By Vincent Nguyen
The program was barely five months old, but on January 16, 2015, Providence Christian College played its very first baseball game against the Master’s College, a top-20 team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Providence athletic director and baseball head coach Mike Scolinos, nephew of Hall-of-Famer John Scolinos, and his team were predicted to lose the game by double-digits, and “would be happy to get at least one run.” But in the ninth inning, the five-month-old team was within one run, trailing only 3-2. Although the team eventually lost 6-3, the new program pushed a top-20 side to the brink.
“This isn’t any college,” Scolinos said. “We played right away with the best. It’s a statement of the direction we’re heading as a program. We’d love to win championships.”
Providence isn’t a new university. Mounted right below the border of Altadena and Pasadena riding along Howard Street, the small school has been around since 2002 and has over 150 students enrolled, with an average class size of about seven students. The school overall has roughly a 6-to-1 professor-student ratio.
The new athletic director was hired in August, and began his new baseball program as soon as he put pen to paper for the job.
“I’m a Christian, which is why I am at Providence Christian College. I’m excited about the college growing and working around a lot of great people,” Scolinos said. “Through that, it’s awesome to develop these guys that come in to our college.”
Since he was appointed, Scolinos has added women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer and cross-country, and baseball to the program, with new additions coming through shortly. The director received acceptance from the NAIA and the California Pacific Conference all within the first month on the job.
“My priority is to slowly add in sports. We don’t want to be a sports college, this is a great college, so we’re slowly adding sports in, and we want to be behind the level of the regular population coming in.”
Scolinos grew up in Covina, and attended Cal Poly Pomona for his undergraduate degree studying economics, but switched to physical education in his fourth year. Scolinos won the 1983 College World Series as a college baseball player, and played under his uncle, the legendary Hall-of-Famer John Scolinos. While finishing his degree, Scolinos picked up coaching the Cal Poly side.
“What stayed with me is the life-changing mentoring and love from our coach that cared so much about us in our live that he mentored us,” Scolinos said about his college experience. “Every day there’s something that comes into my mind that was a result of playing college baseball for a great man.”
Scolinos was offered professional minor league contracts from time to time, but declined every one because of his family.
“I just love my family and I don’t want to be on a bus away from them all the time,” he said about coaching professional baseball. “My uncle was the same way.”
But family isn’t the biggest factor in coaching college. He likes coaching college because of the level of influence that a coach has.
“Baseball is what I know,” Scolinos said. “Because I was taught by a teacher, we take guys and we develop them. Our best hitter this year hit .140 at the last place he was at. He hit about .370-something here. We took guys from 82-to-89 miles-per-hour. We took a guy to 94 miles-per-hour, we develop, we feel, at the very top of the game, only because of the style that was taught to me when I played I was taught. That style was get yourself and your ego out of it and learn from everyone else, because, in reality, who am I to anyone else?”
As Providence coach Scolinos has tallied a 28-18 overall record in the program’s very first season, squaring off right from the beginning against the big guns. The director began recruiting immediately, bringing 15 players on board in the fall and another set of 15 after the winter break.
“The fall guys were able to get the philosophy early, so the new guys that came in winter didn’t experience that. [The fall guys] were great mentors and great guys and they all became great friends so it’s [been an] amazing year that way. They deserve the credit because their ability to pick things up, their ‘aptitude’ so to speak, has been off the charts.”
The Master’s game was one of his most memorable nights, not because of the game, but the support. It was the students, who came out to every baseball game for support.
“The first day they tailgated,” Scolinos said about his first game as a Providence coach against Master’s college. “Who tailgates at a baseball game?”
Scolinos compared the situation to Babe Ruth coming up to bat every single time. It was a huge party, and a crowd of maybe a hundred people sounded like ten thousand.
“Even the Masters players talked about how much they enjoyed it; they never played in front of a big crowd and I was thinking during the game, I’d love to be up there,” Scolinos said. “As a result of that, I didn’t want to play a night game, I wanted to be with my family. We’re keeping that tradition and we’re calling it, ‘Baseball Madness.’”
Board members of college attended as well as local fans, but the student body was the real deal. Scolinos says Christian brotherhood is a key factor to why school spirit is so high at such a small school.
“They just who they are,” Scolinos said. “The way they care about each other here is amazing. You don’t get that at a big college.”
Scolinos says even at Cal Poly Pomona, a school more than twice the size of Providence, wouldn’t get nearly as an impactful audience reception when he was a player. As a coach at Pasadena City College’s huge stadium, the audience was mom and dad and scouts and that was it.
It was amazing to see that participation on January 16th.
Living in Los Angeles is difficult. When Jackie Robinson played at a softball game, around 5,000 people came out. That was back in the day. Now, even colleges like UCLA and USC are struggling to attract viewers because of constant distraction from the Los Angeles scene. But Scolinos says Providence is small enough and far enough to distinguish themselves from everything.
“In three years, you’re going to see that we’re going to be a household name in the San Gabriel Valley.”
Until then, bring on “Baseball “Madness.”