WATSONVILLE — Youth baseball coach Tom Gugale was known for his passion for the game, his gregarious personality and for the legions of young people who loved to play for him.
Gugale was killed Friday morning when his truck overturned near San Luis Reservoir. He was 47.
Watsonville High School baseball coach James Gomez said he has known Gugale all his life, a friendship that began to grow in earnest when, at the request of Gomez’ 8-year-old son, the men worked together to start a travel ball league.
“It blew up from there,” Gomez said. “He got super involved in the community.”
Gomez said that Gugale’s passion for the game served as inspiration for the young people he coached.
“He made it fun,” Gomez said. “There are a lot of coaches that are about winning, but he didn’t care about winning trophies. He told them it’s not about winning, it’s about playing the game and enjoying it.”
Gomez estimated that 75 percent of his students at Watsonville High School received coaching from Gugale.
“More than anything he said, ‘I love my life,’” Gomez said. “If you love what you do it’s not working.”
Pajaro Valley Little League President Rick Stubblefield said he has known Gugale since he and his brother were young players in what was then called Salsipuedes Little League.
Stubblefield said he followed Gugale’s career as he eventually became a coach.
“There is no doubt that every kid who played for him loved playing for him,” Stubblefield said.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Gugale was driving a 1992 GMC pickup truck east on Highway 152 at about 8 a.m. with his son and two other teenage passengers near the San Luis Reservoir.
According to the CHP, Gugale was taking the three boys to a baseball game.
Gugale was near the Cottonwood Recreation Area when his truck left the road for unknown reasons, the CHP reported.
The truck smashed through a fence and rolled into the reservoir. It is unclear whether Gugale died from the impact or from drowning. All four people were wearing seat belts. Alcohol is not suspected in the crash.
Gugale’s 17-year-old son TJ suffered major injuries and was taken to a trauma center in critical condition. His condition was not available Monday.
Manny Rodrigues, who owns Ace Hardware in Watsonville, said Gugale worked for him in the late ‘80s.
“I’ve known him since then,” he said. “He was a really nice guy.”
Rodrigues said he will miss Gugale’s “upbeat” sense of humor.
James Velarde said Gugale was skilled at working with students of all skill levels, and helped his then-7-year-old son gain confidence and boost his skills when he was part of the Aldrete Baseball Academy.
“He had a really awesome way of connecting with kids,” Velarde said.
Velarde explained that Gugale made up nicknames for all his players, and often sang songs to praise good performances.
“Tom was a big kid,” Velarde said. “They probably thought they were dealing with one of their own.”
For Gugale’s lifelong friend Ruben Tellez, his biggest contribution was his impact on the young people he coached.
“On the field you couldn’t find a person who had a love for the game like Tom,” Tellez said. “That’s all he wanted to do. It was his passion.”
But it was Gugale’s booming voice that made him stand out, even in the midst of a crowded baseball field.
“When you were around a field where Tom was, you knew he was there,” Tellez said. “It’s going to be a lot quieter, and that’s going to be sad.”
Gugale’s family has set up a Gofundme page to help defray the cost of his funeral. To make a contribution, visit www.gofundme.com/gugale-family-support-fund.