Retired San Gorgonio High baseball coach Bill Eatinger had just returned from the wedding of a long-ago player, slipping a bit from any perceived tough coaching exterior.
He’s already stepped aside as coach.
“Those kinds of relationships,” he noted, “is one reason you go into coaching.”
Ryan Porter, known more for a pro football career, was that former Eatinger player. Said Eatinger: “He was a JV player for me. Ryan’s gone through a lot since he graduated.”
San G’s 24-year head coach made it clear that he’s not just connected to former star players, all-leaguers or All-CIF stars ⎯ he’s not. The 60-year-old ex-coach was just a one-year varsity player in his own right.
“I’ve been to 20, 30 weddings. I’ve been invited to birthday parties, some parties of kids that were former players of mine. I’ve been to college graduations.”
Not that he’s forgetting those big games.
Back in the days when city rival Cajon was in the San Andreas League with San G, the Spartans knocked off the No. 1-ranked Cowboys.
“They had [Chris] Shafer and [Aaron] Brooks,” said Eatinger, “who were a couple of future pros. We tied [Cajon] for the SAL title. I still give [former coach] Jon [Austin, now at Citrus Valley] a hard time about that.”
San G gave Corona Centennial future pro Mike Stodolka a hard time back in 1999.
Eatinger led the Spartans up against Santa Monica High in a 2009 showdown. Angels’ No. 1 draft pick Tyler Skaggs, who died last year, was on that team.
“We didn’t beat them,” said Eatinger, “but they lost in the next round with Skaggs on the mound.”
They knocked off longtime powerhouse Yucaipa, ranked No. 1 during another SAL blowout, “gave them their only league loss.”
In 24 seasons, there are probably too many memories to recall.
It was in 2010 that Eatinger had “arguably, the best team I’ve ever had.”
CIF Division 3 Player of the Year Adam Quintana, a pitcher-infielder, along outfielder Andy Crowley ⎯ who recently got married ⎯ led the Spartans on a 24-5 season and a semifinals run into the playoffs.
“Crowley led the CIF in runs scored and Quintana led the CIF in RBIs.”
What drove Eatinger, 60, into early retirement ⎯ by a year, or two, perhaps ⎯ is that online education process adopted by area schools in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Distance learning isn’t working,” said Eatinger, “but I don’t know what the answer is.”
Eatinger could circle the base paths numerous times in lining up negative vibes that surround coaching on his campus.
“Keep it positive,” noted the Spartans’ coach who showed up as an assistant coach for Jack Boyne in 1991 after coaching Aquinas High from 1986-90.
“I took the job in 1996. John Powell, the athletic director at the time, wanted to clean up the baseball program. We had some major discipline problems.”
Discipline was essential, he said. Over the years, Eatinger has had to deal with players not showing up for practice, or even games, plus other details like failing to make grades.
“That doesn’t cover all the positive experiences I had with a lot of kids,” he said.
Eatinger’s a San G alum in his own right, graduating in 1978 ⎯ one season after the Spartans’ Miner Miracle, a reference to the CIF championship won behind pitcher Tim Miner and Dennis Rogers, a young coach who was embarking on a brilliant career.
“I didn’t play on that  team,” said Eatinger. “I was a one-year [varsity] letterman.”
Graduating from Chico State, getting his teaching credentials from Cal State San Bernardino, Eatinger turned San G into a quiet force ⎯ no CIF championships, but plenty of firepower along the way.
“Being around kids, it keeps you young,” he said, noting that all that baseball sunlight has taken its toll in the form of various skin disorders that also contributed to his retirement.
“The baseball field was my sanctuary.”
Eatinger’s roster sizes were generally small ⎯ 12 to 15 players on varsity ⎯ but he rarely cut kids.
“I tried to work through problems.”
Serving at a school not exactly on any ballplayers’ transfer-to-San-G list, Eatinger cracked, “I refused to recruit. I had to recruit my own kids from leaving. Getting incoming transfers? I didn’t want to coach someone else’s kids.”
Eatinger lost his share of ballplayers to area programs, including Redlands East Valley, among others.
“When Citrus Valley opened, that really killed us. We didn’t lose them to transfers. We were losing kids as freshmen.”
It didn’t help, either, that nearby Indian Springs High School opened a few years back.
Eatinger admitted he was working with a different clientele in a completely opposite environment from, say, Redlands or Yucaipa.
He’d coach three seasons alone in a calendar year ⎯ regular spring schedule, plus fall ball and, over the years, summer ball ⎯ which tripled his involvement.
“I’d be down at the field on Saturdays, mowing the infield,” he said.
There are two daughters ⎯ both back east ⎯ and an ex-wife in Texas.
“I missed [one of my daughter’s] wedding in Maryland because of COVID. I had to watch it online.”
That line between family and team was sometimes blurred, he said.
Dozens of ballplayers wore Spartans’ colors. Travel ball, sorting through vacations, local all-stars, while some players had jobs was all part of picking from a group of players to form a roster.
Coaching isn’t easy, he’d often say. He gave up coaching summer ball a handful of years back. On one 100-degree Saturday morning after mowing the infield grass, he had two current players on hand to play.
“The other team was showing up,” he said. “I was on the phone trying to get a team. I played a game with those two kids and seven graduated seniors.”
Through it all, Eatinger called it “a different era. I’m an old-school guy. Our breed is not welcome any more.”
His successor, Ray Aldama, “is 10 years younger. He was a great asset to me. He was loyal, just waiting for his time.”
Thirty-four years in coaching, he said, adding, “If there’s a time to go, it’s now.”