MORAGA, Calif. - Saint Mary's baseball head coach Jedd Soto and associate head coach Gabe Zappin are entering their 10th season together at SMC and 15th overall. They have worked side by side for every pitch, inning and recruiting war since the 2003 season.
After not seeing any players drafted their first year in 2004, the duo has had 27 players come through the program in the past eight years who were drafted by professional baseball at some point during their baseball career. Last year may have been one of the more talented teams they have had with four players getting drafted in the 1st, 2nd, 7th and 29th rounds - the most players drafted since having four sign in 2009.
"We really liked last year's club. Unfortunately we had some bad luck with injuries that prevented us from accomplishing what we set out to achieve," said Soto.
Soto signed his third multiple-year contract in June during his nine year stint at the college. "It would not have happened without Gabe Zappin, often referred to as 'Zap.' He is passionate about teaching, learning, treating kids with respect, hard work, recruiting, you name it," said Soto. "It is rare to get to work with one of your best friends every day who is just as committed to winning as you are. Zap is selfless and always puts the team's needs before his own. He possesses stellar baseball acumen and an uncommon work ethic."
Soto met Zappin back in 1993 on a summer ball program. Soto had spent three seasons playing for the Carson Capitols in Carson City, Nevada, winning national titles in '91 and '93. "Those were some very talented teams we played on. Gabe was only 14 years old in 1993 and I felt obligated to make sure he wasn't hazed by the older players. He was one of only a few players who ever made that team as a sophomore."
After returning from playing baseball at the University of Louisiana Monroe, Soto was invited to coach at the University of Nevada in 1997. "I was fortunate enough to be a part of some very good teams that saw a lot of post season play during my time in Louisiana. That helped me land the job at UNR when it became available." Soto was pleasantly surprised to find that Zappin was on that team as a shortstop and pitcher. "Having any kid on your team that plays in the middle infield and pitches in D-1 is rare." But after losing a weekend starter to injury, Zap was promoted to a weekend starter after being primarily a closer his first two seasons in college. "I immediately began spending time with him mostly helping with approach and mechanics. He was a great athlete that picked things up quickly. And most importantly, he was a baseball rat - Zap ate and breathed baseball. He would show up at the field at 7 a.m. to help me mow the grass, take off the field tarps, all the time talking about how he could get better as a player and more importantly, asking how he could make the team better."
The 1997 Nevada team advanced to a super regional with Zap's help as he went 3-1 on the season with 5 saves. After returning to campus, Soto was offered the head baseball job at a junior college in Quincy, California at the age of 23. Soto offered Zap a job if professional baseball didn't work out. Unfortunately, Zap had his senior season cut short with a then career-ending injury.
Zap, just 22 years of age, joined Soto at Feather River College in the fall of 1998. They have coached nearly 700 games together in the past 15 seasons. "I don't take any day for granted. I appreciate every single day we have been able to work together," said Soto. "We have such similar mannerisms that we are often confused at recruiting events as each other. I can't tell you how many times someone said, 'Tell Soto I said hello.'"
"Working with one of your closest friends most of your professional life is a gift," said Soto. "It makes recruiting so much easier. The player reminds of this guy or that guy that may have played for us 10 years earlier. And the trust and loyalty we have is remarkable. He knows when to crank me up or mellow me out for the betterment of the team. After winning seven championships in 5 years during our tenure in junior college, I look forward to sharing that same kind of success here at Saint Mary's with Zap, Lloyd Acosta and Tony Dress."
Lloyd Acosta joined the staff in 2008 replacing Steve Roberts, who spent nine seasons with Zappin and Soto. Acosta left UC Davis, his alma mater, to join the Gaels as the recruiting coordinator. "Coming into a new program is never easy, especially when the same three coaches had been together for nine seasons," said Soto. "It takes time to build honesty and trust with a new addition. Lloyd has worked very hard to make the change a positive transition for the team." Acosta is in his sixth season with Saint Mary's College.
Tony Dress was recently announced as a new member of the coaching staff. He joined the team October 1st after spending the past six years as a head coach at the collegiate level. "He brings a ton of experience to our staff and great energy. He's really a positive guy that everyone seems to enjoy being around," said Soto.
The Gaels built a new playing surface last year that has already begun to help pull in talent. They are planning to begin construction on the new recreation center and baseball stadium during the second phase of the campus master plan. The improvements will only help the longest tenured head and associate head coaches continue their coaching legacy at the college.