'Without baseball I don't know where my life would be right now': Sport so much more for new Honkers' skipper
For Andrew Urbistondo and his family, baseball became a way to thrive in a difficult community in Stockton, Calif.
Baseball has always been so much more than just a game for Rochester Honkers’ first-year manager Andrew Urbistondo.
From his hometown of Stockton, Calif., which witnesses more violent crime and gang violence than any other metro area in California, baseball has grown into a way of life for Urbistondo and his family.
When he was a boy, his grandmother would drop him and his brothers off to watch the last two innings of the Stockton Ports’ games. After the seventh inning, those Oakland A's Class A-affiliate games were free. For Urbistondo, baseball was played before school, during school recess and after school with his father, who combined with his wife/Andrew’s mother to provide a stable home for their sons — something that shouldn’t be undersold in Stockton.
“There’s gang violence and you never know if it's fireworks or gunshots,” the 26-year-old Urbistondo said. “You hear sirens throughout the night. But it just kind of ends up being our reality here. But I mean, first and foremost, my dad and my parents always made sure we were taken care of. We never had super impoverished houses or anything like that. We were always taken care of. But man, if you go around here, there's some places in town that are tough.
“A lot of kids get dealt with a very tough situation at a young age and it's just kind of their life.”
Urbistondo saw plenty of classmates and others struggle to get out of those situations. He did his best to recruit players to his little-league teams, asking his father — the coach — to add players regularly.
“I would come home and tell Dad, ‘Hey, I have a friend who looks like he might be getting into some trouble, can we put them on the team?’ ” Urbistondo recalled. “It was just, it was really cool to have an outlet like baseball, because a lot of kids go through a lot of things at a younger age who may not realize it, but baseball was always kind of one of our things we just always did.
“Honestly, without baseball, I'm not sure where my life would be right now.”
Urbistondo became a standout middle infielder at Stagg High School before a two-year baseball stint at Stockton’s own San Joaquin Delta College. From there, he earned a scholarship to NAIA-Bryant University in Dayton, Tenn., hitting .350 his senior year.
After his eligibility was up, Urbistondo stayed at Bryant as a graduate assistant coach where they paid for his postgraduate studies, Urbistondo earning a masters degree in business administration with an emphasis in sport management. He left Bryant with his second degree, thanks in part, to baseball.
“To be able to get a scholarship and go get educated on the school's dime, being able to save money for my family, that was a huge deal,” Urbistondo said. “So baseball is huge, especially in a community like Stockton.”
Urbistondo always figured the opportunity to coach would be in his back pocket as he went to school to be an athletic trainer. But that season at Bryant, he fell in love with coaching.
That included him making scouting reports, the spray charts, getting into the weight room with the guys, hitting ground balls and seemingly every task in between. If it involved baseball, Urbistondo was going to find a way.
“When I got that first opportunity, it just kind of brought it all full circle,” Urbistondo said. “I just said, 'You know, I can’t live life without baseball, so how can I make a living doing it?' ”
He soon found himself coaching in the NorCal Baseball Organization and the Western Canadian Baseball League that has produced the likes of John Axford and Andrelton Simmons. He made his way back to Stockton where he joined his alma-mater of Delta College in 2018 as an assistant. He’s been a vital piece for them, as hitting instructor, and third base and infield coach for a program that is one of the best in California.
His ability to work with and connect with players is what separates him, Urbistondo using his own experience as a JUCO and NAIA player to get the most out of his guys. In fact, one of his former players and 2021 Honker Carson Stevens actually recommended Urbistondo to the Honkers when the time came to find a new manager.
It was an easy decision for the Honkers’ brass.
Nobody is more willing to tackle baseball's grind than Urbistondo. And with the Northwoods League being arguably the ultimate grind with 72 games in 78 days, he and the Honkers seem a perfect match. Urbistondo is just eager for another opportunity, which starts at 6:35 p.m. Monday when the Honkers host Willmar.
“I'm very, very appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to be the Honkers’ manager,” Urbistondo said. “I'm going to do my absolute best to represent the city of Rochester and the organization as best I can. My motto is, 'We're out here to win, win a lot of baseball games, but at the same time, we're growing together.' We're growing individually. We're becoming better men on the field and off of it as well.”
• This season is a big opportunity for the Northwoods League in general. The league announced on Thursday a streaming partnership with ESPN+ that will stream select games each day of the 2022 season.
The Honkers' first game on ESPN+ is Wednesday, when they take on the Bismarck Larks.