Son of Andy Lopez learns the ropes as undergraduate assistant coach for Arizona baseball
For four years Michael Lopez wore the Arizona uniform as a player. Now with his playing career over, Michael Lopez has hung up the spikes and grabbed a clipboard in hope of someday following his father’s footsteps.
From 2009-2012, Michael Lopez was a pitcher on the Arizona staff under his father head coach Andy Lopez. During his playing career at the UA, Michael Lopez saw only limited action, pitching a combined 3.1 innings.
But the lack of playing time didn’t stop Michael Lopez from building strong relationships with his teammates. So when the team announced he was keeping his Arizona uniform, only it’d be as unpaid undergraduate coach, players like reliever Augey Bill were more than excited.
“It’s pretty cool because we have that bond of being teammates,” Bill said. “I played with Michael Lopez for three years so he knows how I pitch. I feel like there’s not the pressure of talking to a coach it’s like talking to a buddy. So I love having him on the staff.”
A likeable teammate, Lopez has learned a lot from his father who is known for connecting with his players as well. But there is more to coaching than just being a positive figure. A coach needs to know the game inside and out from all perspectives, Andy Lopez said.
“I told him when he decided to join the staff that he would need to broaden his knowledge,” Andy Lopez said. “And that takes time, but I think he understands that and he’s off to the right start.”
If any one knows, it’s Andy Lopez.
Andy Lopez is a three-time national Coach of the Year winner, a two-time NCAA national champion coach and just one of two men to coach a national championship team at two separate programs, Pepperdine (1992) and Arizona (2012).
He’s had 119 former players sign professional contracts and in 1975 he himself was drafted out of UCLA to the Detroit Tigers. However, Andy Lopez turned down the contract to finish his degree and start his coaching career at L.A. Harbor Community College.
Michael Lopez admitted to not being the greatest hitting instructor and said for now he sticks to the pitchers. Along with shadowing his father, Michael Lopez tends to keep close to Arizona pitching coach Shaun Cole. Once Lopez becomes more familiar with the bat he will begin to roam the practice field more.
Becoming a coach
It’s taken some time for Michael Lopez to get adjusted to coaching. Almost every time he’s ever walked onto a baseball field, it’s been as a player. But in February, before the Wildcats’ first game of the season, Michael Lopez put on his same uniform as he’d worn for the past four years but not the same shoes.
“The first game was the weirdest transition for me,” Michael Lopez said. “I looked down and I wasn’t wearing my cleats. And I thought I should be putting my cleats on.”
Another awkward transition for the newest Wildcat’s coach has been going from being best friends with teammates to now critiquing their skills. The transition to a management position can be nerve racking for some people, and that was the case for Michael Lopez.
Shy about being assertive, Michael Lopez said he stayed back and watched Cole and his father coach for the first few practices and let them do their thing.
“It was different at first during games just sitting there in the dugout,” Michael Lopez said. “It took some time getting used to watching your product and helping them verbally.”
Michael Lopez said he plans on returning to Tucson for the 2014 season as a volunteer graduate assistant coach. Volunteer assistant coach Josh Garcia, who currently holds that position, will be coaching elsewhere next season.
Even though he said he’d like to get out of Arizona, Michael Lopez is making sure he doesn’t miss out on this unique father-son coaching relationship.
“Our relationship now is more personal because I see him everyday in the office and I’m around him way more,“ Lopez said. “I used to just really see him on our off days but now I talk to him all the time since we work together.”
Andy Lopez’ path to coaching began slightly different than his oldest son’s. But, where Michael Lopez would like to see his career go is no different than his father’s.
Michael Lopez said he wants to someday be a head coach of a college team and prepare his players to be men. He admires his father for that and believes it’s what makes Andy a great coach.
So, for now, he’s taking advantage of his time with his old man and soaking in everything he can.
“I look up to my dad a lot when it comes to being a coach,” Michael Lopez said. “The way he gets his players to play, the way he can reach his players. And it’s not all baseball; he really develops you for life. And I think that’s impressive and one thing I’d like to say I can do.”