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The valuable others

There are people off the field that help a program run

Posted: July 31, 2009 8:21 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Canyon High public address announcer Mike Civita sits below the press box at Harry Welch Stadium Thursday. Civita is a 1982 Canyon High graduate who also helps with tasks for Cowboys football.

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Amidst a cluttered sea of files, game programs and baseballs, Hart statistician Mike Gaber sits at his desk tallying number after number.  

There may be no one who knows more about Santa Clarita Valley baseball than Gaber.

He is a prolific stat keeper, a mainstay at Hart High for over two decades and a man that can tell you where any of the Hart alumni from the last 20 years is playing and what they are doing.

Gaber is one of the others — the other people involved in a sports program that don’t play on the field or coach a team, but play a big role in the overall scheme.

Gaber, 76 years old on Sunday, has so much information stored that he uses five computers in his Van Nuys home, including his laptop, which he brings to every Hart home game where he keeps score in the Indians’ press box.

“I’m kind of technologically behind,” Gaber jokes. “I see these coaches that keep their stats on PDAs, and I think I’d like to do that, but I have my system, and I have been doing it for a long time.”

Gaber first came up with the statistical database available at http://www.hartbaseballstats.com, while he was recovering from cancer found in his knee in the mid 1990s.

He began doing stats for Hart High baseball in 1987.

But he actually got his statistical start four years earlier when a friend of his named Danny Tsukashima invited Gaber to come out and watch his son Darin play at the William S. Hart PONY League.

Gaber watched and wanted to contribute so he started doing stats.

Now, Gaber still uses DOS programming and an elaborate system of numbers to keep stats that nearly rival the database of his favorite Web site, baseball-reference.com.

“I started to think, while I had some time that I was putting together all these stat sheets and information, I figured I could redo everything and I made the database for all the stats I had,” Gaber says, who was working as a computer analyst programmer and systems analyst at the time.

What Gaber has created is the most comprehensive statistical site in the Santa Clarita Valley.

He has chronicled every Hart game for the last two decades, while becoming a fixture at Indians baseball games.

“I got involved with Hart through the people I knew through PONY ball,” says Gaber, who used to commute from Hart games to Dodger Stadium in the late 1980s when he had season tickets. “My wife wishes I would just sit at home, but it is what I love to do. I just don’t say anything when she tells me to work less on the Web site.”

Baseball stats have been a passion for Gaber since he was a young child.

He found his love of baseball’s complex mathematics at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

“My mom gave me 50 cents,” Gaber says. “Most kids would go buy candy or food, but I went and bought ‘Who’s Who of Baseball.” I must have memorized every name in that book. Ever since then I have been hooked on baseball and the numbers that come with it.”

Still there are few mementos Gaber has kept from his life covering baseball.

He has an autographed baseball from Hart’s 1999 CIF-Southern Section Division II Championship team, and, surprisingly, a ball with the signature of former National League umpire Eric Gregg.

“I had a buddy who Gregg stayed with when he was in town for Dodger games so he could save his per diem,” Gaber says. “Well, my buddy showed him the stats I kept, and I guess he was impressed so he said he wanted to meet me, but his flight got delayed and we never caught up, but he did pass along a signed ball that I held on to.”

Gaber also spent some time on the ball field growing up.

He played two years on the Sullivan High School varsity team in Chicago before trying out for the University of Miami baseball team his freshman year in 1951.

“I remember I came out for the team, and the coach took all of us smaller guys,” says Gaber, who stands 5-foot-6-inches. “He told us to sit in the dugout and to watch the guys practice, and if we thought we could come back the next and play with them then we were free to comeback. I never came back so I don’t know if anybody else did.”

Still, Gaber never lost his love of the game, and he now gets to watch players that he kept stats on, such as Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields, who pitched in the 2008 World Series.

“I get a thrill that I get to say that I knew these guys when they were growing up,” Gaber says. “I have a friend who jokes, ‘You raised James Shields.’ To be honest I couldn’t even pick the kid out of a lineup until he was probably a senior because I always have my head buried in a stat book. But to see guys from this program succeed is really nice. I’ve been involved with this program for a long time, and it has just been a natural thing for me to do stats. It’s what I’ve always done, and what I’ll probably always do.”

Nancy Ullman was looking for a way to support her son’s new spring athletic interest and get involved with Valencia tennis, so when the opportunity to run the Valencia boys tennis Web site came up, she took it.

“I was contacted by the team about running the Web site, and it seemed like a great idea,” says Ullman, the mother of current Viking Dalton Ullman. “Dalton was a baseball player growing up so with him changing sports it felt like a great chance to get involved with something new that he was doing.”

Valencia went 10-0 in the Foothill League last season, earning its fourth straight championship.

But there was a lot of outside support.

“There were a lot of us that really supported the team,” Ullman says. “Susie Townsend organized uniforms and team banners. Thane Townsend designed the Valencia Tennis logo on uniforms, banners and Web site. Yvette Jannson put together all of our Jersey Mike’s fundraisers. Mike Inchalik works close to keep the team running smoothly. Rose Gottshall is like another mom to all of the players, and sometimes they call her ‘Mother Rose.’”

Ullman plans to keep running the Web site as her son enters his senior year, while he steps into a more prominent role on the Vikings’ varsity.

“It’s so great to get to see him play in a program like this one, and for me to be a part of it makes it even better as a parent,” Ullman says. “(Head coach) Annie Kellogg has been fantastic. She is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. She just possesses the attitude to inspire people, and that is what makes me want to be affiliated with this team and glad that my son is a part of it.”

Tabitha Guzman became involved with West Ranch football when her son, Joshua, was a freshman. By the time he was a junior, she was president of the Wildcat Booster Club.

Now entering her second season as president, Guzman says her involvement with the club has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of watching her son grow as an athlete.

“It has been great to watch him grow as an athlete, and it has been such a wonderful experience to get to work with other parents to help our kids get the chance to play football,” Guzman says. “Our booster club is incredibly dedicated. We are still a pretty new school so we work to make everything better for our kids.”

With economic times tighter, the Wildcat Booster Club has stepped up its fundraising program. Last year, the football team held events such as a casino night and a push-up-athon.

“We have such a great group of young gentlemen,” Guzman says. “I’m really impressed with the coaching staff we have now. We work hard to bring down the cost of what it costs a football player to play the game here, and we think we are making good strides toward that.”

Guzman has worked on finding ways to make it easier for West Ranch to make a push towards the playoffs, while it incorporates a new head coach in Sean O’Brien and new players on the field.

“O’Brien has been such a class act,” Guzman says. “It has been so great to work with all the teams we have at different levels. All the players have come together so it is exciting to be a part of that. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”

He’s the voice of the Cowboys, but Mike Civita is much more to Canyon football.                  

Mike Civita, a 1982 Canyon High graduate, started announcing freshman and junior varsity games in 2003, while he accepted a variety of roles with the football program, including video work, which he still does and will continue to do during the upcoming season.

Some Fridays during the years when Harry Welch was coaching the Cowboys, Civita would arrive on campus at 8 a.m. and not leave until noon the next day.

“Football is a lifetime commitment,” Civita says. “You have to put in your effort to be a part of something that is like a well-oiled machine.”

Civita is definitely a major part of what makes the Canyon football motor run.

When he isn’t tutoring students at various levels of learning in math and science, he working on his other passion, Canyon football.

“I bleed green and gold,” Civita says. “Being a part of this program has given me a chance to be a part of something that I love. The other day I was at the drug store picking up something, and I ran into a couple of former players and they yelled out, ‘Hey coach,” and we wound up hanging out for a couple of hours, which was really cool.”

Civita’s work has helped him to be a part of the Canyon community and led to gigs such as the master of ceremonies at the last year’s Canyon cheerleading award banquet.

“There has been a lot that I have gotten out of doing this job,” Civita says. “I have gotten to make a lot of new friends, but at the same time I get to talk to some teachers that were here when I was a student, only as an adult now. It is really gratifying.”

While being the man behind the Canyon microphone has helped craft Civita’s niche with the Cowboys, there is no doubt what is first on his mind.

“I just want to see our team succeed,” Civita says. “I think coach (Chris) Varner is starting to put a team together that can contend. I would love to see our guys make strides and have a breakout year.”

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