When Pat Fuentes stepped down as an assistant softball coach for Dustin Caropreso at Los Banos High last fall to take over the school’s baseball program, he left an open spot on Caropreso’s staff.
Caropreso asked the same person he’d asked several times before to join his staff – the most experienced guy he could think of – and this time his dad, Gary Caropreso, agreed to be an assistant coach for his son.
“Some of the girls approached me, knowing of my dad coaching before,” Dustin said. “I don’t think they knew him as a coach, but they knew his background in coaching. ... I can’t take full credit for it. I have to say the girls are the ones who forced the issue. I think that put more pressure on him to say yes than me asking him.”
The players’ move worked.
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“It was easier to say no to him when it was just him,” Gary said.
The elder Caropreso coached the Los Banos High softball team from about 1982 to 1995, winning a section title in 1985. He also was a defensive football coach for the Tigers, and was the school’s athletic director from 1992 until the end of the 2009-10 school year. He said while some things have changed in softball, a lot has stayed the same.
“When we were successful it was more of the pitchers that did a lot of spot pitching and control than trying to throw it by people,” Gary said. “And I think the game, if you watch a lot of the college games, it’s gone back to a lot more spot pitching. The girls have caught up with the pitching since they moved it back and the ball’s gotten heavier.
“With softball, so much of the fundamentals are the same, it took me probably a couple of weeks to understand what he wanted and what he was getting across. I picked up a lot of things from him that we didn’t use, and I think the girls picked up some of the things that I taught them that they didn’t have ideas about.”
Gary and Dustin aren’t the only family members to coach the Tigers. Dustin took over the program two years ago after his sister, Amy Pikas, stepped down.
Gary, along with fellow assistant Glenn Branco, provided the team’s old-school voice, always whispering in Dustin’s ear about bunting. Dustin, along with 2008 LBHS graduate Sierrah Garcia, made up the more youthful side of the coaching staff.
Dustin recalled his first coaching gig heading up the Tigers’ junior-varsity baseball team while he was finishing up college classes. If there was a game he knew he would miss for a class, Gary stepped in for him, ready to signal for a bunt as soon as a runner was on base – common practice in softball, but not one the baseball players were used to.
“They used to label it playing small ball, and you hear it now more, but it was funny, because that’s how he preaches it,” Dustin said. “I do it a little bit. I don’t do it as much as we need to. My background’s more baseball. That’s a tough one for me to learn, but we try to stress that to our girls, but that’s more of his thing.”
Whether or not the approach worked, the Tigers took second in the Western Athletic Conference this spring, exiting the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs with a first-round loss to Oakdale.
While having to answer to one’s son may be an odd development for a father, it didn’t take long for Gary to adjust. There was a moment of levity at the beginning of the season when he was late to a practice and Dustin joked about putting a stop to that.
“I remember telling him when I asked him to coach, ‘If you and Mom have something going on, don’t feel you’re obligated to be here,’” Dustin said. “Well, the guy hasn’t missed, because he feels if you’re going to do something, you do the whole thing or not at all. That’s what you look for in coaches is that commitment, and he’s been there. I knew what I was getting out of him.”
But what happens at practice and in games stays there – the Caropresos don’t rehash incidents over the dinner table, just as they didn’t when Dustin played for Gary on the LBHS football team in the early 1990s. It’s a lesson Gary says he took from longtime LBHS football coach Don Toscano.
“I think that helped our relationship compared to some parents and some coaches that, after the game they’ll go home and tell their kid they did this wrong or did that wrong,” Gary said. “You coach them on the field, he’s your player. You go home, he’s your son, or she’s your daughter. You don’t talk softball, you don’t talk football.
“And I took the same thing here, we leave a game, we’ll talk a little bit, but at night if we see one another, we don’t talk about the game. It’s over with.”