By Jeremy Beren/For The Sporting Nation
Scottsdale Community College Artichokes softball coach Freddy Cabanillas’ three daughters all played softball, and he still remembers the day they were told by a coach that they were not skilled enough to play.
“I’ve been fortunate to have some really good coaches in my life,” Cabanillas said. “Not a one of them told me that. Everybody told me ‘You have to work hard, keep working at it, and you’ll do it'. At that point, I decided ‘you know what, I’m gonna teach my kids.’”
That was a turning point in Cabanillas’ 26-year coaching career, which has taken him through both baseball and softball, at the high school and college levels. The Casa Grande native now is in his first season as head coach of SCC’s softball team after three years as an assistant coach, and he is trying to change the culture of Artichokes softball.
“It’s like night and day,” sophomore pitcher Danica Cooke said. “His coaching style is so much different than the coach we had before - not that either of them has a bad coaching style. He does a really good job making sure we’re all focused and we all stay upbeat and positive.”
But more than implementing a new attitude and a penchant for hard work, Cabanillas has made it a requirement that his players do well in the classroom. For one, he has instituted a team grade point average goal and does grade checks routinely.
“He asks us about classes and he tells us if we’re having trouble with a class or trouble with a professor to go talk to him [Cabanillas] about it,” Cooke said. “It’s really nice knowing that we have someone that we can go talk to.”
Freshman first baseman Lauren Castellano described how Cabanillas’ approach has impacted her.
“It’s made me work a lot harder,” Castellano said. “It’s made me want to go to class because our team GPA is 3.2 and up, so we’re trying to make it higher, we’re trying to make it a new system here.”
The man known affectionately as “Coach Cabo” originally played baseball as an outfielder. One of his baseball coaches was Clint Myers, who coached Arizona State’s softball team between 2006 and 2013 and now holds the same position at Auburn University. Myers imparted to Cabanillas that there is more to life than softball, and that insight is the basis for Cabanillas’ methodology.
“We have to realize that we all have small windows,” Cabanillas said. “We want to make sure that the athlete out here is gonna be as successful or more on the academic side [when compared to softball]. One thing to understand is they coincide with each other. If you’re great in class, you have that attitude that you wanna work hard, study hard and you have a goal, you’re gonna do the same thing on the ball field.”
Cabanillas spent much of his life working for United Parcel Service while coaching individual players on the side. He eventually became an assistant coach and then head coach of Casa Grande High School’s softball team before he earned a degree from Kaplan University and arrived at Scottsdale.
“This has been a long time coming,” Cabanillas said. “It’s just something that’s been a long process coming… you know, you live your dreams. You wanna get to a point where you’re where you wanna be. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, have my job be on a ball field.”
Cabanillas’ team has a 17-29 win-loss record this season heading into April 18 games at Eastern Arizona College, but he has a long-term vision for SCC softball, and classroom success is at the foundation.
“I plan to be here as long as this great school will keep me,” Cabanillas said. “I am trying to make a program and establish a culture. I want girls that come here to understand that you wanna learn to play. You’ll learn to play at a level that you can move on from here and have opportunity that is in front of you, that you can achieve your goals. Whether it be all academic or all athletic or a good combination of both, it can be done.”
For now, though, Cabanillas is living the dream, and his head coaching gig at SCC is the realization of that dream.
“This is a great place to be,” Cabanillas said. “A lot of support here, a lot of room to work and room to grow.”