The scouting report on Ashton Cave went like this: He was cut from the Cimarron-Memorial High junior varsity baseball team as a freshman. He then played a season of JV and two of varsity, a role player who might be asked to run the bases or spend an inning or two in the outfield. He sat a lot.
“He wasn’t the greatest player, but he was the type of kid you needed on your team,” Calvin Valvo said. “He worked harder than anyone and was very disciplined. Always positive, no matter what. He just loved the game so much.
“I watch him on television now, how he interacts with his players, how positive he is with them, and realize he had it figured out long before any of us. He knows there are a lot more important things in life. The kids respect him for that. Watching that brings a smile to my face.”
Valvo coached Cave at Cimarron-Memorial and is now retired outside Kansas City, Mo., a branch from the coaching tree of Rodger Fairless, the winningest prep baseball coach in Nevada history. Cave might not have set records as a player, but he unquestionably took from his time with Valvo an understanding of what best creates success.
If coaching truly is taking a group of players where they can’t take themselves, Cave this summer set a historic standard for future Little League managers throughout Nevada to emulate.
It won’t be easy.
Mountain Ridge is the state’s first team to capture a berth in the Little League World Series, and today in Lamade Stadium it will play a team from Chicago for the U.S. championship at 12:30 p.m. PDT on ABC (Channel 13).
The kids from Las Vegas are two wins from a World Series title, from legendary status.
Cave will assume his place in the third-base coaching box each time his team of explosive bats swings away, a Clark County firefighter and father of five who also wrestled and played soccer in high school.
Countless books have been written on the good and bad of youth coaches, of recognizing those traits in a person who either enhance or diminish the development and experiences of athletes at their most impressionable age.
ESPN spent days in Williamsport highlighting the motivational actions and words of David Belisle, manager to the New England champions and a guy who could talk Floyd Mayweather Jr. out of a shopping spree.
Belisle gets it.
So, too, does Cave.
The 36-year-old executed a perfect balance of work and enjoyment for his 14 players in Williamsport, immediately grasping the big picture of those memories they will most cherish from this experience. Mountain Ridge had as many family days as any other team, never practicing for more than a few hours and always making the time light and fun.
Music blared throughout all workouts, and the biggest problem Mountain Ridge players had was the coaching staff’s immense collection of country songs.
“This is a once in a lifetime thing, and I wanted to make sure the kids embraced all of it,”Cave said. “Just getting here was huge. Sure, you then want to win. That’s our competitive side. But once here, everything else is a bonus. It was important that they experienced everything about this.
“I didn’t have much to give in terms of (talent) in high school, but (Valvo) gave me a shot because of my work ethic. I took that from him. If you give me 110 percent on the field, you’ll make my team. Talent is different. Some kids are just blessed with it. But your work ethic, what’s ingrained in your mind and heart, that can’t be taught.”
He began coaching Little League four years ago, when his son Dallan, a 12-year-old outfielder for Mountain Ridge, took up the game. Cave and his wife, Nicole, also have daughters who are 14, 9 and 6 and a 4-month-old son.
He’s not sure how much he will coach after this World Series run, given he calculates that he might owe his fire station 600 to 700 hours of work after a summer of chasing this dream. His co-workers have picked up countless shifts for him and will expect the favors returned.
“I might be working forever, but I wouldn’t trade this for a thing,” said Cave, who has also coached wrestling and soccer at the youth and high school levels. “I love baseball. I love what this team has been able to accomplish. Las Vegas should be very proud of these 14 boys.”
Just outside Kansas City, Mo., a former high school coach also feels a great sense of pride. He turns on the TV now and watches a man who once would work as hard as anyone else for a three-hour practice day after day, knowing the chances of playing in games were limited at best.
“That was all about his character,” Valvo said. “There were probably 9 million other things a kid wanted to do than practice that long and not play much. But he never complained. Ashton just worked. It looks like he hasn’t changed a bit.
“Boy, he’s going to be a tough act to follow for All-Star coaches.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.