Walking onto the St. Monica Catholic High School campus brought back a flood of memories for Michael Alcala.
A former student at the Santa Monica private school with numerous connections in the local community, Alcala is now the head baseball coach for the Mariners.
“I was really excited to come back,” he said. “Everyone’s been really enthusiastic.”
Alcala is guiding St. Monica Catholic as it enters the bulk of its conference slate, which continues Tuesday afternoon with a game at San Pedro-Mary Star of the Sea. The team’s next home game is scheduled for Friday.
Alcala has replaced longtime coach Jack White, who remains at the school as a health teacher. With Alcala at the helm, the Mariners (8-9, 1-4 in the Camino Real League) have already won more games than they did all of last season (five).
“We’re working towards establishing the program,” he said. “It’s work in progress. We’re trying to build it up and prove that you don’t have to be a big, power school to be successful in baseball.”
It’s the first varsity head coaching gig for Alcala, a Venice native who attended St. Monica in the early 1980s. Alcala later transferred to Venice High School, from which he graduated in 1986, and played baseball at Santa Monica College under then-coach Marty Berson.
Alcala’s area connections, which likely helped him land the coaching position, become immediately apparent.
During Alcala’s time at Venice High, Jeff Shimizu was the baseball coach. Shimizu recently served as SMC’s interim president.
Frank Cruz, meanwhile, was the baseball coach at rival Los Angeles-University. Cruz, who went on to coach at USC, is now St. Monica’s athletic director.
Add in the fact that Alcala already knew current St. Monica principal Michele Rice when the job opened up, and it comes as little surprise that he ended up with the gig.
“I knew the administration was really going to want the athletic program to succeed and still keep the small-school mentality,” Alcala said.
Alcala arrives at St. Monica with ample coaching experience, including in the youth and club travel ranks as well as at camps and clinics in the region. He was an assistant at Venice High in the early 1990s and has been involved in a variety of baseball organizations over the last three decades.
Now an insurance agent, Alcala said his East Coast work schedule allows him to run practices and coach games in the afternoons.
Alcala acknowledged that coaching at a relatively small high school comes with a share of challenges, but he said his familiarity with the campus and its culture has made the transition easier. He also said he sympathizes with the struggle of not having a baseball diamond on campus. The Mariners play home games at Marine Park near Penmar Golf Course, the same site of his SMC baseball games in the late ’80s.
“It all came together,” he said. “I’m lucky.”