January has become the month for nostalgia and the ballpark.
Following the College of the Canyons Alumni Softball Game a week ago, Hart held an alumni baseball game of its own. However, their reunion has been established much longer and is played on a yearly basis as opposed to COC’s five-year rotation.
The event took place at 11 a.m. at the Hart Baseball Field at Hart High School on Sunday. Before the game, boosters and staff of the Hart baseball team introduced the 2020 rosters for the frosh, junior varsity and varsity squads. They also honored the newest members of the Wall of Fame.
“It’s a fantastic community event,” said John Dow, president of the Hart Dugout Club. “There’s a lot of Hart alumni in our community. We had really great participation from Hart alumni in the Santa Clarita community.”
This year, Hart inducted former first baseman Aaron Dean and former team physician Dr. Jeff Bowne.
“It’s a great feeling,” Dean said. “It’s something I thought wasn’t a big deal to me as much, you know, being later in life, but it is important because this program is special. I feel it’s shaped me and my character and taken me on this successful career and helped with my leadership so I really respect the program.”
Dean graduated from Hart in 1994. He then continued his baseball career at Lamar University in Texas before getting drafted by the Dodgers in 1997. However, a major injury in his third year caused him to consider settling down. Since then, he has spent 20 years in the construction equipment industry, mostly at United Rentals.
He now resides in Temecula with his wife, Kimberly.
Bowne was a native to Washington, not an alumnus of Hart. He played baseball at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington and had a short stint in Minor League Baseball, as well.
His connection to Hart was through a sports medicine role. For many years he spent time as a team physician and now he works out of his own practice in Valencia.
“His ability to get guys back onto the field in inspirational,” said Hart head baseball coach Jim Ozella. “We have a number of guys who are physical therapists now and athletic trainers because Jeff was a positive influence in their life. They were inspired by him.”
The event was created to be a fun way for the alumni to come back and relive their days as Hart baseball players. The event even featured a photo booth for players to take pictures alongside their former teammates.
The alumni game has become an important part of the community, adding to the rich histories at Hart High School and in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Big names have come out of Hart Baseball including two pitchers who played against each other in the 2016 World Series; Trevor Bauer for the Cleveland Indians and Mike Montgomery for the Chicago Cubs.
The event is so important to the community that attendance numbers have been growing over the years. A large part of this is due to more effective scheduling by Ozella and Dow. They chose to move the game up to an earlier date.
“It used to be later in the year,” Dow said. “As a result, it was a little challenging for some of our alumni players to get back because they had college or MLB commitments.”
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The decision to switch dates was made three years ago. The game now takes place on what Dow calls a ‘non-football Sunday’. The Hart Dugout Club chose to make the change because it is before college baseball and MLB Spring Training starts up again.
Since the change, attendance has slowly risen each year and the event hit a new record attendance again this year.
“It’s fantastic to have the alumni be able to come back and attend,” Dow said. “There’s nothing competing. College baseball hasn’t started yet. Spring MLB hasn’t started yet. As a result, more alumni players are available to come back and participate.”
No current MLB players were able to make it to the event, but it still went off without a hitch. Many former Indians who played at the next level returned and instilled wisdom into the current team. More than thirty former players attended.
“Those guys come back and they help motivate, they help mentor,” Ozella said. “The alumni game is good for our guys to take a look and see there was a time these guys were in high school. It gives our kids inspiration.”
Other than former players, former head coach Bud Murray made an appearance, too.
The event concluded with a three-inning game. With a nine-man rotation, all alumni in attendance got an opportunity to hit and field within the three-inning slot.
The date for next year’s Hart Alumni Baseball Game is already set for Jan. 31, 2021. Ozella and the Hart Dugout Club hope to continue improving what they have built and look forward to outdoing themselves next year.
“I think that obviously being able to have a game at a time when the colleges and the MLB guys are available is an important factor,” Dow said. “It’s also a consistent date. It’s the same Sunday every year. Those factors are contributing to increased participation. The alumni are loving it.”