This article was originally published at the Canadian Baseball Network.
Gary Picone took over as head baseball coach at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Id. last September, replacing Hall of Fame coach Ed Cheff, who had been the head coach there for 34 years.
Picone (Trail, BC) moves into one of the most prestigious jobs in college ball. Lewis-Clark State has won 16 NAIA national championships, and they have sent 14 players to the majors, including Keith Foulke of the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and Oakland A’s, and Marvin Benard of the San Francisco Giants.
Picone served a remarkably long apprenticeship for the job. He was the athletic director for four years prior to taking on the head coach job, and served another stint as AD previously. He was heavily involved in the planning and project approval process for L-C State’s activity center, a facility that many Division I schools would envy. Although L-C State is known primarily for baseball, they have had strong men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball programs for many years.
After participating in Trail’s local baseball programs as a teenager, he went to Bellevue Community College as an outfielder. He transferred to L-C State, and played there for three years. He was good enough to be invited by coach Wayne Norton (Port Moody, BC) to play for the Canadian entry in the Baseball World Cup in Nicaragua in 1973.
Picone also played for teams that went to Japan and Korea. Picone recalls playing a game in front of an overflow crowd in what is now known as Dennis Martinez Stadium, and playing a game against Nicaragua in Masaya with Dennis Martinez himself on the mound. He moved into coaching to Canadian National Team for a couple of years, and that led to a job as an assistant coach at L-C State.
Picone moved to Vancouver in 1989 to serve as executive director of the B.C. Amateur Baseball Association for three years. He was a full-time paid person, working with a volunteer board. He was in charge of B.C.’s select teams for the Canada Cup and Canada Games, and the high performance program. He describes his experience there as a great training job for the athletic director job that he moved into after a stint as an assistant coach at Washington State.
This spring the Warriors have four Canadians on their roster: OF Brian Abrey (Richmond, BC), C Will Thorp (Surrey, BC), OF Brandon Bufton ( Whalley, BC) and RHP Carsen Nylund (Surrey, BC).
Some questions from the Canadian Baseball Network... and some answers:
CBN: Five years ago, L-C State played games against Washington State, Washington, and Gonzaga. Is there any hope of getting them back on the schedule?
GP: Well, we certainly want them back on the schedule, but with the RPI and strength of schedule ratings, most coaches will tell you that it isn’t really to their advantage to play an NAIA school. With the money that’s being paid for coaching, everybody’s trying to protect their won-loss record. I don’t see the Division I schools coming back on the schedule unless the system changes. Regional rivalries are a good thing, and we have to find another way to make that work.
CBN: L-C State also sent Emerson Frostad to the National Team.
GP: Emerson came to us from the Calgary as a freshman, signed a contract out of here, went on and did well. (Frostad played with the Double-A Frisco Roughriders and the Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks in the Texas Rangers organization in 2010).
CBN: Why should people who live with a day’s drive of Lewiston come to the NAIA Baseball National Championship at the end of May?
GP: The tournament starts Friday, May 27. If you’re interested in grass roots ball, Lewiston, a town of about 30,000, is the place to be. The whole town is behind this tournament. We will draw over 40,000 spectators. The ballpark seats close to 5,000 people, and it’s full every night. The 10 teams that participate can hold their own against any college team in the country. It’s a true double-elimination tournament.
Lewiston is an inexpensive place to live. It borders two rivers, the Clearwater and Snake, and both offer great recreational opportunities. It’s a laid-back community, the people are really into baseball. I think that any ball fan would enjoy the experience of coming here on Memorial Day weekend.
CBN: Which former L-C State players are we likely to see in the Major Leagues soon?
GP: Brendan Ryan, who is going to be the shortstop for the Seattle Mariners. He played here 2001-2003, was drafted by the Cardinals, traded to the Mariners at the beginning of this season. Carlos Fisher is an RHP on the 40-man roster of the Cincinnati Reds. 3B Beau Mills (son of Brad Mills, Houston Astros manager) was a first round draft pick in 2007. He’s in the Cleveland organization, and making progress toward the major leagues.
CBN: Which current L-C State players are getting a lot of attention from the MLB scouts?
GP: An RHP named Zach Arneson, who came from Bakersfield, Calif.. We think that he will be a pretty high draft pick. LHP Tyler Barrett should get drafted. 1B Brian Gaylord and 2B Kevin Lovelace will probably get opportunities as seniors to sign pro contracts.