On August 31, 2018, College of the Canyons head baseball coach Chris Cota was announced as the inaugural manager of the Ridgefield Raptors, the newest team in the West Coast League.
Tomorrow, he’ll embark on his journey to the Pacific Northwest where he will coach in one of the most renowned collegiate summer baseball leagues in the country.
Cota got the gig through the help of his friend and former teammate at Canyons, Orlando Cepeda Jr. and his brother Ali Cepeda, sons of Hall of Fame MLB player Orlando Cepeda.
The Cougars coach was in the Dominican Republic in 2017 coaching a 14-under team in the Cepeda Carribean Classic, when he was introduced to Wade Siegel.
“I just so happened to be down in the Dominican with Orlando Jr.’s brother Ali Cepeda and I met Wade his friend,” Cota said. “It turns out that a year later Wade ended up purchasing this team up there. Him and Tony Bonacci are co-owners of the team and they went on a search for a coach and called me and asked if I would be interested.
“They flew me up there to see the facility and the town, it’s beautiful up there in the Pacific Northwest. It was a no-brainer.”
The West Coast League features 12 teams throughout Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, comprised of college players from across the country who compete from the beginning of June until mid-August.
One of the main goals of the West Coast League is to help prepare young players in pursuit of a professional baseball career by replicating a professional schedule and gameplay, including the use of wooden bats.
The Raptors play a rigorous schedule of over 60 games, including a stretch of 20 games in 21 days.
“It’s kind of like a minor league team, you get meal money on the road, you have host families,” Cota said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to learn about being away from home, playing a schedule like this which if they get into professional baseball, it’s exactly what it’s going to be like.”
As the team manager, Cota is in charge of recruiting players to the squad with the help of general manager Gus Farah and operations manager Jason Krohn.
Cota, who in addition to playing at College of the Canyons in the mid-80’s, also played in the professional ranks for four seasons with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels organizations. The friendships and connections he built over the years aided him in bringing in players to the Raptors.
“It’s been a process getting a team together. They left it up to me and Jason Krohn and our GM Gus Farah who have been great. Jason is really tied in with some coaches in the Pacific Northwest so he was able to help get some players from Gonzaga and Boise State and Washington State,” Cota said. “I just went out and started calling my friends from Grand Canyon, Kansas State, Cal State Fullerton, Santa Barbara, University of San Diego, Cal Poly.
“They know what kind of baseball it is, they like sending their kids to the West Coast League.”
While Cota is going to do his best to help guide his team to the championship series in its first season, he knows the experience of summer baseball goes beyond wins and losses.
He’s been out of professional baseball for almost three decades, but still keeps in touch with teammates and friends, reminiscing about the dog days of summer.
“Wins and losses are important and I’m sure the Ridgefield fans are going to want to see a winning program and I’m sure the owners on the business side of things want to win ball games, but I want my guys to have a great experience in summer ball,” he said. “Coming together as a team because they are truly going to become lifelong friends.
“I’ve been out of professional baseball for 28 years now and you still talk about your summer team days. These guys will become friends and stay in contact forever which is a huge plus for them.”
Ridgefield plays its first game of the season in a road contest against the Cowlitz Black Bears on Sunday. The Raptors then embark on a 17-game stretch in 19 days.