Viola walks from Bruin baseball |

Viola walks from Bruin baseball

After eight record-setting seasons as Bear River’s varsity baseball coach, Mike Viola has decided to step away from the game.

Taking over a program riddled with a lack of coaching continuity and much interest for the program on the south county campus, Viola built Bear River baseball into a winner.

Not only did the Bruins post a 135-65 record in his run as head coach, Bear River also claimed four Pioneer Valley League championships ” including the last three consecutive crowns.

Such success leaves some large shoes to fill, which will be the task of new head coach Dan Crossen, whom Bear River Athletic Director Duwaine Ganskie said has been hired to head the program.

“Losing Mike, that’s a huge loss,” said Ganskie. “When I first found out, I knew it was going to be a daunting task to replace him. It’s incredible what he’s been able to do with that baseball program.

“Before him, we struggled. We hadn’t had any coaching consistency in our baseball program. He came in and had a very determined approach, making baseball important at Bear River.”

That, Viola said, is probably his proudest achievement as the Bruins coach.

Along with all the league titles ” and his own four PVL “Coach of the Year” honors ” the playoff berths and a section runner-up showing in 2007, came Bear River’s reputation for putting a quality club on the field.

“We had a pretty good run,” Viola said. “I’m sure I’ll miss the kids, but it’s time for the next guy to get in there and do his own thing.”

“You know, as a parent, I missed a lot of (Little League) All-Star games, and TOC (Tournament of Champions) games while I was out there coaching. Whether it was American Legion or fall ball, I missed a lot of my own kids’ games.”

For the past few years, Viola got to see his oldest son, Vince, play on a regular basis as he was a regular in the Bruins’ pitching rotation. But Viola’s younger son, Nick, has been playing on travel teams for several years and many times dad couldn’t make the game.

Now as Vince plans to walk on to the baseball team at the University of Nevada, Reno and Nick is set to start his high school career at Jesuit in Carmichael, Viola doesn’t want to miss much more.

And considering the added responsibilities he’s assumed with his family’s highway construction business, he said there just wouldn’t be time for all of the above. Viola’s father retired last year from the family business, but Viola asked him to stay on until the end of the 2008 baseball season.

“It was really difficult last year to make it all work,” Viola said. “And now, with my dad completely retired, it would be even more difficult.”

So far, a few months after first considering the decision, Viola believes he’s made the right one. He’s enjoying himself with a few of his other favorite sports that have somewhat sat idly by due to baseball. He’s playing golf twice a week, going motorcycle riding once a week and is getting geared up for his family’s off-road racing team.

“Fall ball would be going on right now and I’m not missing it, actually,” he said. “But I’ll miss the guys and I’ll miss working with some of the people at Bear River.

“From (Former Athletic Director) Jack McCrory, who was like a father figure to me when he hired me, to Duwaine Ganskie to (Principal) Jim Nieto. They treated me great. I’ll miss working with guys like that.”

For Crossen, who has served as an assistant coach with the Bear River junior varsity football team and the Bruins’ section champion softball squad, the challenge to follow in Viola’s footsteps isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

But the U.S. and world history teacher said he knows he’s got a polished program in his hands.

“It’s a great way to start,” Crossen said. “Bear River has a reputation in the league and around the area. When you play Bear River in baseball, you know you’re going to play some tough competition. That’s due to the talent in the area, but also what Mike Viola did here.

“It feels good to know there are some pieces in place. Mike and I have a similar philosophy, so it’s an easy fit, an easy transition. I’ll add my own twists on things, but I know I couldn’t be coming into a better situation. Mike’s work over the past eight or nine years makes my job so much easier.”

Crossen, who grew up in Morgan Hill and attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his wife, Saralyn, have a 2-year-old son, Liam. The family moved to the area three years ago, when Crossen accepted his first teaching job.

“Growing up in the Bay Area and coming up to Tahoe, I was familiar with it,” he said. “I just loved the area.

“I’m real excited to take this position. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a teacher and a varsity head coach. After coaching softball, I’m definitely going to miss the girls, but this is my dream and I’ve got to go for it.”

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