Tom Myers was not a psychic.
He wasn't into reading fortunes either.
But those skills weren't required to foretell how high Barry Zito could elevate his game when he was just a sophomore at the University of California Santa Barbara.
"You could tell right away that he was an exceptional talent. At that point in time, his fastball and curveball was tops of anybody on our pitching staff and we knew we had somebody special," said Myers, who was in his rookie season as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator with the Gauchos back in 1998. "Being left-handed and what he possessed at that time, we knew he had a bright future, never knowing he would be a Cy Young (winner).
"You can't predict that kind of stuff," he added. "But I had a feeling that he was going to make it."
Make it he did.
Zito went on to win 102 games in seven seasons as a member of the Oakland Athletics, including a 23-5 campaign in 2002 when he won the Cy Young Award, before eventually signing a record seven-year, $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants prior to the 2007 season.
Now, Myers is trying to make it, too.
Following the departure of newly named Peninsula Oilers manager Brian Hickman, Myers was recently selected as the 23rd coach in Oilers history, accepting the position for the upcoming Alaska Baseball League season.
"I know the prestige of the Alaska league and the reputation of the organization. That was something I wanted to be a part of," he said. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity. It will be a great opportunity for me to work with a class organization."
Hickman, who had served as an Oilers' assistant in 2004 under former coach Aric Thomas and then again in 2006 beneath Thad Johnson, when he ran the offense and coached third base as the Oilers won the ABL championship, resigned a month after accepting the job to take a scouting post with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Maltby was disappointed in Hickman's departure, yet understood the circumstances.
"It was disappointing to me, having had conversations with him, but I know his situation. He's got a young family, he's a volunteer coach ... I can't blame him for what he did," Maltby said. "I'd rather have gotten the notice now ... than May or June."
Myers said he became aware of the coaching vacancy through a discussion with Hickman regarding one of his UCSB players coming to play for the Oilers.
So he called Maltby, who was familiar with Myers from past summer ball dealings, including UCSB pitchers Matt Wade and Mario Hollands, members of the 2006 Peninsula Oilers, and the process was set in motion.
"Every guy he's ever sent us, looking at talent, being able to judge talent, it's a good skill that he's got, looking at players we have received from him," Maltby explained. "His resume was nine times better than a lot of the guys that applied for the job. Recommendations, those words speak loud. So, he had some good references, too."
In his first head coaching stint, Myers will attempt to lead the Oilers back to ABL prominence after they slipped to 17-18 in the league last season. They still traveled to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., though, after the top two ABL teams declined invitations.
He even has his sights set on winning the World Series, something the Oilers haven't done since 1994. They also won in 1977 and 1993.
"I already have sent out a letter to all the players saying our goal is to win the Alaska league and then shoot for winning the national championship," said Myers, who someday hopes to become a manager of a Division I program. "Those are lofty goals, but you might as well set them high."
Myers was an All-Big West selection as a member of the 1991 UC Santa Barbara baseball team, his only season a Gaucho, when he won 10 games with three saves in 24 appearances. He spent his senior season at UCSB after playing two seasons at San Jose City College and one year at the University of Arizona.
Following his successful campaign as a Gaucho, Myers was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 1991 first-year amateur draft, subsequently spending five and a half seasons playing professional ball for the A's, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals.
Despite peaking at Double A, Myers said he has fond memories of his playing days, including spring training in 1995 with the St. Louis Cardinals when former Yankees and current Dodgers skipper Joe Torre was amidst his final year at the helm.
"The history of the team was in the clubhouse everyday with Bob Gibson ... big leaguers that just walked in and out of the place," he said. "It was great to be a part of."
In 1997, he began his coaching career at Porterville Junior College (Calif.) before serving as a player-coach in the Dutch Professional League in Haarlem, Holland, in 1998 and then as an envoy coach in 1999 for Major League Baseball International in Wavre, Belgium.
Myers spent four seasons (1998-2001) as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for UC Santa Barbara before leaving to become the pitching coach of the Santa Clara Broncos from 2002-04.
He returned to his previous duties with the Gauchos in 2005 until the present, became the pitching coach for the Santa Barbara Foresters summer league team last year and will resume his positions with UCSB following the 2008 ABL season.
Maltby is obviously well aware of Myers' pitching background, as he worked with 22 pitchers in his tenure at UCSB who have signed with professional organizations, but he believes Myers will make a solid manager with the assistance of pitching coach Dennis Machado and assistant coach Daniel Boyle, who returns after taking over the managerial duties last season when Thomas stepped down for personal reasons shortly after the season began.
"This is Tom's opportunity to be a head coach. We want him to concentrate solely on the head duties," Maltby said. "He's older than our assistant coaches, so he'll be able to help those guys. He's older, he's got a little bit more maturity."
The only drawback, however, a rather ironic one considering Myers' duties as a recruiting coordinator for seven seasons, is the team was handpicked by Maltby and Hickman before Hickman eventually resigned.
Myers, who's never traveled to Alaska, trusts their decisions.
"It's just like last year with the Foresters. I had to basically learn those guys on the fly and make the best of what you have," he said. "I'm trusting that Hickman recruited a quality group of guys. I'm looking for quality individuals and I think their talent will come out if they work hard and play hard.
"Summer league is about development and winning is a part of that development," Myers added. "We want these guys to excel for the Oilers, go back for their college teams and make the most out of their college careers so they can become professionals, and successful ones."
Maltby believes Myers can handle it.
"The guys that we do lose to the draft or to injury or to school," he said, "I'm confident that Tom's got the connections to get the same quality guy, if not better, than what we had at that position."
Hollands, a key member of last season's Oilers' squad who went 3-1 with a 3.47 ERA, 25 strikeouts and 13 walks, redshirted as a freshman last year for Myers at UC Santa Barbara.
Unfortunately, ABL rules dictate a summer league player can't play for a paid assistant who coaches him in college. Otherwise, Myers would love to have Hollands back, although he said he's already committed to playing in the Cape Cod League this summer.
"I wish I could coach my own guys," he said. "He'd be a fine asset to the organization."
He even sees a little of Florida Marlins' lefty Dontrelle Willis in Hollands.
And if Myers' keen eye for talent, which includes recruiting New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes, has anything to say about it, he's probably right.
"I think Mario Hollands ... has got a chance to be a major leaguer," he said. "He's got a great future ahead of him. If health stays in his favor, and good fortune of course, he's got the makings, being 6-foot-5 and left-handed. I hope my fortune-telling pays off."
So does Maltby.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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