The sight of Lou Souza sitting on a bucket near the front of the dugout, pencil tucked inside his cap, gives you hope. Inspires confidence.
After all, this was the man who helped guide the Merced baseball team to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title in 2002 -- after an 8-10 start.
"We're excited he's back," Merced shortstop Tynan Pedretti said.
"When he stepped down after my freshman year, I was pretty bummed. He's a great coach, and I wanted to play for him.
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"Now I get to."
But to know Souza -- to fully understand the man behind the mustache and polarized lenses -- is to hear him speak, analyze and inspire.
Souza is the all-time king of one-liners, jokes, useless trivia and odd baseball comparisons.
The owner and creative force behind a growing list of Souza-isms.
"It keeps everything loose," senior pitcher Alex Alvira said. "Keeps everyone laughing.
"One morning, we were all in the weight room and he came and went 0 for 4. He tried four jokes on us and whiffed on all four."
And yet, eventually they all make sense. Even the bad ones. Like his bit about Patrick Swayze, the movie "Roadhouse" and wrestler Joel Rodas.
It's Souza's way.
Some coaches yell and scream until they're red in the face. Others will sit and stew, managing their frustrations with a tight lip.
And then there's Souza -- part standup, part Plato, part Riddler.
"I'm a Gatorade man.
... I'm not buying what you're selling."
ALMOST SEVEN years ago to the day, Merced sat in the dugout before practice, beaten and confused, reeling after a 9-0 loss to Manteca Sierra the day before.
At 8-10, Merced was searching for its identity. Something to latch onto, something to shoot for.
Souza quenched their thirst, stepping onto the diamond with a sports drink label in each hand.
What's in you?
"I'm a Gatorade man, myself. I've been a Gatorade man my whole life," Souza said holding up the label.
"I tried Powerade once and didn't like it.
"You're playing Powerade baseball -- and I don't buy it. I'm not buying what you're selling. Now, if you play Gatorade baseball...
"I'll buy that."
They did, winning the Division I section title.
And Souza got his celebration shower.
Gatorade, of course.
DID YOU say, "Deliver it like a Valentine?"
"Oh, no, I think you're talking about Karen Valentine," Merced assistant coach and former player Joel Pedretti said.
"He's been saying that one forever. No one gets it except for him. I didn't even understand it until he explained it."
So who is Lady Luck?
An old girlfriend?
The second cousin of Cupid?
Turns out, she's an old actress who starred in the 1970s show "Room 222" and had a recurring role in "The Love Boat."
Apparently, Souza was a fan, because he'll whisper her name once or twice every game, when an inning reaches a two-ball, two-strike, two-out count.
Two. Two. Two.
"I've seen better..."
SOUZA CONJURES an analogy or comparison for just about every baseball situation, player and coach.
When Merced is performing seal stretches before a game: "C'mon, I've seen better seals in Monterey."
When Merced has produced a string of ugly at-bats: "Hey, I've seen better swings at a circus."
When Joel Pedretti was a two-sport star at Merced: "He called me Gordy Lockbaum, some Division II guy who played football and baseball. I looked at him like, 'Who?'
"He said 'Go look him up, that's who you are.' For the rest of my career I was Gordy Lockbaum."
Senior leadoff hitter Aaron Yescas: Souza gave the small second baseman a baseball card of Freddy Patek, one of the shortest players in MLB history.
Guys with five-day stubble on their face: "Nice Apache beard. A patchy here. A patchy there."
When a tunnel cloud touches down, tossing you around the batting cages with 30 mph winds: "I can see a break in the clouds."
On the three phases of a baseball season: "Preseason is like a snack. The regular season is dinner and the playoffs like a dessert. If you can't finish dinner, you don't get any dessert."
And finally, the four things you can do with a baseball: "Hit it, throw it, field it. ... Throw it."
"YOU NEVER know what you're going to get from him," Joel Pedretti said. "But you listen, because you want to see where he's going with it.
"Because you know he's going to get you going in the right direction."
Got a Souza-ism you'd like to share? E-mail sports editor James Burns at email@example.com.