Kamide’s Korner: NOVA's MLB Front Office Presence Grows with Elias' Hiring


November 19 - Mike Elias was officially introduced today by the Baltimore Orioles, which means the baseball operations for three of the American League’s 15 clubs are now overseen by general managers with Northern Virginia roots.

Elias, a 2001 graduate of Alexandria’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, joins Minnesota’s Thad Levine and Kansas City’s Dayton Moore as general managers with local ties.

Levine, who was hired by the Twins in November 2016, is a 1990 graduate of T.C. Williams who went on to play at Division III Haverford College in Pennsylvania before getting his MBA at UCLA. And Moore, who played and coached at George Mason University, was hired by the Royals in June 2006 and oversaw the club as they advanced to back-to-back World Series and won a title in 2015.

Moore has a number of area natives on his operations and coaching staff, including: another former Mason player and coach in J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant general manager for player personnel; Jin Wong, their assistant general manager for baseball administration, was a Division III All-American at Mary Washington; director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg, a Marshall High School and Mason alum; scout Ken Munoz, yet another former Mason player and coach and the former coach at West Springfield; and minor league hitting coach Brian Buchanan, a standout at Fairfax and the University of Virginia who later played for five seasons in the big leagues.

The presence of Northern Virginia natives in baseball operations doesn’t end there.

Ned Rice, a classmate of Elias’ at Jefferson, spent 11 years working for the Orioles before being hired as an assistant general manager with the Philadelphia Phillies in February 2016. And also like Elias, he was a candidate for the Orioles’ GM position.

Former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta, who is now in the front office with the Cleveland Browns and was one of the main character subjects in the popular book and movie Moneyball, is a 1991 graduate of Episcopal. Moneyball documented the Oakland A’s pioneering approach to the sophisticated sabermetrics that was initially embraced by Billy Beane and DePodesta and is now a common method used to scout and analyze players.

Former C.D. Hylton and George Mason star Mike Colangelo was a member of the A’s 2002 team that served as the inspiration for the book and movie. DePodesta was teammates with Levine while the two played in Alexandria youth soccer leagues in the late 1980s.

Also of note: Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion manager with the San Francisco, played youth ball in Falls Church’s Bailey’s Crossroads Little League (now Mason District LL) while his father was stationed in the area by the Army. And just beyond Northern Virginia, three additional current GMs attended college: the New York Yankees’ Brian Cashman played at Catholic University, the Seattle Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto played at Virginia Commonwealth, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Eric Neander went to Virginia Tech.

Baltimore’s hiring of the 35-year-old Elias - who set a TJ program record with 18 career wins and went on to pitch at Yale - signals a shift in in the organization’s approach to player scouting and development. Gone are old-school manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette, who are both in their 60s. Enter a rising front office star in Elias, who has spent his 13 years in professional baseball in scouting and helped build the roster of the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros.

Further indication that Baltimore will be embracing the analytics that now drive baseball is Elias bringing along Sig Mejdal, a former NASA engineer who worked for him in Houston.

Mejdal’s resume is impressive, he earned multiple degrees in engineering, another in cognitive psychology, and while at NASA figured out ways for astronauts on the International Space Station to sleep better. Those smarts have transferred to baseball, which he got involved in after gaining inspiration from Moneyball. His analytical work with the Astros proved integral in the club building one of baseball’s best teams.

Even with the Nationals becoming the overwhelming team supported by Northern Virginia baseball fans, many area Orioles fans still exist due to the 34-year gap that Washington, D.C. endured without a Major League team.

Those fans - who didn’t have much to cheer about during a 115-loss season in 2018 - now have new life with one of baseball’s top young minds shaping Baltimore’s future.

Photos of Dayton Moore, Thad Levine and Mike Elias courtesy

Kamide’s Korner: Latest Mass Shooting Hits Home For Everyone in Baseball Community


November 10 - There was nobody that represented what America should be more than Cody Coffman. And yet, it is today’s America that has taken him from us.

Only 22, Cody was one of the 12 victims of the mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, CA on Wednesday night. He was a USSSA umpire and the chief umpire for the Camarillo Pony Baseball youth league, wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat around town, and planned to enlist in the Army. He had three young brothers that looked up to him, and a little sister on the way, due to be born at the end of the month.

She will never get to meet him.

Blake Dingman was 21 years old, a former baseball player at nearby Hillcrest Christian School. He was also one of the victims killed on Wednesday night.

This column isn’t directly related to Northern Virginia, which is what I generally write about. I don’t care. This latest shooting, which occurred some 2,700 miles away on the other side of the country, should hit home for anyone involved in the game of baseball. Mass shootings have become the norm in our country, they represent what apparently is the new America.

Coffman was a leader who "loved working with the kids,” commented an umpiring colleague. He died while attempting to protect others, according to several reports. By all accounts, and I’ve read and watched several online these past two days, he had a tremendous future ahead of him. Dingman was described by his high school coach in a story in the Thousand Oaks Acorn as someone with a “magnetic personality,” adding that, “He loved the game of baseball but he loved his friends and family even more.”

It’s got to stop. For parents in our area, simply go online and watch the video of Coffman’s father, who was donning a Los Angeles Dodgers hat in front of reporters when he revealed that his son was one of the victims. The man had just had his life ripped to shreds, and watching him is heartbreaking. That could be any of you. Cody and Blake could be any of us.

Just a few days before Veterans Day Weekend, two military veterans - a former Navy SEAL and former Marine - were among those killed in the shooting. The shooter was also a military veteran, reportedly suffering from PTSD. Since the shooting at the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 90 people have been shot in 12 mass shootings in the United States - and 36 died. One of the shootings occurred in Watertown, N.Y., where my cousin is a police officer. A police officer at the Thousand Oaks shooting was also one of the victims after reporting to the scene and entering the bar in attempt to halt the shooter. That sure gives me pause.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I am pro guns, and that I’m a republican who voted for Donald Trump. And while our President does, says or tweets something each day to make me question that ballot, my ability to defend our laws regarding firearms also wanes.

It’s one of the biggest issues facing our country today, and something needs to change.

We had two taken from our extended baseball family on Wednesday night. Our military, celebrating their brothers this weekend, now mourns additional unnecessary losses. This morning, the league that Coffman umpired for will be holding a moment of silence at 7:50 a.m. their time - 10:50 a.m. EST - at Veterans Field in Camarillo, CA’s Freedom Park. I challenge everyone reading this column to take that moment to reflect on what’s important in your life, and what it would be like to have that taken away in an instant.

I know I will be.

Rest in peace, Cody and Blake. Many of our readers are thousands of miles away, but very much present with your loved ones and with heavy hearts this morning.

Photos of Blake Dingman, left, and Cody Coffman, right, courtesy of their respective families

Kamide’s Korner: The Evolution of Josh Gjormand, College Ballplayer


November 6 - When I first met Josh Gjormand, he was 3 years old. It was 2005, and I was in my first season coaching as an assistant under his father, Pudge, at Madison High School.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Josh was going to have a long relationship with the game of baseball. He was the son of a coach who was well on his way to becoming a baseball icon in Vienna and in Northern Virginia. That would certainly allow for him to be around the game, to learn the game from an early age, and to either embrace the game - or resent it. Not all coaches’ sons, after all, grow up to dig the game as much as their pops.

Josh did.

A fixture at Madison’s practices and games and at the summer camps his father runs, Josh immersed himself in the game as he came up in the Reston Little League and with the MVP Terps and MVP Royals travel teams. Early on, Pudge would boast proudly of how advanced his son’s knowledge was of the many intricacies the game offered - how many elementary school kids do you know who study a pitcher’s move? Or try and pick up an opposing team’s signs? He latched onto Pudge’s deep network of coaches, learning pitching from the likes of Morgan Spencer, John Thomas, J.J. Hollenbeck, Jason Farley and Justin Counts, hitting from Counts, Galvin Morris and Scott Rowland, base running from Andrew Baird and T.J. Ehrsam, and how to initially adapt to the high school game from Warhawks JV coach Robbie Robeson.

But despite being around all that knowledge, it wasn’t always easy.

As anyone who has played for Pudge will tell you, he can be tough. The coach consistently demands your best, and that is a major reason for the success of his teams. It’s also what makes him at times hard to play for, and some kids over the past two decades have backed down from those expectations. The one’s who haven’t have helped him build one of the state’s top programs. It’s like Tom Hanks said in ‘A League of Their Own’, “The hard is what makes it great”.

Josh has spent his childhood around that intimidating presence 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I witnessed the tough love several times, and have often wondered how I would have responded in the same situation. Pudge hasn’t created a ‘Daddy Ball’ environment for his sons - Josh or his younger brother, Trevor - to coast through the game with every advantage and having things handed to them. It’s probably accepted that he was harder on Josh than any of his players, and wanted to ensure he earned everything he was given. It’s been tough love, but in the end, it’s simply been love.

And what his sons maybe don’t always know is that their father - the skipper with the enormous presence dubbed for years as the “Mayor of Vienna” - can be a big softie and lights up when their names are brought up by his coaching buddies. As hard as Pudge has pushed Josh, he’s also the first one to praise him.

And that praise certainly doesn’t come exclusively from his father.

“I have literally watched Josh grow up on the baseball field and I couldn’t be more proud of the things he has accomplished,” Spencer said. “He has always been an extremely hard and motivated player. It can’t be easy growing up in the shadows of the best coach in Northern Virginia, let alone playing for him as your dad. I know it hasn’t been easy, [and] he earned every bit of playing time he got.”

Added Baird, the former Stone Bridge coach who has returned to Madison’s staff, via Twitter: “For the last 18 [years], I have watched a boy grow into an amazing young man. I got a call from him tonight thanking me for my help over the years and that he had committed to further his baseball career at Lynchburg … I am very proud of you and excited for you.”

Josh never backed down from the pressure of being Pudge’s son. He embraced it, overcame the “coaches’ son” label through his play on the field, and did so while growing up in a championship-hungry baseball community. He’s grown some thick skin, a trait that was never more evident then when he heard criticism of his father from other players, parents or members of the community - which somehow exists despite over 400 wins and two state titles. He simply used that as fuel and continued about his business with the quiet confidence that now defines him as a player.

“He’s a tough competitor on the mound and at the plate,” Rowland said. “He approaches the game the right way, and it’s obvious he comes to play every game.”

Josh mastered the left-handed pickoff move largely from his work with Spencer, the southpaw head coach at South Lakes who set pickoff records in high school and college and the reason he chose to wear No. 18 at Madison. He learned how to be efficient - he tossed a 53-pitch, 6-inning complete game against Chantilly last spring - and to locate multiple pitches from the likes of Counts, Madison’s longtime pitching coach, and Thomas, the new skipper at Lake Braddock who coached him on several youth teams.

“He plays the game as hard as he can every time he takes the field and backs down from no one,” Thomas said. “His overall baseball IQ and feel for the game is off the charts for a high school kid. I’d take nine of him any day of the week.”

He’s grown up in the epitome of a baseball family: both parents have baseball-themed personalized license plates; his older sister, Samantha, was the Warhawks’ team manager and now holds the same duties at JMU; vacations are based around baseball tournaments and trips; and he’s spent maybe 100 (or more?) games in his father’s seats along the third base line at Nationals Park. Growing up, Josh had two dozen de facto older brothers on the Warhawks that he was around for four months beginning each February. He studied their games and how they prepared. Now, he’s one of those Warhawks in his final year at the school and passing that knowledge onto his younger brother.

Josh has battled a lack of physical stature - he’s 5-foot-10 and maybe 160 pounds - with a fastball that might reach 80 MPH on a good day. Nonetheless, he hit his way into a second-team Region 6D selection as a first baseman last spring, and on the mound finds ways to miss bats while shutting down the running game. He’s an outstanding defender who routinely bails fellow infielders out by picking errant throws, and provides on-field leadership as an extension of the coaching staff.

Late last month, we saw the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and preparation when he accepted an offer to play at the University of Lynchburg. For many of us, it was the next - and perhaps, most important - step in who we first knew as a youngster becoming a man.

“It finally sunk in that my little boy is a senior when he made that call to [Lynchburg] coach [Lucas] Jones on Monday night to commit,” Pudge wrote on his Facebook page. “So proud of the way he goes about his business and the young man he's become!”

Added Spencer: “He is an extremely smart and tough little player, Lynchburg is getting a great young man and player. He is tough as nails, has a desire to win, and most importantly, knows how to win.”

Congratulations Josh, you’ve made a lot of people involved in Northern Virginia baseball very proud. Including this writer.

Photos of Josh Gjormand by Albert Jacquez