George Monica, in his 34th season leading the Braves, remains as hard-nosed and no-nonsense as ever as the victories continue to pile up.
The dreaded stare and the deep care.
George Monica is legendary for both at Bishop Blanchet High School, where he has been a fixture in the third-base coach’s box the past three decades.
Fail to get a bunt down, and you’ll get that look with arms crossed. Make an error and you’ll hear about it, then get a pep talk assuring you’ll handle the next ball fine. And win or lose, there will be a life lesson woven in.
Former players and assistant coaches claim Monica is as hard-nosed and no-nonsense as ever, now in his 34th year at the helm, but perhaps a little softer around the edges as the grandfather of five.
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“It’s probably true,” the 63-year-old Monica grudgingly admits.
One thing that hasn’t changed is his penchant for getting the most out of his players, his passion to play the game the right way and his prolific rate of success.
Monica can become only the third active high-school baseball coach in the state to collect his 500th victory Monday when the Braves open Metro League play against Ingraham.
He earned No. 499 last Monday against Sammamish and was three outs away from 500 the next day against Roosevelt, but the Braves let an 8-5 lead in the seventh slip away and lost 9-8 in the eighth. Their nonleague game against Kamiak was rained out twice.
Senior Nick Wass can’t wait to help his coach reach the milestone. “I’m pretty excited for it,” said Wass, whose father, Greg, also played for Monica. “It’s going to be a big occasion.”
It would have been extra special if the Braves had won their final two games last season to give Monica 500, because it would have meant giving him a second state championship. Instead, they lost in extra innings to Kamiakin of Kennewick in the 3A semifinals, then stumbled again in the consolation game to finish fourth.
The semifinal loss was particularly painful as Blanchet led 5-1 in the seventh. Afterward, though, Monica was at his finest as he congratulated the Kamiakin player who delivered the game-winning hit.
“Son, I want you to remember this feeling right now,” the coach told him. “Put this feeling in a little bottle and someday when life gets you down, I want you to remember this feeling that you have right now.”
Mike Finnigan, in his 21st year as an assistant in the program, said Monica tells his own players one thing season after season: “They will learn life lessons that they’ll use someday in life to become better husbands, better fathers and better workers.”
And they’ll enjoy themselves along the way.
“What we’re trying to do first of all is have fun,” said Monica, a 1967 Blanchet graduate who also spent 32 years with the school’s football program, 21 as head coach, and was athletic director for 22 years. “I don’t think you can get the most out of your players unless you can have some fun doing it. That’s the way we look at it here, just have some fun, out-work everybody and get better each day.”
The Braves, who haven’t suffered a losing season since 1981, have won 11 Metro titles and 18 state appearances under Monica, a U.S. history and physical education teacher who was an assistant coach for one season before taking over the baseball program. They won the 3A state title in 1996.
“Every time you play him, it’s always a competitive game,” said Velko Vitalich, in his 26th year as West Seattle’s head coach. “His teams are always ready to play.”
Chris Sheehan, a 1987 graduate who went on to pitch at WSU and in the Kansas City Royals system for five years, still calls Monica “Coach” and is one of many former players who stays in contact with him.
“It’s a true testament to him and the way he touched multiple people in a positive way,” Sheehan said.
Both he and Rocky Ruddy, a 1988 grad who later spent 18 seasons as an assistant coach, laugh about the unforgettable look they got when they blew a bunt.
“We just call it ‘The Stare,’ ” Ruddy said, adding that the Blanchet baseball program has become an extended family.
One of Monica’s favorite pictures is one of him in the third-base coach’s box with his late mother, Maureen, in what was her regular seat behind him in the stands.
“My mom was my biggest fan,” he said, tearing up.
Monica said coaching with his son, Sean, has been a highlight of his career. Sean Monica, now athletic director at Kamiak High School, was one of his assistants in baseball from 1998 to 2003 and also was on his football staff for 11 seasons.
For George Monica, who also has two daughters and three step-children, the game is not about the wins and losses, but those he shares them with.
“What comes to mind more than anything else is all the great kids that we’ve had come through the program and all the great coaches who have assisted me,” he said. “The kids and the coaches are the ones I remember.”
Paulter wins 400th
• Seattle Prep coach Ed Paulter also checked off a career accomplishment recently: Paulter won his 400th career game on Thursday when the Panthers beat Jackson, 4-2. Paulter became Prep’s head coach in 1985. He has compiled a record of 400-184 while leading the program to five Metro League titles.
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