Before the first game, against the team from South Weber, Breitweiser lined up the players to stretch in unison. They were decked out in matching gray pants and green South Ogden A’s tops. While other teams in the league were happy for their players to have one weekly practice, the A’s had gone through an intensive baseball boot camp, practicing every other day for three weeks.
Luke, an undersized left fielder who wore glasses that were slightly too large for his face, learned not to sprint in the opposite direction of the ball. Corbin, the first baseman, stopped ducking every time a pitch was thrown. Gradually, the A’s worked up to the basics.
For help, Breitweiser had taken on two parents as assistant coaches—Jordan Coffey, tall and spindly, with a quiet demeanor, and his best friend, Jason Muchmore, stout, fast-talking, and covered in tattoos. The pair met when a teacher placed them side by side in junior high, and they’d been inseparable ever since. They now worked as electricians in the same office at Hill Air Force Base. The season before, Coffey and Muchmore had coached a team that included their sons, but, Coffey says, “It didn’t go well. We don’t know anything about baseball.”
Over time, the team improved significantly. On the last day of boot camp, Breitweiser lined up the players in the same formation as the first practice—two rows of kids facing one another—and had them toss the ball back-and-forth. No one dropped it. Breitweiser saw a glimmer of hope.
Against South Weber, he chose his shortest player, Brandon, as his starting pitcher. Painfully quiet, he had the best arm on the team, but Breitweiser had also noticed that he threw a bit like his own son. That seemed like a good omen. After three batters, though, Brandon had walked the bases loaded.
“Time!” Breitweiser yelled to the umpire and walked to the mound. “Are you OK?” he asked his pitcher.
Brandon looked at his father, Jorge Bocaranda, who—along with his wife, Yamileth—was sitting in a lawn chair down the right field foul line, far away from the rest of the parents. Bocaranda had grown up around the game in Venezuela and perhaps knew more about baseball than anyone else at the field that day, but he didn’t like to be near adults he didn’t know.
Twenty-five years earlier, he immigrated to Utah after coming for a short visit. He was so struck by the state’s beauty that he never left. Then, a few years later, while out one evening in Salt Lake City, he was assaulted. The experience scarred him. He moved his family to South Ogden, an economically diverse area, but in their part of town, they were the only Latino household. As Brandon grew, he inherited his father’s love of baseball, but also his resilience.
Breitweiser kicked the dirt off the rubber, and Brandon retook the mound. Then he fired a strike, and then another, and another. He struck out three straight batters.
In the bottom half of the inning, the A’s knocked the ball all over the field and eventually won, 7–3. The players did a victory lap around the bases, culminating with a team slide at home plate.
The next game, the A’s won a thriller, 7–6, followed by a 9–0 shutout. By the fourth game, cousins and grandparents of the players were in the bleachers, Coffey says. Breitweiser’s sisters and parents, too. Breitweiser estimates the A’s would have as many as 50 people coming to games.
“Winning was so awesome,” he says.
The assistant coaches became more involved. Bocaranda inched closer and closer to the dugout until Breitweiser handed him a jersey and made him an unofficial third assistant coach.
At work, Muchmore and Coffey couldn’t stop talking about baseball. They’d debate the team’s ideal pitching matchups, or who should bat leadoff. If they were confused about any aspects of the game, like how to hit a cut-off man, they’d pull up how-to baseball videos at their desk. Their favorite pastime, however, was guessing the backstory of Breitweiser, a man who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. By now, they trusted him, but they were still curious about their initial meeting. Breitweiser told them he decided to coach because he had some free time and then cryptically said he would “explain the rest later.”
“Think he won the lottery?” Muchmore asked Coffey. “Is that why he has so much time to coach?”