Don Sneddon has spent decades teaching and developing young baseball players during his time at Santa Ana College.
He’s the winningest baseball coach in California community college history, has led the Dons to three state titles and has seen more than 300 of his players sign professional contracts or receive scholarships to four-year colleges.
All the while, he wondered if he’d get the chance to remove “professional baseball manager” from his bucket list.
That time came Monday when he was named manager of the Modesto Nuts.
“It’s very exciting,” said Sneddon, 61. “It’s the first time in my life after all these years of coaching I get to coach baseball, period. I don’t have to teach classes, recruit, worry about eligibility.
“It’s going to be a unique and fun adjustment.”
Until recently, he was preparing his Santa Ana team for its season opener, scheduled for today at Don Sneddon Field.
He received a call from another professional organization about becoming a roving instructor, but that eventually was filled by a former major leaguer. Sneddon then got a call from the Colorado Rockies, who were looking to fill the managerial opening in Modesto.
“I was overwhelmed,” he said. “They flew me out. I had a great five-hour interview. It seemed like a great fit.”
Sneddon replaces Fred Nelson, who took over the team midseason last year after the departure of manager Lenn Sakata. Nelson led the Nuts to a California League second-half title.
During his 32-year tenure at Santa Ana, which ended last season with the school’s fifth consecutive Orange Empire Conference championship, Sneddon led the Dons to more than 1,000 victories. He coached pitchers C.J. Wilson of the Angels, Kris Medlen of Atlanta and Heath Bell of Tampa Bay.
In 2006, Sneddon earned victory No. 832 to break the state career record held by former Modesto Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein, who coached at Sacramento City College. The Rockies on Monday announced Weinstein would take over as offensive coordinator of their minor-league system.
Sneddon said the organization’s focus on player development – on and off the field – made it a perfect fit.
“You better be a skilled developer and know how to teach the game,” Sneddon said. “At the junior college level, we don’t get the drafted players or the four-year players.”
Sneddon has ties to the Northern San Joaquin Valley. He was born in Atwater, where his father spent time while in the Air Force.
The father of two adult children – Reid, 29, and Quinn, 20 – Sneddon plans to visit Modesto next week with his wife, Marta. The two live in Fountain Valley.
In late February, it’s off to Arizona for spring training – one more item to check off his bucket list.
“All these years I’ve never been to spring training because I’ve been coaching,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hanging out with the big boys and work with the Rockies organization.”
The Rockies announced that the remainder of Modesto’s staff – pitching coach Dave Burba, hitting coach Jon Stone and trainer Josh Guterman – will return this season.
The Nuts, who lost to Visalia in the first round of the playoffs last year, open the season at Bakersfield on April 3. Their home opener is a week later against Rancho Cucamonga.