Longtime Santa Barbara High varsity baseball coach Fred Warrecker will never forget the ear-to-ear smile that was always on the face of Simon Chavez.
“You’d look at him and he was smiling or laughing,” Warrecker said of Chavez. “That’s just the way he was, he had a sunny disposition; just a good kid to be around here. He was never in a bad mood, or down. He’d say during a game, ‘Something good is going to happen in a minute, just wait.’”
Chavez was just 22 when died on Jan. 15. He was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Highway 101.
Presidio Sports is honoring Chavez as its Sports Figure of the Month.
Chavez was a special young man. He was working three jobs while finishing up his courses at SBCC to transfer to Cal State Channel Islands. He wanted to be a teacher and a baseball coach.
“He was always going to school and working,” said Warrecker. “It was hard on him, but he did it all the time.”
When he wasn’t in a classroom or at work, Chavez could be found at Eddie Mathews Field, coaching the freshman and junior varsity baseball players at his alma mater.
Chavez had a great passion for baseball. After graduating from SBHS in 2008, he stayed in the baseball program as a coach. He coached Santa Barbara’s JV and freshman club teams during the offseason and was given the responsibility of guiding the JV team for the regular season.
“He was a really good kid,” Warrecker said.
Coach Bill Oliphant, who cut Chavez during his freshman year, said Chavez overcame the disappointment, worked hard and made the JV team as a sophomore.
“I can still remember how mad his father was at me for cutting him in 9th grade,” Oliphant recalled. “He played for me in the summer. He worked so very hard to get better and damn if he didn’t. He came back his sophomore year and was the starting second baseman on the JV team. From there, he worked very hard and his last two years he played on the varsity.”
The Dons were loaded with talented infielders during Chavez’s junior and senior years. But that didn’t discourage Chavez. It motivated him to learn how to play every position on the field. He was an invaluable member of the team.
“He was the kind of kid who could play any position,” Warrecker said. “He pitched, he caught and he could play any position in the infield. He was really a utilityman, so he really knew how to play the whole game.
“It was really natural for him when he got out of high school to start coaching. He knew how to coach because he could play all the positions.”
Said Oliphant: “It was as if he had never left. He would be at practice the first day of school and coached our frosh and JV club teams, even though it didn’t pay a dime.”
The coaching staff had so much confidence and trust in him that they made him the Dons’ JV coach in the spring of 2009.
“He was here (at the ballfield) every day for probably eight years,” Warrecker said.
Chavez talked to Warrecker and Oliphant about coaching tips and his future.
“I sat across the aisle on many a bus rides talking with him about his dreams and goals,” Oliphant said. “He told me he just wanted to be a coach. He was so focused and driven for such a young man. One of our last conversations was about getting through CC and transferring to Cal State Channel Islands, getting his degree and teaching credential.
“He said that he would have to put coaching at SBHS on hold for a while as he needed to work to pay for school. I told him that there would always be a job at SBHS for him when he finished his schooling.”
Chavez dropped by Eddie Mathews Field in August for a visit and ended up staying a while to hit some balls.
He just loved the game and being around the ballplayers.
“He was just a great kid and worked so very hard to accomplish so much in his short life,” Oliphant siad. “Even before his death, I would point Simon out to the freshmen and tell them of his story and how much he did for our school, and his loving family.
“Hundreds of people turned out on a cold, rainy day to say goodbye to such a wonderful giving person.”
A service at Our Lady of Sorrows Church brought together family, friends and community members to say good bye in January. On February 26, his parents will be throwing out the first pitch at the Dons’ season opener at Eddie Mathews Field to honor Simon’s memory.
Many others posted tributes to Chavez on his Facebook page.
He will be missed, but Santa Barbara baseball will never forget Chavez’s smile and positive attitude.
“There was never a frown. That’s just how he was,” said Warrecker.
“Somehow those bus rides just won’t be the same without him,” said Oliphant. “I learned a lot from him and I try to pass it along each day to our younger players.”
Each Month, Presidio Sports recognizes a local sports figure for their extraordinary contribution to the Santa Barbara athletic community.
It is our way to recognize those who are making a lasting impact in the sports community, whether it is an outstanding athletic performance, a lifetime achievement award, or perhaps a great example of leadership.
This award is made possible by American Riviera Bank.
Find the complete catalogue of Santa Barbara Sports Figures of the Month HERE.