Sometimes life guides us along a circuitous route and we end up in a place we never would have imagined. That is exactly what has happened to 28-year-old Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo, head coach of the Decatur High School baseball program. Coach Cardoza had aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player but that dream vanished when he injured his knee. Born in Puerto Rico, Coach fell in love with the sport and witnessed the passion the players had for baseball on the island. He recalls watching the number one 16-and-under team in the Caribbean.
I got to see those guys practice every time we did. Man, I loved seeing them work. I learned so much and fell in love just by watching. Some of the guys would walk more than three miles to get to the field with their gear and then walk back home after practice. I was 14 at the time.
Coach Cardoza started coaching baseball in Atlanta as a favor to a friend and helped out with a travel team.
I started to like it but had no aspiration to coach high school. Then another friend, Pete Bartlewski, now the head coach at Druid Hills and assistant coach at the time, asked me if I would help coach at Druid Hills. I went and was an assistant coach. Then halfway through the next school year, Decatur needed an interem head coach and I stepped in. The most difficult thing was trying to change a whole culture around a baseball program and community. Changing the culture was about gaining the trust of the families and parents. It was important for them to understand our vision at Decatur High and how the program would benefit their son or daughter, especially when we were setting high expectations and trying to go places where Decatur baseball hadn’t been in 50 years. We have taken steps in the right direction and made the Decatur program a contender, a serious program and one that has developed its players and put a competitive product on the field. These steps would have never been possible without the support of Coach Wilson, former Principal McKain, Principal Maloof, the parents and families.
There is no doubt that Coach Cardoza has found his calling and has been honing his talent as a coach over the past several years. He has elevated the Decatur baseball team to a level none would have dreamed possible in just three years. This is a testament to his ability to challenge and inspire his players on a daily basis.
The greatest thing about coaching at Decatur High School has by far been the players, working with them on a daily basis and getting to know them on and off the field. The relationships we have built together are the greatest. My interest is about helping young people achieve their goals. More importantly, helping them get the best out of themselves is the true challenge. That’s hard for kids to understand so we have set up an environment that challenges them to do that. It takes an intelligent approach, a conducive environment, and a commitment. That’s where my interest in the game has evolved.
I asked Coach what he hoped his players would take away from their experience under his guidance and support.
I hope what they take away is that hard work pays off but that one can’t look for overnight results. The attention should be on the process not the results. There is always work to be done, challenges to be taken and something to look forward to and chase every day.
Coach Cardoza has been hired by the Texas Rangers to coach their July 2nd team in the Tricky League, a league in the Dominican Republic for newly-signed international prospects. In the fall he will go to Arizona to coach in the instructional league.
I have been living a dream for the last two years at Decatur High. The position I have taken with the Texas Rangers is an opportunity. I’m not sure what my dreams are for the future. I know that I will take everything I have learned during my time at Decatur and use it to serve the players I will be working with. To me, it’s about their dreams and their goals. In this case, it’s also about their livelihoods. But it’s also still a game. To have success, you have to enjoy it. So, I will try to give them my best and get the best out of them every day, just like I have tried to do with our players at Decatur.
It has been my honor to photograph the Decatur High School baseball teams this season. In doing so I came to appreciate the love and passion my son has for the game. That level of understanding on my part has strengthened our bond. I was witness to the close relationships that evolved amongst the players and between the players and coaches. In the dugout, players are uninhibited; they show their emotions and feel comfortable being themselves. They are respected for who they are and celebrated for their unique talents. There is a sense of belonging to something bigger than one’s self. This is a culture that has been nurtured by Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo and the other coaches. Perhaps this is the legacy and greatest gift Coach Cardoza leaves behind. We reluctantly bid farewell to an exceptional individual but know that our lives have been enriched as a result of that circuitous path traveled by Coach Cardoza.