St. Mary’s head baseball coach Joseph Ponce has had coaching in his plans for a long time. Growing up playing football and baseball all the way through high school, it was late in his high school when he knew that he wanted to coach one of the two sports.
“Ever since I was 17,” Ponce said, “I decided that teaching and coaching is what I wanted to do with my life.”
Ponce didn’t really grow up with a father figure in high school, as his stepfather died when he was 14 years old. He wanted to become a coach because he wanted to be a father figure to his players like his coaches in high school.
“Playing football and baseball in high school really made me latch onto my high school coaches to fill that father figure void, to teach me how to do thing the right way, to be on time, to have high character [and] to work hard in everything I do,” Ponce added.
He wants to have the same impact on his players that his coaches had on him, even if it’s just a few of them. In the midst of turning the St. Mary’s baseball program around and making them a perennial state title contender, 30-year-old Ponce emphasizes his commitment to his work.
“It’s a 12-month thing,” Ponce said.
During the long offseason, including the summertime, Ponce always has his players practicing and lifting weights. He works long and hard hours during the season and during the offseason. Even during holidays he’s thinking about his players, checking in on their health, talking to them about fundraising events, and he’s constantly organizing deals for facilities for in-season and offseason training.
Outside of baseball, family is a top priority for Ponce, and he tries not to let baseball take over his priority of spending time with his family. In the midst of his very busy schedule, he is constantly traveling back to California to visit his extended family and spend as much time with them as he can.
His family members are big baseball fans and he talks a lot about baseball with them when he visits for holidays and special occurrences. All of his close friends in Arizona are also baseball and football coaches, so it’s rare that Ponce avoids a conversation about baseball or coaching in his free time.
At a certain point he thought that he wanted to coach baseball in college but “as soon as [he] became the head coach at St. Mary’s, [he] knew this was the place for [him],” Ponce said.
He acknowledges that it takes a lot more time and dedication to coach in college and he prefers remaining on the high school scene. He’s “living [his] dream being with these kids” and this what he’s wanted to do for the last 12 years of his life. He wants all of his players to play in college and wants to make an impact on 15, 16, 17 and 18 year olds while they’re young that he couldn’t match while coaching college players that are already young adults.
Ponce’s players are very comfortable with him and many will come to his office at the school to talk about their academic and personal problems going on in their life. For example, in 2018 one of his players needed a job and he walked him through the process and helped him land a part-time job. He also has written job recommendations for former players because he had formed such a tight bond with them.
He emphasizes building special relationships with his players and being able to help them through any issues they come across. He also stays in touch with several of his past players, mainly using social media platforms.
3rd year assistant coach Aaron Rideao enjoys Ponce’s enthusiasm and is one of his biggest supporters.
“I think he’s great for our program, for our student-athletes,” Rideao said, adding that “the kids relate to him really well.”
His excitement for the game and his players is very special and is a great attribute to the program.
1st year assistant coach Kyle Schuster, becoming a coach after blowing his shoulder out as a player, came to St. Mary’s as an assistant due to Ponce’s coaching style and had more to add on what makes Ponce’s coaching approach special.
“He talks to [the players] like they’re men,” Schuster said.
He added that he’s hard on them because he wants the best for them and wants to prepare them for the real world after high school. St. Mary’s alumni and current assistant coach Cody Berumen also spoke highly of what Ponce has done with the program.
He went on to talk about how the St. Mary’s baseball program had gone through some tough seasons and lost a lot of games in the recent years upon Ponce’s arrival. He is very impressed at how Ponce has turned the program around and make the team a perennial state title contender.
“[Ponce] has really taught me how to coach,” Berumen said, adding that “he really cares… you can tell he was invested in the program from day one.”