He calls it sacred ground, high praise for an oft-trodden patch of land that has served countless different purposes over the decades, but to Dan Giddings, the it’s a declaration of respect, not a punch line.
“When I look around, I can remember the exact moments when I met people who are still among my best friends to this very day.”
Giddings is walking across the Major’s baseball field behind Huntington Middle School that served the same purpose forty years ago, when he was a player in San Marino’s beloved National Little League. He now joins a select few who have made the jump from San Marino Little Leaguer to San Marino Little League President. It’s a privilege he isn’t taking lightly.
“Having played here I believe gives me a unique perspective about what that it means to the experience of being a kid in San Marino,” said Giddings. “To ride your bike to the fields to play a game. Then ride your bike to watch your friend’s game. Spending the day with all your friends. Eating at the snack shack.”
Giddings then drifts off into nostalgia, a condition he hopes to reproduce for each of the more than 445 young people under his watch.
Giddings moved to San Marino in 1973 with an older brother, John, and his parents, Dr. John and Marilyn Giddings. At one time or another he attended all of San Marino’s four schools, graduating from SMHS in 1990. To say he excelled in athletics would give but a faint idea of the fact: He lettered in football, basketball and baseball, was a two-way starter on the Titans’ 1988 CIF championship football team and pitched in two CIF baseball championship games: A loss in Dodger Stadium and a win in Anaheim Stadium.
Much of his pedigree was developed on the same ballfields kids will inhabit on Saturday, February 23, when he oversees Opening Day. His 1984 Majors All-Star team won the District 17 championship and was among the first to be acknowledged on the Wall of Champions. And while there always exists the temptation to quantify the sport in terms of runs, hits and errors, Giddings uses a different barometer.
“It’s really all about friendships,” he said. “It’s the lifelong friends, the bonds that you built. Being friends with kids who you might not be friends with except that you played on the same team. Your friends who crossover from public schools to private schools and the friendships that are developed in the stands between families. They are friendships that eventually cross the border lines into family.”
Giddings mentioned one such relationship that endures to this very day.
“One of my first coaches was Mitch Milias and I became friends with his son, Craig,” Giddings recalled. “We became very close and we were even in each others’ weddings. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get into some fights out here,” he said, suddenly overcome with laughter.
Giddings and his wife, Cathy, have three children and all of them will be wearing Little League uniforms this spring. Tyler, 13, is an eighth grader at Huntington Middle School and will be playing High School Prep; Kayla is a 6th grader at HMS and is on a Softball Majors roster and Makenna, 5, is a kindergartner at Valentine and plays Coach Pitch Softball.
That sport, precisely, elicited a hint of pride from Giddings.
“We didn’t have enough softball players when Kayla was young and so some of the girls had to play baseball,” the Claremont McKenna grad and former baseball player said. “We went out and engaged in some guerilla marketing and here we are, five years later, with eleven teams. That is a number I am very proud of.”
Aside from that impressive accomplishment, Giddings said he has “a list” of goals.
One is to renovate the aforementioned Wall of Champions, but he has some other “building” in mind.
“I want to provide a platform to grow the league,” Giddings said. “I want to help our managers win as many all-star banners as we can, but I also want to continue the goals of previous Little League Presidents Sean Gill and Jay Fuerst, and that is to build a bridge to the next generation of leadership. I want to cast a wide net of volunteerism, to find people who have not been involved in the administration of the league. Pretty soon we are all going to be riding off into the sunset.”
When he does, Giddings hinted that he would like to be remembered by one name.
“Coach,” he said.
“The coolest thing is when you coach a kid and many years later, they might be on another team or you might see them somewhere away from the ballfield and they call you ‘coach,’” Giddings said. “That makes it all worthwhile.”