Oilers hire ABL, SDSU legend Dietz as new head coach

Imagine you were applying to be a chef at a restaurant and found out they chose Emeril Lagasse. Or were applying to be a programmer at a social networking company and were informed they were going with Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s not necessarily a ridiculous amount of exaggeration to say that’s how those applying to be the head coach of the Peninsula Oilers felt.

The Oilers have selected Jim Dietz as their head coach for the 2017 season.

Dietz, 78, is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He coached from 1972 to 2002 at San Diego State University, finishing with a mark of 1,231-750-18.

The coach also has extensive history in the Alaska Baseball League, starting with the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks from 1971 to 1977, when he went to the championship of the National Baseball Congress World Series seven straight times and won the title four times.

Dietz also coached the Goldpanners from 1990 to 1993 and 2009 to 2012, putting together a cumulative record of 588-290 for the organization for a .670 winning clip. Dietz also coached the Anchorage Glacier Pilots for two seasons, leading the squad to second place in the NBC one of those years.

John Kennedy, the general manager of the Oilers, said he tried to talk to each of the 60 people who put in applications after the process was over.

“Even guys applying for the job were like, ‘Wow, that’s a great hire,’” Kennedy said. “It’s pretty impressive when they’re saying, ‘At least I lost out to that guy.’”

Dietz, reached at his home in Florence, Oregon, on Monday, said he has had a summer home in Soldotna for about 20 years now.

The coach said he has known Mike Baxter, the former Oilers general manager, for a long time. Dietz went to a few Oilers games last summer and said he saw a program in need of a revival.

The Oilers made it all the way to the finals of the Top of the World Series last season before losing to the Mat-Su Miners under first-year head coach Brian Daly, but Kennedy said the team decided to go in a different direction with their head coach.

“In the old days, Kenai had great ballclubs, talent, a nice ballpark and a lot of people in the stands,” Dietz said. “That’s the primary reason I wanted to do this. I want to turn another program around, if I can.”

Under Dietz’s leadership, San Diego State was able to open the $4 million Tony Gwynn Stadium in 1997, made possible through the generosity of San Diego Padres owner John Moores and his wife, Becky.

So when Dietz says it bugs him that the roof on the grandstand at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, which blew off in May 2014, still isn’t fixed, one has reason to think he may be able to do something about that.
“I still think it’s a nice ballpark, but it looked like something I’d like to tackle,” Dietz said. “I’ve only got a few years left, so I might as well not take my knowledge to the grave.

“I want to help as many young people as I can.”

Growing up in a middle-class family in Eugene, Oregon, Dietz said baseball provided him a roadmap to an education. He wants to give a similar experience to as many as possible.

“For me, it’s not about the money,” Dietz said. “It’s about building a program and teaching.”

Kennedy said Dietz was hired Wednesday. Dietz is already at work assembling the team and the coaching staff.

He said he has already signed a couple of the top left-handed pitchers on the West Coast, although he said those players may end up getting drafted.

In addition to building a solid group of starting pitchers, Dietz also said he wants a great bullpen so the starters don’t get overworked.

He’s also seeing to the details in selecting coaches.

“I want one coach that is left-handed and one coach that is right-handed because of batting practice,” Dietz said. “Things like that are important. Hitters need to see both sides.”

Kennedy said the hire has put a jolt of excitement in the organization, which two years ago at this time didn’t even know if it would be fielding a team in the next summer season.

“He’s getting after it and excited,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully, he’ll put a pretty good product on the field.

“That’s the biggest thing. The Oilers like to see a good product on the field and off the field.”

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