Lowell baseball coaching icon on verge of 700th career win 

click to enlarge John Donohue
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • Lowell baseball coach John Donohue has 699 career wins entering today’s game against Washington.
Lowell High School assistant baseball coach Romeo Aurelio can only express disbelief when asked about succession plans for John Donohue, who recently announced his intention to step down in 2015 after leading the Cardinals’ program for over three decades.

“I know he said he’s leaving, but I’ll really have to see it to believe it,” said Aurelio, who played for Donohue from 1989 to 1992, and has been an assistant coach since 1994. “I mean, he is Lowell baseball.”

Despite the skepticism of Aurelio, Donohue insists he’ll be gone after next season, but not before he racks up a few more coaching milestones. Following his team’s 10-0 victory over Lincoln on Monday, Donohue now stands at 699 careers wins, sixth-most among active coaches in the state, and the most in Northern California. Weather permitting — the forecast does call for rain — he’ll go for win No. 700 today against Washington.

“There is no way I would be here today, without the support of everyone,” said Donohue, who has racked up 12 Academic Athletic Association-San Francisco Section championships as a coach, including two separate three-peats. “Not just my players, but my assistant coaches, the alumni, the families, the athletic director, the principal. All the credit goes to them.”

Donohue joined the Cardinals in 1983, after 15 years of coaching youth baseball and a brief, unsuccessful stint as a player at St. Ignatius in the late 1960s.

“I was a terrible player,” Donohue said. “But I learned a lot there.”

Donohue’s first team at Lowell posted a 6-9-1 record. Since then, he’s led the team to an astounding 30 straight playoff appearances, earning the California Baseball Coach of the Year award in 2006, and a National Coach of the Year Award in 2013.

He’s coached numerous players who went on to the Division I level, including Kevin Jordan, who played for Lowell in the 80s and broke into the majors with the Phillies in 1995.

Throughout his career, he’s maintained the same meticulous, analytical approach to baseball that has helped formulate the bedrock for a winning culture at Lowell.

“He’s using the same signs, breaking out the same drills at practice, taking the kids to the same tournaments,” Aurelio said. “That consistency is what has attracted back the alumni and made this program so successful. And, of course, he’s still thinking two plays or two games or two weeks ahead whenever he makes a decision.”

Led by a strong contingency of juniors, Lowell is once again having a standout season, compiling an 11-2 record following its five-inning victory against Lincoln. If the team does not play this week because of rain, Donohue could notch win 700 at next week’s Bishop Gorman Desert Classic, a midseason tournament in Reno, Nev.

Donohue said it would be great to go out with one more three-peat — if the Cardinals win this year and in his final season, he’ll accomplish that.

Although he acknowledged the challenges Lowell faces this year, particularly from Galileo, which is coached by Don Papa, Donohue’s classmate at St. Ignatius.

If he is unable to accomplish that last memorable feat, Donohue still sounds pretty comfortable with his legacy.

“I get to drive through Golden Gate Park and coach games at Big Rec field, so there is nothing I can ever complain about,” Donohue said. “I feel pretty blessed to have been able to this for this long.”

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Will Reisman

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