Chico Heat appoint local coach as manager, collegiate baseball league takes shape
Fred Ludwig’s known for months that the Chico Heat and high- level summertime baseball is returning to Chico, but wasn’t planning on putting his name in the hat to become the team’s field manager. At least not until Pat Gillick, a National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, stepped into his office about three weeks ago and asked him to.
The head baseball coach at Pleasant Valley High School was taken off guard and maybe a little star-struck: “I just said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Ludwig was introduced as the Chico Heat’s field manager on Tuesday (Aug. 25) during a press conference at Golden Valley Bank on Cohasset Road. Heat General Manager Hunter Hampton said the right candidate needed to be college-educated, successful on the field, and have established connections with college baseball coaches across the country.
“We also wanted someone who understands small-town living,” Hampton said, “someone who really gets what Chico is about.”
Ludwig fits that description. He was born and raised in Paradise, is enshrined in the Paradise High School Athletic Hall of Fame and, in his third and final year playing for Chico State in 1991, was voted team captain. He’s coached every year since, mentoring hundreds of players during his five years with the top local American Legion team, the Chico Nuts, seven years with Paradise High School and the past five with Pleasant Valley.
“I’m a Chico guy,” Ludwig said during the press conference. “That’s the biggest thing.”
News broke last year that, in June 2016, the Chico Heat will return to Chico State’s Nettleton Stadium as part of a new collegiate wood-bat circuit, the Great West League, and play the first summer baseball there since the Chico Outlaws in 2011. Steve Nettleton, the supermarket magnate and donor for whom the stadium is named—and owner of the original Heat—is partnering with Gillick, former general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies.
But the new Heat will be markedly different from the previous Heat and Outlaws teams, which were both part of professional independent leagues not affiliated with Major League Baseball. The forthcoming iteration, rather, will be composed entirely of unpaid players in the NCAA system.
The Great West League is still taking shape. Four of six teams have officially announced their participation, including the nearby Marysville Gold Sox, along with the Lodi Crushers and the Portland Pickles. The 10-week, 60-game schedule will introduce college players to a daily grind similar to that of professional baseball. Ludwig noted that the league’s tentative schedule has the Heat playing an evening game in Portland and then traveling to Lodi, more than 600 miles south, to play again the next night.
The recruitment process has already begun with the help of longtime MLB scout Wayne Morgan, and it’s more than watching players on the field, Ludwig said.
“I’ve talked to about 10 kids across the nation already,” he said. The roster will include 30 players. “I get into their background a little bit. I’ve called a few high school coaches to get a feel for their character.”
He’s looking for players who will immerse themselves in the community and the experience of playing in front of big crowds. “I want them to relish Chico and to get involved,” he said. “When a kid comes up and asks them to sign a ball, I want them to do that. They need to do that.”
Just as many baseball fans are anticipating the Heat’s first game on June 3, Ludwig is, too.
“I’m looking forward to seeing all of you out at the yard,” he said.