Inside Interview: Eric Borba, Orange Lutheran (CA) High School

When did you know you wanted to be a coach?

When I was in college, I knew I wanted to be a coach. The door opening that I needed was in 1998 when I became a grad assistant at Sonoma State. My roommate at the time had played and graduated from Sonoma State. He got a high school head coaching job and asked me to be his JV coach. I had it worked out where I was able to do both: go to Sonoma State for a few hours, run practice with the JV team on weeknights, and travel with the college team on the weekends.

Talk a little about the journey you’ve taken to where you are now.

At the end of the 1998 season, a job opened up at Analy High School and I ended up getting it, at 23 years old. I was very fortunate to come into a program that had started six sophomores in the previous years. In my first season we made it to the playoffs in the first time in about 12 years and in 2000, we actually won the CIF championship.

Public school was a grind- I was doing all of the coaching, the fundraising and the field maintenance for a $2500 stipend. I chose to go back to Sonoma State in 2003 to be an assistant there. In the meantime, I had been asked to coach a Connie Mack team called the North Bay Mariners. A few of those players on that team went to De La Salle, which came open the following year. I was married with a baby on the way and De La Salle was about an hour and twenty minutes from there I lived, but I knew it was an opportunity worth taking, I took a leap of faith. I was there through 2008 and we had some great seasons. The challenge at the time, however, was that I couldn’t get on staff at De La Salle, I was teaching at another school. I was in another grind and ended up resigning.

So now it’s the middle of July, I’m on a family vacation and I don’t have a job. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where the Lord was leading me. One night on vacation I couldn’t sleep, I was freaking out, so I got on the computer around 2AM and the first thing that popped up was the Orange Lutheran job. I thought man, this is a sign. I called the next morning and talked to the athletic secretary and the rest is history. It’s a great place, back home, near family, I love it!

What else makes Orange Lutheran unique?

Christian character development is our focus. When I took the job it was primarily to be the baseball coach, which is different than most high schools. We don’t have our own facility on campus, we share it with Chapman University, so we practice at night most of the time. Orange Lutheran has really made athletics a priority, we want to continue to compete at the highest level- playing in the Trinity League is no easy task.

Describe the Trinity League for those who may not be familiar with it.

California high school baseball is broken into eight different sections, and each section has its own division. We’re in the Southern section, which is very populated and very competitive. The Trinity League is made up of six schools, Mater Dei, JSerra, Servite, St. John Bosco and Santa Margarita. It’s regarded as one of the best conferences in the country, we’ve had as many as four different teams ranked in the national top 25 in the same year. It’s like a college environment; we play series- three games a week against the same opponent.

You have experience coaching at the college level and at an elite level high school. What are the main differences?

In high school you have to play the hand you’re dealt, we don’t get to hand-pick our players. That’s definitely the biggest difference. I really have to work with guys playing travel ball and other outside influences so we are all on the same page; that doesn’t happen as much at the college level. You also have a lot more parent involvement at the high school level, which can be a challenge at times.

Talk a little bit about how you involve the parents in your program.

I’ve learned along the way. At my first job I didn’t allow the parents to be a part of it, and I had to learn from other people that parents don’t know what you’re thinking, they read into things. It’s definitely been a work in progress over the past 18 years. Nowadays, our parents are heavily involved. Rather than looking at them as a problem, we embrace them and build trust with them, which provides us with a better platform for us to be successful.

It’s still funny to have conversation with other coaches because of how much involvement our parents have in our program. We draw a line in the sand with talking about playing time and those things, and our parents are very respectful. And I’m fortunate to have the school back my team rule: if a parent asks me about playing time, their son is suspended for five games.

You’ve talked about getting through the ‘grind’ of coaching when you were first getting started. What advice do you have for aspiring young coaches?

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. If there’s something out there that you think is a good opportunity, you have to make sacrifices. I’m lucky to have a supporting and loving wife that understood that this is a means for a better future as a family, so she was all on board. There was a time in my life where I was leaving the house at 5AM and I wouldn’t get back to the house until 7 or 8 o’clock that night, and here’s my wife going through her first pregnancy.

Everything is not a golden road all the time. You have to make sacrifices.

photos courtesy Orange Lutheran High School