Package deal

BELLEVUE - The please-call-back notation was unnecessary. There was no chance Julio Cruz's call would go unreturned.

When he called to inquire about coaching baseball at Eastside Catholic, Athletic Director Mark Brandemier had one question:

"The Julio Cruz?"

Yes, the former Mariner second baseman who debuted his fleet feet during the Seattle team's inaugural season of 1977, was calling to inquire about coaching baseball at Eastside Catholic High School. Coach Gary Seefried had retired, and Cruz wanted to know if there was any interest in a package deal for two ex-major-leaguers.

Former Seattle teammate Bill Caudill joined Cruz, forming a tag-team coaching combination of two staples of Mariner history. They were teammates for two seasons until Cruz was traded to the Chicago White Sox in June 1983, the same day he bought a home in Bellevue. Caudill bought a house before the '83 season, and he was traded to Oakland less than a year later.

"That's the rule in baseball: Don't buy a house," Caudill said. "Don't buy where you play, because you'll get traded."

Seventeen years later, Cruz and Caudill still live in Bellevue, two Southern California imports who stayed in the Northwest. They're wearing the same uniform again, coaching the high-school team of Cruz's oldest son, Austin.

"I enjoy the game," Cruz said. "Well, no, actually, I love the game. I absorbed a lot when I was playing. . . . I had to get back into coaching somewhere."

Cruz already worked as a minor-league coach for three different organizations, and he managed a rookie-league team for the Texas Rangers in 1997.

But minor-league life wasn't for Cruz. Not after spending 10 seasons in the major leagues. The bus rides were too long, the distance from his family too great.

"I felt like I was taking care of other people's sons when I should be at home, taking care of my own," he said.

Now 45, Cruz volunteers for recess duty at Sacred Heart, the school his younger sons, Alex and Jordan, attend. He is a crossing guard who can tackle more important problems in a pinch.

"I go get Band-Aids for little owies, passes to go to the bathroom," he said.

Caudill's family also was a magnet that kept him from accepting opportunities to coach professionally. He wanted to stay home with sons Cory, 13, and Collin, 9.

"So many children miss out with professional parents," said Caudill, 43. "Fortunately we're both in a position to stay home and be full-time dads and be around the game, too."

Every afternoon, they take the field, two big-league veterans who are passing on the lessons learned in 19 seasons of combined major-league experience. They know the game on instinct, just as Caudill knew the pitcher's mound at Eastside Catholic "didn't feel quite right." So he rebuilt the mound with his own mix of infield dirt.

Caudill has coached summer-league teams for eight seasons. This summer, he will be the pitching coach for his FOX SportsNet Connie Mack team; Cruz will be the field manager. That was the deal they made when Caudill agreed to join Cruz at Eastside Catholic, bringing the same fun-loving flavor he showed in his two seasons as the Mariner closer.

The reliever who once pitched a game with half a mustache ("Trying to change my look if not my luck," he said) gave the Crusaders an early taste of his humor. When the teams were divided, Caudill told Chaz Carr, a junior, he was on the freshmen team.

"Chaz had this amazed, astonished look on his face," said senior David Cunningham, a first baseman. "He just sat over there, his head down."

Carr had no need to worry. He's the varsity starting second baseman.

But the jokes stop when Caudill critiques a pitcher, studying the delivery and offering suggestions. His instructions are simple, his experience distilled into sayings that sound like grade-school adages.

"We use the whole plate until we get ahead, then we break it into pieces," he said. "We save our out pitches until we need outs."

Before last Monday's game against Seattle Prep, Caudill showed Dom Apodaca the grip for a curveball.

"Use the seam, that's what it's there for," Caudill said.

Caudill coaches Austin Cruz, a junior right-handed pitcher and Julio's son.

"I let Bill handle him more than me," Julio said. "I can't coach pitchers, and I'm more of dad than coach to Austin."

Austin is playing baseball for the first time since Little League. Julio said the coaches were too focused on winning instead of giving every player experience.

"I pulled him out because the coaches had no clue," Julio said. "Each coach at the Little League level should teach the kids fundamentals, the basics, not trying to win."

The philosophy is reflected in his approach, his focus on the game's simple skills.

"This game, you're never going to figure it out entirely," Cruz said. "But it comes to executing, the team that executes the basics."

Eastside Catholic won five of its first Metro League games, but lost two games in three days to Seattle Prep last week. The Crusaders (5-3 league, 6-4 overall) committed five errors in an 11-5 loss on Monday and three errors in a 7-6 loss Wednesday.

But Cruz's patient expression never cracks. He remains straight-faced even after an error with the bases loaded sabotages what would have been an inning-ending double play.

"The kids can tell by your body language," Cruz said. "You don't want to show them that you're upset because it was a physical mistake, not a mental one."

With gold wire-rimmed glasses, he looks like a professor. A baseball dean with decades of experience. Instead of scowling, Cruz takes out the lineup card, scribbles a note: another drill he's planning for practice.

He has hitting notes from Rod Carew, from George Brett, "some of the big boys," he tells junior Austin Harvie during a one-on-one hitting drill.

"He'll take you to the side and teach," Harvie said. "It's tough not to listen when you know where they've been."

Cruz compares Harvie's bat to an axe, encouraging him to shorten his swing to get more leverage. Simple is better, no elaborate follow-through. Balance is most important, and Cruz emphasizes grace at the plate.

"It should look almost like someone just took a picture," Cruz told Harvie.

He has handouts of notes, information he has gathered for coaching. Two weeks ago, he sent junior catcher Pat Riley home with a sheet of pointers, hand-written suggestions scribbled in the margins.

Cruz and Caudill have started small, two big-league veterans trying to give the next generation of players the building blocks to succeed.

"We're hoping that the kids will take a shortcut through us if they want to take the game to a higher level," Cruz said.


Julio Cruz

Age: 45

Played for the Mariners from 1977-83 and is the team's career leader in stolen bases with 290. . . . Stole a career-high 59 bases in 1978 and had six seasons with 40 or more stolen bases during his 10-year career. . . . Finished his career with the Chicago White Sox.

Bill Caudill

Age: 43

Reliever pitched for Mariners in 1982 and '83, saving 26 games each season. . . . He was an All-Star with Oakland in '84 and pitched nine seasons in the major leagues. . . . His nickname, "Cuffs," came after he was handcuffed in the lobby of a Cleveland hotel where the Mariners were staying and Manager Rene Lachemann brought the team down to see him before he was released.