NorCal’s Pedigree Stands Tall Next to Any in the Country
Silver is the traditional gift to celebrate ones 25th anniversary. And while silver is also one of NorCal Baseball’s colors don’t mistake any commemorating silver hardware as a symbol of a second-rate stature. They’re far from it.
Starting with one 15-year-old team in the spring of 1992, Rob Bruno had one goal in mind at NorCal Baseball’s inception: greatness.
“The idea was to get great players, to go against great players on a big platform,” says Bruno, NorCal’s founder.
“We'd rather play a 3-2 game, win or lose, against an Orlando Scorpions, East Cobb or EvoShield, compared to 10-running someone in a pool game.”
To be great, which is defined as markedly superior in character or quality, one must continue to evolve. The moment superiority is reached, others are trying to find a way to do just the same, to knock one down. There’s no reaching the top and settling, there’s no time for being comfortable.
For twenty-five years NorCal Baseball has been great, which is remarkable in travel baseball’s everchanging landscape itself.
“Things have changed tremendously,” Bruno said. “Now I see groups doing it for ego, number one, money, number two. That was never our intention. It is to develop.”
The proof is in the numbers at how good Bruno and NorCal baseball has been in developing exceptional players. From the 1992 team, then called the Bay Area Black Sox, to being the NorCal Angels from 1994-1997, serving as a scout team for the California Angels, through to the present NorCal Baseball, Bruno has fielded teams composed of the best of the best.
NorCal Baseball is closing in on 500 players who have received a Division I scholarship. The organization has produced 44 Major League players, 10 whom have been MLB All-Stars, including Brandon Crawford and Troy Tulowitzki, and two Most Valuable Players, Dustin Pedroia and Jimmy Rollins. NorCal’s pedigree stands tall next to any in the country.
“We felt we wanted to change the landscape a little bit,” Bruno said. “We wanted to be able to play and get a bunch of great guys. We wanted to get guys from all over northern and central California. We've been very fortunate as far as getting the top kids.”
Talent levels ebb and flow. One year there may be an exceptional deep group of pitchers, the next year there may be more physically mature hitters. By nature, it’s tough to continually field a team that is among the best of the best. But what can be controlled is the time and effort of work put in, the parameters of an environment of which a winning culture thrives and a genuine care for people. Consistency in all of the above allows NorCal Baseball to thrive.
“We take pride in that these guys are full-time players, not guys we borrow for a weekend or even a summer,” Bruno said. “These guys play full time for us.”
There are programs that shuttle in player’s week to week, or ask of their services for a month or summer. That is not what NorCal Baseball does. Because, to Bruno, you’re a person first, baseball player second.
“We're just as proud of the law enforcement people that played in our program as the 44 big leaguers,” Bruno said. “You're going to be a person a lot longer than a player. Shame on use if we don't do a great job developing the person as much as the player.”
To develop the whole person, NorCal wants to see a player all the way through their adolescent years. The team Bruno started with in 1992, they carried through the next year. For the program’s first five years only one team operated under Bruno. Now, with the help of partner Tony Crivello, the number is 10, but Bruno says NorCal will not field more teams than that.
“It's important for Tony and me to know every single player in our program. We really do know every single player, and we're able to communicate with them at all times. It's important to know them, we won't get any big than this ever.”
NorCal could field more teams, there isn’t a shortage of talent in northern California and the organization has enough stature to pick among the best. But ensuring he and Tony have a relationship with each player, to make sure they’re committed to growing year after year, that is superiority character and quality.
That is being great.
“It's not about me at all, or about Tony,” Bruno said. “We have great people who are like-minded. This is their way of giving back to the community. It's not just about assembling a bunch of players to win, this is our giving back, our mentoring, and that's crucial for us.”