Former Oakland A’s outfielder and recently signed Arizona Diamondback Eric Byrnes was guest hosting on KNBR 680 four weeks ago when he paid the ultimate compliment to a local coach.
"There’s a guy at Skyline College that knows more about hitting than anyone in the MLB,” Byrnes said on the show. "How does that happen?”
Byrnes was referring to renowned Trojans’ hitting coach John Quintell, who was actually at a gas station at the time Byrnes made his comments.
"I didn’t hear what he had to say, but a number of my students’ parents called me and said, ‘Eric Byrnes is talking about you on KNBR,” Quintell said. "It was kind of nuts. It totally caught me off guard and it was one of the nicest things he could say. He made me feel like a million bucks.”
Byrnes started working out at Skyline in the first week of December. The question is, what in the heck is a Major Leaguer, who recently signed a one-year deal worth $2.25 million, doing working out at a junior college?
"That’s a great question,” Quintell said. "I think all true ballplayers, whether they’re 8 or 28, have an interest in learning. Eric wasn’t looking for anything. He just wanted to take a couple of hacks at first.”
According to Quintell and Skyline head coach Dino Nomicos, Byrnes needed a place to work out in December and January. The former St. Francis High standout recently bought a house in Half Moon Bay, and the Skyline campus was just a baseball throw away. Plus, ex-Stanford star John Gall and former Serra standout Pat Peavy were already regular workout members at the San Bruno college. Quintell and Byrnes hit it off immediately, and after some hitting sessions, Quintell said Byrnes was already talking about making the 2006 All-Star game.
"I said, ‘let’s not get ahead of ourselves,’” Quintell said. "We got to work right away, and by the time he gets to spring training, he’ll be dialed in. I asked him what he wanted to do this year and his goal was to hit 25 home runs. I said, ‘yeah, I’ll get you there.’”
Quintell has the ability to turn hacks into career .300 hitters, and .300 hitters into the next Ichiro. With a keen, analytical eye, Quintell possesses more knowledge than an encyclopedia. The burly 6-foot-3, 236-pounder has a special gift and an uncanny ability to see what’s wrong in a swing and, more importantly, to make the necessary adjustments so a hitter can improve.
"He’s the best around,” Nomicos, 43, said. "Even when our teams were bad, we always hit well. There is nobody better, and I’ll take that to the bank any day. He sees things that most guys can’t see. He pays attention to detail and has a way of explaining that makes it easy for guys to pick up on. He really analyzes a swing, it’s his art.”
Born in San Bruno, Quintell graduated from Capuchino in 1987 before spending two years at the College of San Mateo. He transferred to Sacramento State and was selected in the 19th round of the 1991 draft by the New York Yankees. He spent five years in the Yankees’ minor league organization, mostly at the double-A and triple-A level. A talented catcher, Quintell never got the call to the big leagues, ending his childhood dream. He was released in ’96, and by that time his attitude had soured.
"It was devastating,” Quintell said. "I was depressed because it was like losing a loved one. You can never play the game you loved so much ever again, and I didn’t know what the hell the future had in store for me. It’s really sad when you realize you’ll never be able to compete again at a high level.”
Quintell was so angry that on his cross-country drive back home he stopped off on the side of a road in Arizona and threw all of his baseball equipment out of his car. Once home, Quintell started working at a lawn company in Santa Clara.
"I was going through the motions,” he said. "Even my mom said that I wasn’t the same, and it was like I was dying on a vine.”
Quintell’s life changed when his childhood friend, Tony Sylvestri, who at the time was the coach at Capuchino, invited him to come to a practice. After spending a few minutes with some of the Capuchino hitters, Quintell found his new nirvana.
"The kids just ate it (instruction) up,” he said. "There’s no greater feeling than hitting a baseball well. I don’t know why I’m good at it, but I know I can make a difference, and I’ll do it until the day I die. I can talk about hitting all day. Look, anyone can work hard, but working smart, that’s the gift. I’ll have a conversation with my wife, and everything reverts back to baseball. She’ll roll her eyes. Dino makes fun of me because he can fix and build anything, while I can’t change a light bulb. The only thing I can do is teach a person how to hit a baseball.”
Once Nomicos got the Skyline job for the 2000 season, he immediately turned his attention toward Quintell. The two have been inseparable ever since. Nomicos was a best man at Quintell’s Aug. 20, 2004 wedding, and the two share a passion for the game. Once a backwater program, Skyline went 30-7 two years ago before "dropping off” to 20-18 last season. According to Quintell, from 1995-99, Skyline went 6-140.
The start of the junior college baseball season is only three weeks away, and Nomicos and Quintell believe the Trojans can repeat their historic ’04 season. In six years under Nomicos and Quintell, Skyline has produced seven All-Americans, seven have signed pro contracts and 58 have earned scholarships to four-year universities, Nomicos said. Both coaches credit each other for the Trojans’ revitalization.
"He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met,” Quintell said. "There’s two things I hate: selfishness and liars. Dino is the exact opposite, and we’ve been close since Day One. He’s as close to a brother as you can possibly be without getting a blood test.”
Said Nomicos: "He’s a straight-shooter, no bull, and takes a lot of pride in what he does. He’s kind of a throwback, and that’s why I think we get along so well. He has a great heart; when you’re helping kids, you’re doing something right. Is there a reason some pro guys are coming here to work out? Absolutely. John has shown to be brilliant. Plus, I think it’s a good place to work out, and no one bothers them. That’s the last thing the pros want, is for people to bother them.”
Quintell has a simple credo: "If I can’t prove it to you, don’t dare listen to a word I say.” So far, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t seen results under Quintell’s tutelage.