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Christina Unkel interview: Team president, attorney, app creator and Euros breakout star

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Christina Unkel interview: Team president, attorney, app creator and Euros breakout star

Follow live coverage of England vs Netherlands in the Euro 2024 semi-final today

The breakout star of this summer’s European Championship only played her first game on Monday.

ITV’s referee analyst Christina Unkel speaks to The Athletic before setting off for the media match against the BBC in Berlin. First, she will meet up with Jill Scott for a coffee — one of the players she booked in her former life as an elite referee is now a colleague — and on Wednesday she will be on hand for coverage of England’s semi-final against the Netherlands. She has worked on all of ITV’s matches during the tournament, plus their highlight shows.

It is a wonder she finds the time. Unkel is also the president of Tampa Bay Sun, a new team due to play in the inaugural USL Super League season starting in August, a founder of fitness apps and a litigation attorney. She is well known to U.S. viewers, having featured on Fox, CBS and Paramount Plus’s football coverage, but Euro 2024 has marked her UK breakthrough and she has garnered widespread acclaim for her calm authority.

The 37-year-old is whipsmart and her contributions have often made for the most compelling parts of ITV’s half-time and post-match coverage. Unkel is often challenged by pundits Gary Neville, Ian Wright, Roy Keane and Ange Postecoglou, who might keep abreast of football’s changing laws but still do not like all of them.

“That’s the whole point of why I did this in the first place,” she says. “I encourage them. Everyone’s like: ‘I feel like they’re beating up on you.’ Not at all! Ask me questions! If they’re struggling with those questions as professional footballers, the general population is struggling.

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“If I just wanted to collect a paycheque and walk out, I probably would be cringing. But those are the opportunities I desire. Those are the conversations that IFAB (the International Football Association Board, the game’s lawmakers) might need to hear from the football community.

“They have such a high level of football understanding and sometimes they don’t even know — justifiably so — some of the nuances we have. You can take a look at the laws of the game, but the nuances or the application — what I call the case application — aren’t included.”

Unkel began her own refereeing career at the age of 10. She had been the kind of player to feel unjustifiably aggrieved with officials, to the extent that her coach told her she needed to be quiet or take a course and actually learn the rules. The treatment of referees was kinder when she was coming up — had it not been, she says, she is not sure she would have stayed in the game — and when faced with any kind of sexist invective about getting back in the kitchen, she would shrug it off with a wish that her detractors would come up with something more original.

Primarily, she was focused on becoming the kind of official she had yearned to encounter as a player.

“Being a female soccer player, people would be assigned to our games and either not take it seriously or think they’re not much of an issue,” she says. “For somebody to not care about our game — because it was a girls’ game — drove me nuts. We still deserved fair treatment and quality and care and concern. There are times you just remember a ref for how good of a job they did. I always wanted to be remembered for that.”

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Unkel graduated from college to find there was little infrastructure for women’s professional soccer in the United States. Playing abroad was not an option when pay was still so poor. Officiating was the best way to stay involved — even if in the early days of her refereeing career the pay was so paltry she would actually lose money giving up her day job.

Her goal was to reach the point where she could referee sides such as the U.S. Women’s National Team. Those were the most thrilling games of her career “because of the environment that they were creating. I’m a referee and no one’s obviously going to come to see me except for my parents, but you were part of that tapestry in some way”.


Christina Unkel, pictured in 2014, during her on-field refereeing career (Stanley Chou – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

She took her first television role before the 2019 Women’s World Cup, taking on 53 games for Fox Sports. She joined up a day before Fox announced their line-up. It meant giving up her role on the FIFA Panel and, having made that sacrifice, she was keen that her involvement amounted to more than just critiquing her former colleagues. That, she says, is why “this role is very taboo”, although the stigma is shifting.

“Not many people had done this role in the way I envisioned it, which was to educate the masses,” she says. “If the referee got a decision correct, break it down: here’s the play, here’s the law, here’s what should have been the answer. It’s very rare that officials get something incorrect just because it’s a pure misapplication of law. That’s easy to explain without destroying an official. My job is not to rate the referee; my job is to explain the laws.

“When I stepped into that role, it did ostracise some people. Some friends of mine didn’t agree.” They came around when she was picked up by CBS for their Champions League coverage in 2020 and they could see what she was trying to do. This tournament has underlined that it’s worthwhile work.

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“It’s been a little enlightening to me to see so many people tearing down English referees but they’ve actually been some of the best-performing officials in this tournament,” Unkel explains. “To just enlighten people so they are making opinions, or decisions that are more fully educated, is really the goal.”

At ITV, she has the benefit of a full-time video operator to help her select clips for analysis; for domestic matches, she pulls up the best angle herself. The pair treat her secluded studio booth “as if I were stepping into a VAR room” and it helps that Unkel was part of the first cohort of referees trained in VAR in 2017, with Howard Webb as her instructor.

That boot camp involved sitting in video-operating booths with timers in the corner of the footage she was watching. “At 10 or 15 seconds, it goes from green to yellow, and then it goes to red at, like, 30. So it does feel like you’re in a spy movie about to blow up.” It was good preparation for the three to five seconds she has in-game to explain decisions. “Sometimes I have to break down something I’ve learned over 20 years. What are the one or two really important things you want people to walk away with so they can connect it very quickly without having taken all the referee courses I did?

“You know what kind of checks are being reviewed. ‘Here’s what I need to look at, and here’s what I need to break down.’ And as soon as I have that answer, I’m always like: ‘Let me in! Let me in!’ If they bring me in before I have the answer, I’m commentating while I’m looking for it: ‘The VAR is looking for this specific angle that’s going to be showing this.‘ I’m basically running the audience through the exact same mental protocol that’s happening in live time.”

go-deeper

Among the most divisive features of the tournament are the semi-automated offsides, facilitated by additional cameras and limb-tracking technology, which denied Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku three goals in his opening two matches.

“As a striker, I’m never going to be able to accept that kind of offside,” Wright said in the aftermath of Belgium’s 2-0 group-stage win over Romania. Unkel went on to outline how certain players might have to adjust their running style to stay within the law. Spurs manager Postecoglou has also been critical of laws now punishing what previously would have been ignored. “I don’t think that is why we brought in technology,” he has said.

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“We’re just in this Goldilocks period of figuring out how we want to use our technology to better the game,” Unkel says now. “Everyone hates toenail offsides. Players hate it. Refs hate it. Fans hate it. Coaches hate it.

“We see these toenail offsides because of law and the technology that’s given: the semi-automated offsides and the lines that drop. In Major League Soccer, even to this day, they can’t afford those lines that drop. We have not had issues in Major League Soccer about toenail offsides because when you do VAR in Major League Soccer, if it is really close and you truly can’t tell, you leave it be. The goal stands. It remains that way and nobody is upset by it. They might have been off by a centimetre.

“Whereas here, we know they’re off by a centimetre. And that’s what really frustrates people. I kind of laugh and advocate for: competitors and competitions can save millions of dollars if they just get rid of the offside lines. The technology is really expensive. Importantly, (in punditry) now you get someone to be able to use the naked eye to say: does that make any sense? Would that be taken back or not? How close is that?”

go-deeper

The coverage has exposed a gap between expectations of the technology and how it has worked in practice. Unkel is keen to point out that each law change is deliberate and meticulous; debate at major European tournaments can accelerate changes to laws but, generally speaking, tweaks take a couple of years before they are signed off. They go through technical and practical advisory boards, directors for IFAB, FIFA representatives, players, coaches and confederations.

“When people are like, ‘I wasn’t expecting this,’ either you or somebody from your coaching staff needs to be focusing on this because it does affect how you might be setting up for games or understanding the implications,” says Unkel. “You can voice an opinion prior to application so that we have a better understanding of how it’s going to play in the game, and not do so after the fact.”

With Unkel on their case, they just might.

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(Top photo: ITV)

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Utah State football player Andre Seldon Jr dead at 22, school says

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Utah State football player Andre Seldon Jr dead at 22, school says

Andre Seldon Jr., a Utah State football player who also played at Michigan and New Mexico State, has died, the school said in a news release Saturday. He was 22.

Cache County, Utah, officials said they launched a search earlier in the day after a man was seen diving off cliffs at Porcupine Reservoir and didn’t resurface. Officials said Seldon’s body was recovered by the Utah Department of Public Safety dive team.

Team Pressure defensive back Andre Seldon during the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 2, 2020, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. (Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Our football program is heartbroken to have to endure the loss of one of our own,” interim Utah State head coach and defensive coordinator Nate Drelling said in a news release. “Having had a previous relationship with Andre during our time together at New Mexico State, I can tell you he was an incredible person and teammate. 

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“Our condolences and prayers go out to Andre’s family as we grieve with them over this tremendous loss.”

SEC OFFICIAL MAKES ‘HORNS DOWN’ PENALTY DECISION AS COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON NEARS

Andre Seldon celebrates

Cornerback Andre Seldon of the New Mexico State Aggies celebrates after making a tackle against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Aggie Memorial Stadium on Aug. 26, 2023, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

Seldon was a standout cornerback at Belleville High School in Michigan and played in the Under Armour All-America game in 2020. He committed to Michigan at the time but only appeared in two games for the maize and blue.

He transferred to New Mexico State in 2022 and played two seasons for the Aggies, recording 64 tackles and two interceptions.

He was set to play for Utah State in 2024.

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“Our Utah State University Athletics family is devastated over the sudden death of Andre Seldon Jr.,” Diana Sabau, the vice president and director of athletics, said in a release. “We extend our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, teammates, and all who loved Andre.”

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'Pick is a giant': How Cypress coach Scott Pickler became a Cape Cod League staple

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'Pick is a giant': How Cypress coach Scott Pickler became a Cape Cod League staple

A breeze strong enough to rustle the lush green canopy of oak trees towering over the outfield fence at Red Wilson Field, home of the Cape Cod League’s Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, takes the edge off a humid 83-degree game-day afternoon.

Fans in lawn chairs — some who staked out prime backstop locations hours before first pitch and one woman who has been clanging the same cow bell here for decades — ring the field, while others sit on blankets on a berm down the left-field line.

The smell of grilled burgers and hot dogs fills the air. The grassy areas behind the dugouts are abuzz, with young couples pushing strollers, fans walking dogs, and Little Leaguers interrupting games of catch to chase after foul balls.

The previous night’s starting pitcher, in full uniform, roams the grounds selling 50-50 raffle tickets. Youngsters are pulled from the crowd to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

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1

2 A young fan shows off his autographed hat during a Y-D Red Sox game.

3 Kids line up at the concession stand at Red Wilson Field during a game earlier this month.

4 Two kids taking part in a youth clinic run by the Y-D Red Sox.

1. Fans line the outfield while they watch the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox take on Orleans earlier this month. 2. A young fan shows off his autographed hat during a Y-D Red Sox game. 3. Kids line up at the concession stand at Red Wilson Field during a game earlier this month. 4. Two kids taking part in a youth clinic run by the Y-D Red Sox. (Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

It’s a baseball game with the feel of a summer cookout, the look of a Norman Rockwell painting and an allure that continues to charm the stirrups off a grizzled veteran of a skipper who arrived on this syrupy scene more than a quarter of a century ago.

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“It’s like heaven,” said Scott Pickler, 74, the longtime Cypress College coach who is in his 26th season managing the Yarmouth-Dennis club, one of 10 teams in the nation’s premier collegiate wood-bat summer league.

“Retirement is overrated. Maybe it would be different if I was a great golfer or had a lot of hobbies, but I’m a bad golfer, and this is my passion. I get to go to the yard and make kids better, and it’s so much fun.”

Pickler was 14 years into a 40-year community college career in which he’s won nearly 1,000 games and five state titles when he got a call — seemingly out of the blue — in 1998 from then-Yarmouth-Dennis team president Gary Ellis and then-general manager Jack Martin, who interviewed Pickler over the phone and eventually offered him the job.

“I told them it’s gonna kill my recruiting at Cypress, give me a day to think about it,” Pickler said. “I called them the next day and said, ‘I’m gonna try this … for a year.’ ”

Pickler, who began drawing his full pension from the California state teachers’ retirement system eight years ago, enjoyed it so much he kept coming back, returning to the Cape every summer since 1998 — with the exception of the pandemic-canceled 2020 season — like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano every spring.

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Coach Scott Pickler, right, works with Will Tippett.

Scott Pickler, right, works with Y-D Red Sox player Will Tippett earlier this month. Pickler has managed some 125 future big-leaguers on the Cape, including Buster Posey, Chris Sale, Justin Turner, David Robertson and current Dodgers Walker Buehler, Chris Taylor and Joe Kelly.

(Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

Pickler is as much a fixture in the Cape Cod League as he is in the Orange Empire Conference. He’s been here long enough to have become the winningest manager in the league’s 101-year history when he notched his 540th career victory in 2022. He’s won six league titles, including three in a row from 2014-2016.

Pickler has managed some 125 future big-leaguers on the Cape, including Buster Posey, Shane Bieber, Chris Sale, Justin Turner, David Robertson and current Dodgers Walker Buehler, Chris Taylor and Joe Kelly.

He was inducted into the Cape Cod League Hall of Fame in 2019, one of five halls he’s enshrined in, including the American Baseball Coaches Assn. and the California Community Colleges Baseball Coaches Assn. His smallish 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame clearly belies his stature.

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“Pick is a giant on the Cape,” said Peter Gammons, 79, the former Hall-of-Fame baseball writer and ESPN analyst who lives in Cataumet, on the west side of the Cape. “He works so hard at it, he’s so competitive, and he always has a lot of good players.

“He’s a great hitting coach and a really good teacher.

Red Sox players sign autographs after the game against Orleans.

Red Sox players sign autographs after a game earlier this month. “He’s really good at having his players interact with fans and be a part of the town, both in Yarmouth and Dennis,” said Peter Gammons, the former Hall-of-Fame baseball writer who lives on the Cape.

(Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

“He’s really good at having his players interact with fans and be a part of the town, both in Yarmouth and Dennis. There’s just an energy about him. And guys really like him.”

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Along the way, Pickler has become so ingrained in this beach community that he was named Yarmouth resident of the year in 2017, even though he spends only 2 ½ months a year here. Pickler and his wife, Sharon, who have been married 49 years, probably have more friends here than they do in Orange County.

And they feel as much at home in New England as they do in California, Scott able to shuck oysters as easily as he flashes a hit-and-run sign, Sharon needing only two summers to properly incorporate the word “wicked,” as in, “It’s gonna be wicked hawt today,” into her vocabulary.

“It’s like having two different lives,” Pickler said. “Two different but perfect lives.”

It took some serendipity involving his son, Jeff, a former Cypress College player and another Hall-of-Fame baseball writer for Pickler to land this splendid summer gig.

Jeff Pickler, now a Cincinnati Reds game planning and infield coach, finished his junior season at Tennessee in 1997 but wasn’t drafted, freeing him to accept an invitation to play the final three weeks of the Cape League season for the Wareham Gatemen.

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“My dad was like, ‘I’ve heard about this Cape thing my whole life, I’ve never been, it’s the end of the summer, Cypress hasn’t started up, I’m going to go there, hang out and see what it’s all about,’ ” Jeff Pickler, 48, said. “So he flew himself out with no place to stay, no plans, no nothing.”

It did not take long for the elder Pickler to feel the tug of the Cape.

“The first night I see a game,” he said, “it’s Mark Mulder vs. Barry Zito at Wareham.”

“It’s like having two different lives. Two different but perfect lives.”

— Scott Pickler, on coaching for Cypress College and spending summers managing in the Cape Cod League

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Pickler asked an older man at the gate — Cape League games are free, but donations are suggested — for a hotel recommendation, telling him his son was the new Wareham second baseman.

“He found me during the game and said, ‘I have a place for you — you’re staying at my house,’ ” Pickler said. “So I go there, and I’m telling you, it was a trailer. The bed was a pullout couch. The foam was like this,” Pickler says, wrapping his knuckles on an aluminum bench. “But I was so tired it didn’t matter.”

Pickler stayed for two more nights, getting a feel for the league’s talent — rosters are mostly filled with freshmen and sophomores from Division I universities — its venues, which look more like American Legion parks than SEC and ACC stadiums, and its fans, who seemed knowledgeable, passionate and welcoming to strangers.

He was hooked.

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Coach Scott Pickler, left, speaks to a young baseball player.

When Scott Pickler interviewed to be the manager of the Y-D Red Sox, he promised to boost the organization’s youth camps, one of the club’s primary sources of revenue. Working with kids at these camps is part of a typical day for Pickler.

(Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

“He was like, ‘This is baseball heaven, this is amazing,’ ” said Jeff Pickler, who helped Wareham win a league title that season. “So we get out of that summer, and he was like, ‘Man, that would be really fun to do.’ And I don’t know, he must have a horseshoe up his [rear end], but the next summer, he was the coach at Y-D.”

Pickler did not fit the original profile of what the Red Sox were looking for.

“The whole [search] committee was like, ‘We don’t want a junior college coach, and we don’t want anybody from California,’ ” Ellis, 69, said. “They don’t like bringing people from California here when we have guys in the East Coast who would love the job.”

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Pickler was recommended by former Los Angeles Times national baseball writer Ross Newhan, whose son, David, played for Pickler at Cypress in 1992. David also played for Yarmouth-Dennis in 1993 and 1994, leaving the impression of a well-coached, well-prepared player before his eight-year career as a big-league utility man.

“We can’t recall if it was the lady whose house we stayed in on the Cape or the GM, but they asked us if we knew of anyone, and we told them about Scott,” said Newhan, 86, who was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2000. “We gave them his phone number, and they took it from there.”

Pickler, one of six candidates who was interviewed, promised to build a competitive team and boost the organization’s youth camps, one of the club’s primary sources of revenue.

“We weren’t doing well,” Ellis said. “I remember talking to Jack [Martin] and saying, ‘We’ve got to run this like a business. And if we’re doing this as a business, who would you hire?’ And we’re both going, ‘Pickler.’ ”

Pickler felt some trepidation about the job when he first arrived in South Yarmouth, a central Cape town of about 12,000 that is less touristy than so many of the area’s quaint seaside villages.

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Sure, it came with a furnished house and car, but the Red Sox’s home field on the campus of Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School had no dugouts, no press box, no concession stand, no bleachers, an uneven infield and a picket fence in the outfield.

Ellis and Martin were dipping into their own savings to purchase bats and balls. Attendance at Pickler’s first youth clinic: Six.

“We were like the Montreal Expos,” Pickler said. “There was a bowl in the infield, and when it rained, I was out there with sump pumps and running extension cords. I wore boots, because I would get shocked if I didn’t.”

Fast forward two decades: Red Wilson Field now has concrete dugouts, a full-service concession stand, a two-story building behind home plate that houses a press box and merchandise stand and several sets of bleachers. Water no longer pools heavily on a laser-leveled infield, and a chain-link fence rings the outfield.

A mural displays notable figures who have been a part of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League.

A mural on the back of the press box at Red Wilson Field displays notable figures who have been a part of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, including manager Scott Pickler, upper right.

(Mike DiGiovanna / Los Angeles Times)

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“He started with very little money, no fans and a bad field,” Jeff Pickler said, “and it has since become kind of the crown jewel of the Cape.”

The Yawkey Foundation, which honors the legacy of former Boston Red Sox owners Tom and Jean Yawkey, helped fund the upgrades, but so did increased revenues from youth clinics, which average 60-70 campers a week, and attendance, which increased as the team improved.

“We used to struggle to make $40 a game, and now, on a good night, we clear a few thousand, $5,000-$7,000 for a playoff game,” said Ellis, a lifelong Cape resident who was a batboy for the league’s 1969 All-Star Game. “Pick has been great for the economy here.”

Pickler used the relationships he built with college coaches while funneling players from Cypress to Division I schools and his contacts in the scouting community to recruit better players, many of them from California.

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Yarmouth-Dennis won its first league championship under Pickler in 2004. The Red Sox won titles again in 2006, 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2016 and were in first place in the East Division with a 17-8 record entering this weekend.

“He’s at the very top, he’s what we all aspire to be,” said Kelly Nicholson, 64, a Los Angeles Loyola High School math teacher and former baseball coach who is in his 20th summer managing the Orleans Firebirds.

“Six league titles, he manages a game as well as anybody on the Cape, he’s humble, he’s a fantastic teacher … I’m always trying to look, listen and learn when we play them, because he’s such an unbelievable baseball mind.”

Coach Scott Pickler talks to young baseball players.

Scott Pickler talks to participants at the youth clinics run by the Y-D Red Sox. “I think what keeps him going is he just loves doing it, so he doesn’t think about getting tired or resting,” Sharon Pickler, Scott’s wife, said of his involvement with the Cape Cod League.

(Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

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A typical summer day for Pickler: arrive at the field at 9:30 a.m. to greet kids at the clinics, which run for six weeks. Early hitting from 9:45 to 11 a.m. Go home for lunch — he lives a mile from the field — and maybe make the five-minute drive to the beach for a dip in the ocean. Return to the field at 1:15 p.m. for pregame work.

There are no lights, so home games begin at 5 p.m. Road games — the longest trip for the Red Sox, who travel by yellow school bus, is to Falmouth, 45 minutes to the west — start between 5 and 7 p.m. Pickler is usually asleep within minutes after returning home from a work day of 10 to 13 hours.

“I think what keeps him going is he just loves doing it, so he doesn’t think about getting tired or resting,” Sharon Pickler said. “When he goes down, he’s out. But the next day, he’s fine. He has the energy.”

New York Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, who has known Pickler for 30 years, was surprised when he was told Pickler is 74 years old.

“Really?” Oppenheimer said. “I just never think of him as an old guy, because he always seems like he’s mentally so young.”

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As Pickler racked up wins and titles at Cypress, his first three state championships coming in 1991, 1994 and 1997, he flirted with the idea of jumping to a bigger school. He turned down overtures from Wake Forest in the late 1990s and interviewed for the UC Irvine job that went to John Savage in 2002.

“Jeff used to tell me all the time, ‘Dad, why aren’t you coaching at a Division I school?’ ” said Pickler, who coached at Anaheim’s Savanna and Loara high schools from 1979 to 1984 before moving to Cypress in 1985. “Because the grass isn’t always greener, buddy.”

But the grass is a little greener on the Cape, where Pickler is managing higher-caliber athletes in a professional setting, players using wood bats and playing five or six games a week during a 44-game regular season and weeklong postseason that runs from mid-June to mid-August.

One in six current major leaguers played on the Cape, where fans relish the chance to see players before they become household names. Six Hall of Famers — Pie Traynor, Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Sunday inductee Todd Helton — played on the Cape.

“I think there was a bit of an itch to scratch in terms of coaching really talented collegiate players,” said Jeff Pickler, who spent the summer of 1999 with his father as an assistant coach, “and he thought maybe this was a way to do it without leaving Cypress.”

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Coach Scott Pickler talks with Phoenix Call.

Scott Pickler talks with Y-D middle infielder Phoenix Call, a rising sophomore at UCLA. “I think the biggest thing with Coach Pick is he teaches the fundamentals, how to play the game right,” Call said. “And he doesn’t … how do I put this? He doesn’t let you get away with things. He’s on top of you, but he doesn’t hold grudges, either.”

(Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

The challenge for Pickler is threading the needle between developing players and molding players from all over the country into a cohesive and competitive unit.

“A lot of players go to the Cape to either showcase their skills or work on a few things,” Jeff Pickler said. “But he knows the only way they’re going to play their best and develop is to play competitively. They’re going to play the game right and try to win.”

That means bunting when the situation calls for it. If a player doesn’t sprint down the first-base line, he will likely be pulled. And if a speedy outfielder asks for a green light on the bases, like Vanderbilt star RJ Austin did before a recent game, the answer is no.

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“I think the biggest thing with Coach Pick is he teaches the fundamentals, how to play the game right,” said middle infielder Phoenix Call, a rising sophomore at UCLA. “And he doesn’t … how do I put this? He doesn’t let you get away with things. He’s on top of you, but he doesn’t hold grudges, either.”

The Cape league has lost a little bit of its sheen over the last decade, with players becoming more transient, more transactional.

Some college coaches won’t allow pitchers to participate, preferring they throw their innings for their school, and some will send pitchers to the Cape with strict innings limits. Some coaches who exert even more control require players to remain on campus during the summer.

With the transfer portal and name, image and likeness money spawning bidding wars for college athletes, some coaches are leery of sending players to the Cape for fear they will be poached by other schools.

And when Major League Baseball moved its draft from early June to the All-Star break in 2021, it created a subset of players who spend two or three weeks on the Cape in hopes of improving their draft stock before leaving in early July.

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Arkansas shortstop Wehiwa Aloy was leading the league with eight home runs and 24 RBIs in 21 games when he left Yarmouth-Dennis this month. Pickler is constantly on the phone with college coaches and advisors looking to plug holes on his roster.

“It used to be that you’d have 25 to 30 players for the whole summer,” Gammons said. “Now, most teams have 60 players.”

Scott Pickler visits the mound during a pitching change earlier this month.

Scott Pickler, visiting the mound during a pitching change earlier this month, entered the weekend with a 594-480 career record at Yarmouth-Dennis.

(Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

Players still live with host families, and many work as camp instructors to earn extra money, but they aren’t placed in summer jobs like the days of yore, when Buck Showalter, who hit .434 for Hyannis in 1976, worked as a short-order breakfast cook and cleaned fences at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, and Albert Belle — known as Joey then — worked as a gas station attendant while playing for Chatham in 1986.

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Two summers before the Angels made Darin Erstad the first overall pick in the 1995 draft, the Falmouth outfielder worked as a cashier at a Bradlee’s department store and was named employee of the month for June after setting a record for efficiency. The next summer, he mowed the grass and did the laundry at Falmouth.

Erstad went on to help the Angels win their only World Series in 2002, but around these parts, he’s remembered as the star player who was so nice “he probably walked every old lady across the street in Falmouth at one point or another,” Gammons said.

“Damn,” Erstad said in a text message, “I miss those days.”

But Pickler doesn’t find himself pining for the past or trying to change his approach, which has been consistent since he arrived on the Cape.

“I got out here that first year and my assistant said, ‘Hey, are we coaching these guys up or are we just playing the game? These are somebody else’s kids,’ ” Pickler said. “I said, ‘No, I brought you up here to make these guys better. We’re gonna get after it.’”

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Pickler reduced his workload at Cypress in 2017 when he was named head coach emeritus and Anthony Hutting took over as coach, but Pickler still arrives on campus in the morning to work with hitters and attends every afternoon practice and game.

The days are just as long on the Cape, but Pickler, who entered the weekend with a 594-480 career record at Yarmouth-Dennis, shows no signs of slowing.

He still loves working with young players and grooming assistants such as Matt Blake, the New York Yankees pitching coach whom Pickler hired out of Cressey Sports Performance in 2015, and Roberto Mercado, the Baltimore Orioles double-A manager whom Pickler hired out of New Britain (Conn.) High School in 2014.

He still loves interacting with scouts who value and trust his assessment of prospects.

“You’re gonna get an honest opinion, not only about the physical tools, but about what kind of kid you’re dealing with,” said Colorado Rockies GM Bill Schmidt, who coached with Pickler at Loara and was a regular on the Cape during his 20-year run as the Rockies’ scouting director. “It’s important, the makeup and where they come from.”

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Coach Scott Pickler talks to young baseball players.

Scott Pickler talks to participants at a youth clinic the Y-D Red Sox host during the season. “Retirement is overrated,” Pickler said. “Maybe it would be different if I was a great golfer or had a lot of hobbies, but I’m a bad golfer, and this is my passion. I get to go to the yard and make kids better, and it’s so much fun.”

(Jacqueline Mia Foster / For The Times)

Pickler, who also has a daughter, Kari, 44, and two grandchildren, is in good health — his father, former Anaheim councilman Irv Pickler, was 98 when he died in 2019. Pickler stays up on new coaching techniques and the use of analytics.

“I told him, ‘If you feel like you’re still learning, you’re still resonating with players, then you can still teach it,’ ” Jeff Pickler said. “We all know at some point there’s the right exit off the highway to take, but when I talk baseball with him, he’s still as sharp as a tack.”

Pickler might be nearing the off ramp, but his nearly three-decade, two-coast joyride isn’t over. There is still some life left in this baseball lifer, who said he plans to return to the Cape — land of lobster rolls, ice cream parlors, miniature golf and some of the country’s most idyllic baseball settings — next season.

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“Everybody asks me how much longer I want to keep doing this,” Pickler said. “I hope I know before I go too long.”

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Jake Paul picks up 10th boxing victory with TKO win over Mike Perry

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Jake Paul picks up 10th boxing victory with TKO win over Mike Perry

Jake Paul entered the ring at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, with the gladiator spirit and he needed every ounce of it to defeat the “King of Violence” Mike Perry on Saturday night.

Paul’s flurry of punches knocked Perry down in the sixth round. As the referee counted to eight and got Perry back up on his feet, he stumbled as he tried to slide back to his corner. It was over.

Jake Paul punches Mike Perry during their cruiserweight fight at Amalie Arena on July 20, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Paul won the fight via technical knockout.

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Perry showcased his toughness throughout the night. Paul knocked him down early in the first and second rounds but even as he competed with his hands down, the bareknuckle fighter withstood Paul’s jabs and power punches for longer than most probably would have expected.

“He’s tough as nails,” Paul said of Perry.

Before the start of fifth round, the ringside doctor checked out Perry one more time. Paul took his time and waited for the final blows in the sixth round.

Jake Paul's shot

Jake Paul lands a body blow on Mike Perry during their cruiserweight fight at Amalie Arena on July 20, 2024 in Tampa, Florida.  (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

EX-UFC FIGHTER DARREN TILL GETS INTO POST-MATCH BRAWL FOLLOWING BOXING DEBUT

For Perry, it was just a stop on his road to bare knuckle glory. He’s 5-0 in the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) with his last win coming in April against Thiago Alves.

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Paul moved to 10-1 in his career with his seventh professional knockout and he now has to start training physically and mentally for Mike Tyson again.

Paul and Tyson were supposed to duke it out on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas. But a medical episode forced the postponement until November. It is still on as of now.

Tyson, 58, hasn’t fought in a professional fight since 2005. He hasn’t won a professional fight since 2003.

“Mike Tyson, you’re next big boy,” Paul said.

Jake Paul celebrates

Jake Paul reacts after defeating Mike Perry by technical knockout in their cruiserweight fight at Amalie Arena on July 20, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

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He also called out UFC light heavyweight champion Alex Pereira to enter the ring with him in a boxing fight.

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