With a Family Culture, Facilitating a Closeness and Care for Everyone
Be warned, if one ever has the chance to speak to Mike Viera about SGV Arsenal Baseball, be sure to have a spare moment. Or several.
Viera is not self-serving, he is far from an egomaniac. While he is the founder and GM of SGV Arsenal Baseball, he balks at the notion of having a role greater than any other on his staff. Viera will explicitly state that and recognizes each coach by name.
But when asked to speak on the 17-year history of the Southern California baseball organization, there is no shortage of words. Viera takes such great pride in his program, the alum it has produced, the relationships he’s built with former players who are now coaches, that he can’t help but pour into countless stories. One can easily lose track of time, enamored by the joy and passion in which Viera walks through the rise of one of the country’s premier travel baseball organizations and his effort to makes sure nobody is left out.
“We all genuinely care about each other,” Viera said of the coaches and players in the SGV Arsenal program. “The coaches have all known each since they were kids, 13, 14 years old, if not younger. It's a big family.”
With a family culture, facilitating a closeness and care for everyone, Viera isn’t afraid to call SGV Arsenal different.
“That's unique in itself because you can't just make that happen,” Viera said of coaches with nearly two decade-long relationships. “We all get along. We argue, we disagree, but it's in a good way. We want to be better.
“I think what separates us from other programs, other programs say they want to model themselves off of what we do, I say that's great but they really can't. You can't take the 18 years that we've been doing this and just make it happen. There's a lot of integrity and trust built up over time. Then the relationships with families.”
In 2001, Viera was a coach in another California organization. Wanting to focus on instructing kids specifically in the San Gabriel Valley, where SGV Arsenal takes its name, Viera started instructing two kids at a local high school. Soon after, players from his prior team tracked him down and showed up wanting to play under his direction. Viera created one 14-year-old team and SGV Arsenal was born.
“The idea was to take that first group through high school then be done,” Viera said. “As we progressed, we did very well at 14. Great group of families and it just kind organically grew. There was kind of a plan, but it nothing set in stone, where we see ourselves in 15 years from now or 18 years, it was just to get kids better.”
With Coach Patrick Argomaniz by his side, who Viera once coached, the plan in place was one that would allow SGV Arsenal to prosper and still yields fruits today.
“We did have a plan of always be honest, have integrity, play with class, do well academically,” Viera said. “For the players, we wanted them to be good leaders at their school. It carried over.”
With a foundation center on values, a family atmosphere and wanting to focus on kids within a tight community, it didn’t take long for SVG Arsenal to gain steam and become the premier Southern California organization.
“After 14, when kids became 15, there was a team we used to play, the Norwalk Yankees, who actually won the Pony World Series at 14, we hit it off with them,” Viera said. ”My buddy Ruben (Velasquez) was coaching, he started coaching with us, brought a few kids with him to play with us as we moved up to play 15-and-under.”
Another year passed with great success, establishing SGV Arsenal as a program with staying power. But at a time when travel baseball was predominantly split into two halves, 16-and-under and 18-and-under, the three-year-old SGV Arsenal program to make a decision on the direction of their future.
“As we progressed up, we had some kids moving to 18-and-under, and then we decided to go with two teams. Then we go with an open tryout and some quality kids came, (New York Yankee) Aaron Hicks shows up. Then we pick up an (Detroit Tiger) Anthony Gose. We were really good, but I think the connection between the coaching staff and the players and families, I think, to this day, is a bit part of the success of the program.”
Two teams became three, then SGV Arsenal changed to fielding teams based on graduating class years, and soon become a program with a team at every high school class. As Southern California’s destination travel organization, SGV Arsenal would take in talented players such as Gerrit Cole, Dylan Covey, Lucas Gioltio, Rio Ruiz and Aaron Sanchez, Arsenal alum who would join Gose and Hicks as eventual big leagues.
But, in wanting to keep intimate and personal relationships with all players, which extends beyond their days as an Arsenal player, Viera has not expanded beyond one team per high school class, even though the opportunity and demand is there.
“I can text Aaron (Hicks) right now, and he'll text back,” Viera said. “At our alumni night, we had about 50 kids there. We had two big leaguers. Lucas (Giolito) was trying to get there, but couldn't get there in time. Other kids were saying 'coach, I want to be there, but I'm not in town or my flight comes in too late, my flight comes in tomorrow.' They want to get there, or at least they make the effort to show they want to be there.
“The alumni, not just the athletic ones in their baseball career, but we have a doctor, one that's going to be, one that's an attorney, police officers, an accountant, some advertising, successful in general, and they stay in touch. That is the biggest part of it.”
Two of SGV Arsenal’s original players, Jerry Pena and Mario Romero, do more than stay in touch, they now coach alongside Viera, two 29-year-olds who went through the system and couldn’t shake an impression upon 16 years ago.
“Coach Ruben, joined us 17 years ago, that's where the uniqueness comes in. Coach (Anthony) Topete, played with us when he was 15, now's he's a coach with us and he's 29.”
When asked what the family environment of SGV Arsenal means in today’s travel landscape, where he will not take on roster add-ons for a chance to win Jupiter and a player must graduate to be considered an alum, there is one time when Viera is short in saying ”We’re just different.”