Pacific alumnus receives national baseball award for global impact
University of the Pacific alumnus and long-time baseball coach John Noce ’53 has received the 2023 Lefty Gomez Award from the American Baseball Coaches Association, presented annually to someone who has contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally and internationally.
Noce led the College of San Mateo baseball program for 31 years (1962-1992), capturing 13 conference titles and finishing runner-up three times in the California community college playoffs. At the time of his retirement, he was the winningest coach in California community college baseball history.
“John had a huge impact on the game,” said Pat Doyle, long-time head baseball coach at Delta College, who nominated him for the award. “I’m not sure California junior college baseball would be as good as it is now without John Noce.”
Noce joins other legends of the game who have received the award, including former Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth and legendary coaches Ron Fraser (Miami), Ron Polk (Mississippi State), Bob Bennett (Fresno State) and Rod Dedeaux (University of Southern California).
Noce got his “coaching bug” while in high school in Richmond, California. With few coaches available during World War II, the community’s youth baseball games were often run by captains. As a 14- and 15-year-old, Noce became one of those captains and started “coaching” his team.
“We would play from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then after dinner, go back to the park to watch the shift workers from the nearby shipyard play softball,” Noce said.
After high school, Noce attended the College of San Mateo before following former teammate and Pacific Hall of Famer Bill Watkins to Pacific, playing for the Tigers in 1951 and 1952. Noce was Watkins’ battery mate (catcher paired with a pitcher) in junior high, high school, junior college and at Pacific and the professional level with the Stockton Ports minor league baseball team.
Behind the strong arms of Watkins and teammate Jack Sandman, the Tigers split a home series against nationally ranked Arizona in 1951, winning the second game, 5-2. Noce played for the Medicine (Alberta) Hat Mohawks in 1951, the Ports in 1952 and Ventura in 1953 before a two-year tour with the U.S. Army. While in the medical service corps at Fort Riley, he played on the baseball team that won the Kansas Semipro Tournament in Wichita.
After his discharge in 1955, Noce started coaching at a small public high school in Half Moon Bay, then coached at Carlmont and San Carlos high schools before landing the San Mateo job. Seventy-two of his players went on to play professional baseball, including eight major leaguers. More than 200 of his former players went on to play Division I baseball.
His impact on the game of baseball became worldwide as he coached and mentored players in summer league play in the Quebec and Edmonton areas of Canada. He spent 11 summers north of the border helping players, including some of his San Mateo student-athletes.
He then began a 20-year tenure coaching summer teams in Italy, starting in Parma as a coach/manager. The Italian Baseball Federation appointed him assistant coach for the Italian National Team in 1977 and he continued in that role through 1996, including coaching in the Olympic Games in 1984, 1992 and 1996.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that I was able to place more than 80 former players into baseball jobs in Canada or Europe because of my connections,” Noce said.
“John did a lot for baseball,” said former baseball player Dave Bevilaqua ’79. “My senior year, he was at one of our games and asked me if I would play in Italy. He was the first person to suggest it. I played four years in Italy. John helped grow the sport of baseball in Italy. He took a lot of the coaches under his wing and taught them how to build an organization the right way.”
Noce also ran one of the best coaches’ clinics in the state for many years, which provided mentorship to college, high school and youth coaches. “He impacted so many facets of the game,” Doyle said.
Three of John’s five sons, Paul, John and Doug, have continued the Noce coaching legacy, coaching at the college, high school or professional level. All three played in Italy during Noce’s 20-year tenure there. In addition, John’s granddaughter, Jenna, is the West Coast Conference Assistant to the Commissioner.