it.”

Early in his career with the 49ers, Walsh started helping the Milwaukee Brewers in spring training. He loved baseball and wanted to run his own department, and in 1997, Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove came through with a job offer.

While working for the Indians, Walsh met and married Cybele Lamonica, who had grown up in Santa Rosa and attended Ursuline High. Her father, Peter Lamonica, had owned at least a part of the Wikiup club since 1978, and had actively run it since 1981. Ted Walsh took a job with the Seattle Mariners in 2003 partly so Cybele would have an easier time getting home for visits.

Walsh was the Mariners’ home clubhouse manager for 10 years and their visiting clubhouse manager for three, until the team dismissed him in October of 2015. It didn’t take Walsh’s father-in-law long to make a proposal. Lamonica wanted him to move to Santa Rosa and gradually take over operation of the club. Walsh gave it a trial run last summer and decided to give it a run.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” he said. “It’s something a little bit out of my box.”

At Wikiup, Walsh found a little gem of a club with six tennis courts, three pools (they open April 21 for swim season) and a private picnic area on four woodsy acres. He thinks he can do more with it. Walsh invited former 49ers Ronnie Lott and Harris Barton, both now successful businessmen, for consultations. He hired a new tennis pro, and he wants to beef up youth programs. Walsh is thinking of expansion.

All of that will be hold for at least a couple of weeks, though, as he handles the clubhouse for manager Jim Leyland and Team USA.

Walsh, now 53, didn’t see this coming a year and a half ago when MLB called him out of the blue. It came on the recommendation of Lou Cucuzza Jr., who manages the New York Yankees’ visiting clubhouse and is also the head of the Major League Baseball Clubhouse Managers Association. Cucuzza consults frequently with MLB. In the fall of 2015 he recommended Walsh to work the World Baseball Classic, but the timing was wrong.

MLB came calling again last fall, and this time Walsh couldn’t say no. His country needed him, or at least its baseball team did.

“Teddy’s done it all,” Cucuzza said. “He was the home guy for a number of years in Cleveland, and then Seattle, and then he moved to the visiting clubhouse. One thing I always preach to MLB, if you’re having an event like an all-star game or the WBC, where you have players from many different teams coming together as one team, I told them your best resource is a visiting clubhouse manager. We see a ton of different managers and GMs and team presidents. We’re used to different personalities.”

Walsh has only a mild acquaintance with Leyland, but he already knows many of the American players he’ll be working with at the WBC.

“Adam Jones I had as a young player coming up with Seattle, before we traded him to Baltimore,” Walsh said. “I was his first big-league clubhouse manager. There’s a lot of guys on the roster I’m familiar with.”

Walsh leaves Tuesday for Fort Myers, Florida, where the Americans will work out at the Boston Red Sox’s spring facility. They will play exhibitions against the Minnesota Twins on March 8 and the Red Sox on March 9, and take the field for their WBC opener against Colombia on March 10. Team USA is in Pool C with Canada, Colombia and the Dominican Republic; their round-robin pool play will take place at Marlins Park in Miami. Two of the four teams will advance to the second round in San Diego.

The championship round of the World Baseball Classic will be in Los Angeles, March 20-22.

Along the way, Walsh will help the American players in countless ways. The clubhouse manager is equal parts equipment rep, laundry service, caterer, DJ and bathroom attendant. He is a fixer and a concierge.

“When you work as a clubhouse manager, the wives would drop the players off at the ballpark every day and you became the daycare,” Walsh said. “You clothed them, you fed ’em, you sent ’em out to play. After the game you fed ’em again, you clothed ’em, you sent ’em home, and the wives took ’em again.”

The “clubbies,” as the clubhouse men are known, routinely work 12-hour days during the season. They are responsible for everything from washing pants and filling Gatorade jugs to stocking pine tar rags and, on many teams, assigning lockers. They lay out three meals a day for the players.

“Generally, they create a good atmosphere for a team when they come in there,” said Leyland, who managed 22 seasons with four teams, winning one World Series and three pennants. “The players are at ease, they’re comfortable. Everything is in place that they need. And Ted is one of those who always went above and beyond the call of duty. You’re on the road to start with. If you can create an atmosphere where it feels like home, you’ve done your job.”

The clubhouse manager’s nightmare, Walsh said, is a missing item. If something is stolen from a locker or left behind when a team moves from one city to the next, the clubbies will bear the brunt.

Once, when Walsh was with the Indians, shortstop Omar Vizquel showed up at Wrigley Field in Chicago one day and announced he had left his glove in Cleveland.

If some guys misplace a mitt, you simply find them a backup. Vizquel was an 11-time Gold Glove winner. His leather was the equivalent of a magician’s hat.

Walsh phoned a clubbie in Cleveland, and he found the glove still hanging in Vizquel’s locker. The assistant drove it to the airport and put it on a direct Continental flight, and a Cubs visiting clubhouse attendant was there to pick it up at O’Hare. Vizquel, the Indians’ No. 2 hitter, was in the on-deck circle when Walsh popped into the dugout to let him know the mitt had arrived. It was five hours after Walsh had made the initial call.

The World Baseball Classic could be especially challenging for clubhouse managers. For one thing, Walsh will be working out of a storage unit as he separates uniform components by size and makes a stack for each player on the roster. He won’t be able to get into the clubhouse in Fort Myers until March 6. And when the tournament begins, the pace will be frenetic, with teams having to clear out after each game and make room for somebody else.

Even if Walsh executes his job to perfection, wins are not guaranteed. In three previous installments of the World Baseball Classic, the Americans have finished no better than fourth. With standouts like catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford of the Giants, third baseman Nolan Arenado of the Rockies, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks this year, there is hope that the home team can finally conquer the world.

“Obviously, I’ll root for Team USA, and hopefully they can pull it out this year,” Cacuzza said. “And for Teddy. If that team wins, they all win.”

You can reach staff writer Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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