SLO Blues’ Clay Cederquist embraces opportunity to step in as head coach

San Luis Obispo Blues head coach Clay Cederquist looks over the lineup before the start of a game Tuesday at Sinsheimer Stadium.
San Luis Obispo Blues head coach Clay Cederquist looks over the lineup before the start of a game Tuesday at Sinsheimer Stadium.

Clay Cederquist didn’t expect to be in this position when the California Collegiate League baseball season began six weeks ago.

He likely envisioned his first summer as an assistant with San Luis Obispo Blues as an opportunity to learn from head coach Jamie Clark and take some of those lessons back to his full-time job at American River College outside of Sacramento.

Instead, Cederquist is filing an unexpected chapter in an already diverse baseball résumé, having taken over the head coaching reins June 30 after Clark resigned midway through his second year at the helm.

General manager Adam Stowe said he was “extremely grateful” Cederquist willingly accepted the head coaching responsibilities with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

“It wasn’t the role that he was brought in to fill, and when the time came,” Stowe said Tuesday night, “he didn’t even hesitate and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this.’ 

The Blues (13-12, 7-8 CCL) ran off four straight victories following Clark’s resignation, the final win coming in front of a sellout crown of more than 2,100 Sunday night against the Menlo Park Legends.

That winning streak came to an end Tuesday, but it seemed clear Cederquist has San Luis Obispo trending in a positive direction.

Pegged as an “old school” coach who demands the respect of his players, Cederquist brings an intriguing baseball pedigree to the Blues bench.

He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners following his senior of high school and developed into a junior college All-American at Fresno City College. Cederquist then transferred to Sacramento State and played on two Western Athletic Conference championship teams.

Cederquist returned to his alma mater after graduating in 2014 and spent the following season as the team’s director of operations. Last summer he got his first taste of head coaching, leading a NorCal 18-and-under team.

“There’s much more responsibility, but I welcome that role, very much so,” Cederquist said. “It’s a good group of guys that are fun to work with. They bring a positive attitude each and every day with a willingness to work and get better.”

That’s the message Cederquist hopes will resonate with the Blues as they grind through 20 games between now and July 27.

Tuesday night’s loss highlighted the diversity of this year’s roster, with Western Carolina’s Korey Anderson, UAB’s Luke Eigsti and Blake Johnson, Hendrix Arkansas’ Wyatt Hogan, Tennessee’s Leno Ramirez and Alabama’s Gene Wood all in the starting lineup.

For up-and-coming college players from around the country traveling to the Central Coast for a competitive summer baseball experience, it’s easy to understand how a midseason coaching change could potentially derail a team’s growth.

Early in the season, new players often arrive the day of a game and have little time to mesh with their teammates or build chemistry. And while Clark’s departure certainly came as a surprise, Stowe said the players have handled the transition well.

“I think it’s a growing experience for all of us,” Stowe said. “I think it’s something they need to get used to. I mean, if they’re going to pursue a career in baseball they’re going to have to get used to managers changing.”

San Luis Obispo is nearing the end of a 16-game home stand and will close out a series with the Healdsburg Prune Packers at 6 p.m. Thursday. The team will play host to three teams over the weekend — the first-place Academy Barons, Conejo Oaks and California Expos — before a three-day break for the CCL All-Star Game July 13.

The Blues currently trail the Barons by four games in the 12-team CCL standings and will lean on Cederquist over the next three weeks to make a final postseason push.

He said San Luis Obispo is “playing great baseball” and will continue to compete and build on the foundation laid by Clark.

“I think it all hit everyone unexpectedly,” Cederquist said. “He did great things for us and helped out this program tremendously. Even things that go on behind the scenes he did, and I know everyone here just can’t thank him enough for that.”