When Sandra Gonsalves married her husband John, she knew from the beginning that she would have to make room for his passion. John Gonsalves was the baseball coach at Long Beach State for nearly 20 years before retiring in 1988.
However, before and after his stint with the 49ers, Gonsalves dedicated his life to baseball. As a player through a stretch in the New York Mets organization and after LBSU as an assistant with high school teams. John was a baseball man. A player. A coach. A teacher and mentor. And he never strayed far from the game he loved.
“There was always a mistress in this marriage and it was baseball,” Sandra said.
John, known to his friends as “Coach G” passed away on May 29, from pneumonia, brought on by COVID. Sitting in their Seal Beach home, Sandra remembers fondly all the time she spent with her husband of 52 years. Ironically, Sandra was never a sports fan. But she supported the teams.
For John, coaching was not so much about games, but more about players. John cared about his players and tried to mentor them, not just in baseball, but in life. Sandra said he agonized about having to cut players from teams. She said it broke his heart every time.
“That was the hardest part for him, having to put out the cut list,” Sandra said.
John’s longtime friend, Art Tavizon met John, when he was a 17-year-old player. Later, when Tavizon became a coach at Paramount High, he brought in John to be part of the staff. Other former players, like Cameron Chinn, who coaches at Edison High, did the same. John loved to coach and teach players. He remained part of Edison’s baseball coaching staff until this spring, when he began feeling too ill to continue.
Tavizon said that players liked to play for John because he was a players coach. He was tough, but fair, Tavizon said. Tavizon called him an old-school kind of coach.
“Coach was just a teacher first, slash coach,” Tavizon said.
John may have been a player’s coach and a likeable guy, but like all coaches, he had a competitive side. One of Sandra’s favorite photos of him, shows him arguing with an umpire at a Long Beach State game. Years ago, Tavizon was umpiring a recreation league co-ed softball game at Zoeter field. A team from Dave’s Other Place bar, was in the league and John was their manager.
During the game, John disagreed with a call by Tavizon and went out to voice his displeasure. Somewhat vociferously. Tavizon said he let him go for a moment, then told him the conversation was over. He warned him a second time. Then he ejected John from the game. Tavizon said word got around town and people started asking him if it was true.
“I said, yes I did, and they’d say ‘that’s great’” Tavizon said.
Chinn had met John during his time as a Long Beach State student. He had started coaching already, but it was John, who showed him a path to gearing his education towards becoming a teacher and coach. The two remained friends since and when John was done coaching at Long Beach State, Chinn began bringing him on to be part of his coaching staff.
Up until earlier this year, John was still coaching with Chinn at Edison High. Chinn said that John seemed to provide a life and baseball perspective to kids who might be struggling or upset. He would talk to them with a laugh and a smile and they gravitated toward his influence.
“Coach G would be the more calming influence on kids,” Chinn said.
But Chinn also confirmed the fact that “Coach G” was not just spending time at the field to work on his tan. He knew when teams needed a kick in the pants to get them going and he was not afraid to do that, Chinn said.
“His ball players really loved him, but he could be a son of a bitch when they didn’t do what he wanted them to do,” Sandra said.
John stood out when he moved around Seal Beach. His regular outfits of Panama Hats and Hawaiian print shirts made him easily recognizable. He was often riding around town on his scooter. As a university coach for 35 years, John had become known to people all around the country.
They were at Disneyland one day, getting on the Tom Sawyer boat ride, when someone on the island started yelling “Coach!” Sandra said. The person had picked him out because he saw the hat and shirt. But, Sandra said, that no matter where they traveled, they always seemed to run into people who knew him.
When they had time to themselves, Sandra said they loved to travel. They had a motor home and they drove all over the country. And beyond. The longest trip they took was to Prince Edward Isle, off the coast of Nova Scotia. It was a 17,000-mile round trip drive that took four months.
Both during and after his stint at Long Beach State, baseball wasn’t John’s only vice. He loved all sports and was even a golf instructor at LBSU. He would also help out with keeping stats for basketball and football teams, so his involvement was year-round. Sandra said she understood and despite not loving sports, she gave support. She knew it was his life and she said she never even considered trying to take him away from it. And she loved watching their sons when they played.
“He lived his life the way he wanted to,” Sandra said
She even coached a game. During a fundraiser, she had someone do bidding for her on a “Coach for a Day” package at Long Beach. John didn’t know until after she had won the auction. She coached alongside him in a game against USC and famed coach Rod Dedeaux. She doesn’t remember who won the game, but it’s still a fond memory for her.
It seems there will be no shortages of fond memories by those who knew John.
“People in the area really going to miss John, it’s a big loss to the community,” Tavizon said.
Coach G is survived by Sandra; their sons Johnnie and Jason; adult grandchildren Cole, Ivie, April and Rylee and great-granddaughter Stella.
A funeral Mass is planned for St. Anthony Church in Long Beach on Wednesday, June 30 at 10 a.m. There will be a followed by a reception at Glory Days in Seal Beach. It’s going to be a party, Sandra said. Guests are encouraged to wear their Hawaiian shirts in honor of Coach G.
The “Coach John F. Gonsalves Charity Fund,” is being established to raise money for scholarships and other support for young players and students. It will be managed by Long Beach Community Fund, longbeachcf.org.