Immediately after the Tampa Bay Rays clinched their first American League pennant since 2008, Jim Ozella sent a text to Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow. Ozella congratulated Glasnow, and told him to keep it going through the World Series.
Ozella is the baseball coach at William S. Hart High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., and he coached Glasnow more than nine years before he stepped on the mound as the Rays' Game 1 starter for the 2020 World Series.
It was far from the first time Hart has been on the mound at the center of World Series history.
Hart alumnus James Shields pitched Game 1 of the 2014 World Series for the Kansas City Royals, while alumni Trevor Bauer and Mike Montgomery pitched during the 2016 World Series for the Indians and Cubs, respectively. Forty years ago, right-hander Bob Walk pitched the Phillies to a World Series Game 1 victory over the Royals during his rookie season in 1980.
“I’m very proud to see all these guys coming up,” said Walk. “Almost half of them have played in the World Series at one point or another. Not only are they making the big leagues, they’ve been very successful. I think it’s a thing that everybody can be proud of.”
Walk was the second of now 14 Hart graduates to ascend to the Majors. Of that group, seven have appeared in the World Series, including position players Kevin Millar and Todd Zeile. Glasnow is seeking to become the fourth member of that group to win a ring.
Two of these Hart alumni have especially notable places in World Series history as members of clubs that ended extensive World Series droughts. Millar, of course, was one of the “idiots” on the 2004 Red Sox team that won the franchise’s first championship since 1918. Twelve years later, it was Montgomery who was on the mound to throw the final pitch as the Cubs clinched their first title in 108 years.
The Rays have never won a World Series.
Ozella, who has coached and taught social studies at Hart since 2000, said the school’s history of success in athletics started well before he got there. Walk emphasized that sentiment, pointing to former Hart baseball coach Bud Murray, who started things in 1974 and set the tone for decades.
For Ozella, it’s the greatest accomplishment for a coach to be able to watch those he mentored as teenagers grow into MLB-caliber players. He doesn’t downplay the significance of his reality.
“It’s thrilling, absolutely thrilling, for the old coach here to see one of the guys out there on the mound for the opening game of the World Series,” Ozella said. “I get goosebumps any time our guys play in the big leagues.”
Glasnow, who allowed six runs on three hits and six walks and fanned eight in 4 1/3 innings in his World Series debut, is now set to start for Tampa Bay again in Game 5 on Sunday night.
Ozella said he keeps up with some of his former players, but tries not to be overbearing. More than anything, he likes to be a cheerleader for them. He welcomes any former player back into the Hart facilities whenever they are in town.
Ozella said Montgomery, whose dad also taught at Hart, stops by when he can. Now with the Royals, Montgomery registered a save for the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
“I try to stay in contact with the guys as much as I can,” Ozella said. “I also realize that they’re adults now. They’re men and they really don’t need their old high school coach getting in the way or anything like that.”
Walk, who turns 64 on Nov. 26 and is a member of the Pirates’ broadcasting team, hasn’t been back much since his high school days, but he did visit the Hart facilities a few years ago. He said when he realized Glasnow, who debuted with Pittsburgh in 2016, went to Hart, it inspired him to go back.
Glasnow remains connected to his high school baseball program. He sometimes trained at Hart during his Minor League days and once sat in the dugout during a winter game.
“We had two senior pitchers that year who were up-and-coming guys,” Ozella said. “He watched those guys pitch, he sat with them in the dugout, he gave them some suggestions. When he was done, he came up to me and goes, ‘Coach, those guys are going to be really good.’
“Now both of those guys are in the Minor Leagues. That’s what we’ve had at Hart. Some of our previous guys have [been] the role model for the younger guys and the younger guys.”
Ozella emphasizes to his current players that it’s a long road from where they are now to where Glasnow, Bauer and Montgomery have gotten. He wants them to know there’s not a straight line to success.
Glasnow only had one offer coming out of high school before being drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He struggled at times in Pittsburgh and had to almost reinvent himself via a “change of scenery” with Tampa Bay, he said.
“That’s the Hart story, to be honest,” Ozella said. “That kind of gives these kids a bit of an awareness of reality. We want to dream and be realistic with our dreams. I’m here to encourage their dreams. That’s what I think of my job, to put them in that position.”
While Ozella and his team may be Dodgers fans, Hart is making the “tough call” to root for the Rays to win the series.