Courtesy of Cynthia Armiento
District 10 Little League administrator Mike Gentry attends the Madera National Little League opening day ceremonies with is wife Kandy. Gentry began is service to Little League with the MNLL.
Fifteen years ago, Mike Gentry, Little League District 10 administrator, got his start in the organization from a chance drive past Lions Town & Country Park in Madera.
Gentry, 47, was on his way home when he saw a sign at the park for baseball sign-ups. He picked up his son Trevor, then 9, took him to the park and registered for Little League.
Trevor’s start in Little League was also Gentry’s start. In the Madera National Little League, Gentry has served as coach, vice president, president and administrator.
“I was able to be there and go to practices and do things, but I didn’t want to coach,” Gentry said of his early days in Little League. “I wanted to just sit back and be the dad that watched. I didn’t want to be the guy in charge.”
He went to the practices and saw that the coaches were working with the best players, while the other players were sitting on the bench fooling around. Gentry said this made him go crazy. About three to four weeks before the season started, he asked the coaches if he could help out with anything.
“By the time we get to the first game, I’m the second coach,” Gentry said, “and probably the third week of the season, I get the rule book and the equipment bag handed to me, and the manager’s going, ‘I can’t make it; you’re going to have to run the team for a few weeks,’ so there I am.”
In 2003, he was at a football game and saw someone he knew through Little League, who invited him to attend board meetings, if he wanted to.
“I don’t know why I didn’t walk out the door, but I stayed and, by midseason, I’m an official board member,” Gentry said.
One of the major challenges Gentry faced was dealing with parents and finding the right people to help run the leagues who care about everyone, not just their own child.
“Baseball in Little League is very political,” Gentry said. “It’s everybody’s most precious thing — their children.”
Dealing with parents is not a new struggle and former Madera National president John Gray had to deal with it for years before he retired.
“The parents are always going to be the big factor,” Gray said. “They’re always there for [their] kids, and they’re really not there for everybody.”
Gray said he told Gentry to stick to the rules and to stay strong with the parents.
“He was under my wing for a long time, so he knows it takes a lot of rawhide to stand up to it, but it can wear on you,” Gray said. “Parents can be real demanding.”
Additional challenges Gentry faces are dealing with coaches who behave poorly on the field, as well as working to make the district more professional. Gentry said that liability issues play a much bigger role than ever before.
Ray Hix is a longtime Little League coach and saw Gentry rise from coach to administrator.
“Mike is extremely patient, and that is a virtue,” Hix said. “You have to be dedicated. You can’t be effective and be lazy in these types of jobs. You have to really be the type of person that takes the challenge and takes the bull by the horns and gets after it, or you just will not be successful.”
Hix said that Gentry has the willingness to do what it takes to educate himself on every aspect of his position so he can help everyone.
“We didn’t always see eye to eye,” Hix said. “There were times where we had differences, when he was president and I was a manager, but nonetheless, that was few and far between. That doesn’t take away from how great he did in his job being president. Just because you don’t agree 100 percent of the time doesn’t mean you can’t support somebody 100 percent.”
Although Gentry’s son finished Little League in 2005, Gentry stayed in the game because he enjoyed the people he met and the friendships he made.
When he started with Little League, he never imagined he would be where he is at now, but he realized that he is following family tradition. His grandfather was a Babe Ruth coach in Madera for 25 years, and then became a wrestling booster for another 25 years. His uncle started and ran a youth football program in Coalinga for 30 years.
Gentry is not sure how long he will be district administrator, but he loves volunteering his time for the kids.
“If you ask just about any guy who’s involved in Little League as a dad, he can tell you how much he loved Little League,” Gentry said. “He can tell you about the snack shack at the ballpark. He may not be able to tell you a whole lot about what play happened on any given day — maybe might remember a championship game if he was in a big time game or something — but it’s going to be more about the feeling, or the smell, or just the general feeling he had participating with his buddies and his neighbors. I hope we build some of those. I hope that those are what the kids come away with.”
Daniel Gligich is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.