Rob Bruno, general manager of NorCal Baseball and Program 15 Future Stars Series Northern California Regional Director, has a simple shirt called “By The Numbers” that tells a detailed story for his storied program.
“On there, we list guys – not specific players – but numbers of players that have gone through our program,” Bruno said. “Our guys are full-time players. We don’t invite players, we don’t have guest players, we don’t fly in players. These are guys that are full-time NorCal baseball players for usually multiple years. On the shirt, it has 480 Division 1 players, 250+ players drafted, 45 MLB players, 20 first-round picks, 10 All-Stars and a couple MVP’s. We’ve got a pretty neat history, and we’ve been pretty fortunate.”
The list of names that have been through since NorCal Baseball since its inception in 1991 is both long and impressive; Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Troy Tulowitzki…just to name a few. But for as proud as Bruno is of what his players have gone on to accomplish on the field, he was quick to point to another lesser-known player who’s played a big role in his community.
“I think we’re just as proud of a guy like Marcel Longmire, who after playing in the minors with the Cubs, became a correctional officer,” Bruno said. “We’re just as proud as we are of the 45 big leaguers.”
Yes, the on-field accomplishments for NorCal are significant – three players from their 2011 class have made the big leagues, four in 1995 and six in 2005 – but spotlighting Longmire speaks to the overall mission of the program.
“Our philosophy is you’re going to be a person a lot longer than you’re going to be a player, so you have to make good decisions on who’s going to develop you as a person and not just a baseball player,” Bruno said.
“About 90 percent of our players that are playing in our top group at each grade level – we invite by grade, not age – get scholarships to Division 1. That’s more important to us than any trophy or plaque or ring. Neither Tony or I own one of those, we don’t care. We’ll give it to the team mom, the bat boy. That’s not what drives us. Trying to develop great kids and great young men on and off the field, that’s our way of giving back. We’ve chosen baseball as our vehicle.”
Bruno, along with Tony Crivello, who has helped run the program since 1995, make it a point to bring their players to college programs that not only focus on solid baseball, but strong academics as well.
“Wherever we go, and Stanford’s local, so we have a good relationship with them and have probably sent a dozen guys there, including Mark Appel and others who have done well,” Bruno said. “They’re one of the top academic schools in the country. If you look at it that way, Stanford is wonderful. So is Cal, so is UCLA, so is Michigan, so is Duke. A lot of our kids will go to top academic schools and Ivy League schools; Dartmouth, Penn. It’s important to find a great personal fit and not just a great baseball fit. Wherever we go, we try to give our kids the opportunity to go to schools, visit and make it an educational experience and not just a baseball experience. We’ll talk to schools and coaches and find out what they’re looking for, and it’s all part of the maturation process of making good decisions when they get to the next level.”
Subsequently, NorCal and Program 15 chose each other to work together to help get their own programs get to the next level as well, with the benefits solely focused on developing the next generation of players.
“The more I spoke to (P15 and NBFSS CEO) Jeremy (Booth), the more I saw his vision was aligned with our vision,” Bruno said. “I would tell you that youth baseball has gotten out of control, and the priorities are skewed. The only people that are really thriving in this atmosphere are the ones running tournaments and showcases. The priorities have become showcasing and individualism instead of learning how to be a great teammate, individual development and learning how to win. The emphasis is too much on who is in the stands watching instead of what you’re doing to make yourself better. When I spoke to Jeremy, he was about development, grass roots, getting better and getting back to an era to find out how good you were against the best competition possible instead of how many people are watching.”
Added Booth: “Rob is a pioneer in this industry and has always stayed ahead of the curve. He is careful who he supports and where he leads his players. His track record of player growth speaks for itself and having his guidance and vision here with us is a win for everyone involved. A person with his goals and values can only make us all better and I look forward to working with him for years to come.”