Lance Coz, the heart and soul of the American Legion Post 20 Twins baseball team since 1975, passed away last week at Providence Medical Center due to a heart attack. He was 73.
The tall man was a giant in the Alaska baseball community, developing two Major League Baseball players and building a tremendous Twins program that qualified for the Legion state tournament 43 times in his 45 years with the team.
Kenai has made 35 consecutive appearances at the state tournament since 1986 and won championships in 1991, 1995, 2012 and 2016.
“He was one of a kind,” said Robb Quelland, who had two sons play for Coz in addition to coaching with him. “I met Lance about 15 years ago. He was bigger than life. He was a tall man. He had that voice. Always had the mustache. He had a presence about him. I was in awe of him.”
Coz was pivotal in getting the Kenai Legion program started in 1975 and served as manager and head coach. His role diminished a little bit recently, but his shadow loomed large.
“Lance was a pillar during his 45 years of leading the Kenai Post 20 Twins,” said Russ Baker, a former coach and current Alaska Legion chairman. “He coached several of the most successful American Legion players that Alaska has produced.”
Alaska has had three players reach the big leagues and two of them, Marshall Boze and Chris Mabeus, played for Coz. Boze in 1988 set the Legion state record with 21 strikeouts and later became the first MLB player from Alaska in 1996.
There were other aces like Joey Newby, who advanced to Triple-A, and Dennis Machado, an MLB draft pick.
You want hitters? Kenai had memorable sluggers like John Kennedy, A.J. Hull, Jake Darrow and Paul Steffensen.
Kennedy in 1979 set the Legion state tournament record with an .818 batting average. Hull was the 2012 state tournament MVP. Darrow and Steffensen hit .399 and .398, respectively, to finish 1-2 for the batting title in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference in 2018.
Thirty years after playing for Coz, Kennedy came back to coach with him.
“Lance took care of everything for the Twins,” he said. “We had player fees to join the team, but believe me, every player got that money back before the season was over. Players got hats, jackets and food money on every trip.
“We always traveled together JV and varsity on a bus. He believed it was important to travel and stay together. That way the younger players could learn from the older players.”
Coz touched the lives of hundreds of boys from the Kenai Peninsula.
“There weren’t many places that he could walk into in the Kenai-Soldotna area and not see a former player or player’s family,” Quelland said. “We lost count at least 750 players he coached.”
Coz sold the program as a brotherhood and always preached the “Twins Way.”
“He would call me out. He would call the players out,” Quelland said. “He always talked about the ones that walked before you. You’re going to carry this on.”
In the beginning, Kenai struggled to get games as a new program on an island more or less. But Coz changed that over time.
“When I played my last year 1979 our team played 15 games that summer, including the three games at the state tournament,” Kennedy said. “When I was the head coach in 2004 and 2005 we played 51 and 55 games, and every team came to Kenai to play.
“That really made playing baseball for us down here on equal playing ground with everyone else.”
Coz battled diabetes and the disease caused him to lose part of his right leg. He wore a prosthetic leg for years. It never slowed him down.
He would have crawled over glass to watch the Twins play baseball.
When he broke his prosthetic leg this year, he was forced to use a wheelchair to get around at the state tournament. Nothing was going to stop him from being there for his beloved program.
News of his death devastated the Alaska baseball community. Lots of heavy hearts. Coz will be missed.
“It saddens me to hear of his passing,” said longtime Fairbanks coach Rodney Perdue. “I first met Lance shortly after being stationed in Alaska and my first stint coaching Legion in the late ’90s. Since that time, I have always thought of him as the embodiment of American Legion Baseball in Alaska.”
“Very, very sad news,” said longtime Napoleon (Ohio) River Bandits coach Randy Bachman, who has come to Alaska 10 times. “Lance was a good baseball man and a class individual. So sorry to hear the news.”
“One of greatest and most well-regarded baseball men in the state,” said Ken Wooster, a longtime Anchorage coach and umpire. “Always had a kind word and a super competitive team. I am stunned and saddened. Was lucky to call him a friend. He will be missed by so many. Thank you, Coach Coz, for the decades of dedication to the game and your community.”
“He had a way of keeping things simple. Made life a lot easier than it seemed at the moment of high stress,” said Dimond coach Dan Montagna.
“Every year our teams look forward to our Kenai trip because of the great hospitality and by far the best host lunch anyone in the state puts together between doubleheaders,” said longtime Service coach Willie Paul. “Lance has been at the center of all of that and much more since I was first involved with Legion 17 years ago. He was always at the field and made sure everyone was taken care of. He will be greatly missed by anyone that has played or been involved with American Legion baseball in Alaska.”
“Lance was a good friend and always willing to share his knowledge of Legion baseball,” said ALB chairman Russ Baker. “The famous potluck lunches that Lance and the Kenai parents provided to all of the visiting teams will never be the same. Thank you, Coach Coz.”
By VAN WILLIAMS
Alliance Baseball media director