ORINDA -- While some in the Bay Area high school sports community expressed shock Thursday over revelations that a longtime baseball coach had been charged with child molestation, others expressed little surprise and painted a portrait of a detached man who interacted little with adults and left them feeling uneasy.
"It's very sad, and very tragic, but I have got to say, I'm not surprised," said Mt. Eden High School football coach Paul Perenon, who coached alongside Joel Kaufman at Bishop O'Dowd High School from 1999 to 2005.
This week, prosecutors filed six felonies and three misdemeanors against Kaufman alleging he molested one boy and secretly filmed another in a bathroom. The 52-year-old Orinda resident turned himself into authorities on Friday.
How Kaufman knew his victims is not publicly known, but as a longtime coach and batting cage facility operator, he had access to thousands of youths. Authorities suspect there are more victims.
Players and coaches in Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties say youth baseball was Kaufman's life, although some questioned his knowledge of the sport. Kaufman would take players out to dinner but did not associate much with adults, multiple sources said.
Matt Lisle, who has coached baseball at local high schools and coached athletes who also played for Kaufman, said, "Shocking is not a word that anybody would say. You hear high school kids joking about if he could be that type of person."
"He was a little weird and a little out of left field," said Evan Warner, who played for Kaufman at Palo Alto High School. "He couldn't catch a fly ball, nobody could play catch with him, so we were wondering if he could even play baseball at all. That was a red flag for us."
After coaching at O'Dowd, a Catholic school, for six years, Kaufman went to Palo Alto in 2006, and in recent years coached the California Smoke, a premier traveling team.
Perenon, who spent 25 years as O'Dowd's football coach before the school removed him from that position in 2010, said Kaufman rarely interacted with other adults and that he followed a "singular agenda" that revolved around baseball and the manipulation of kids toward that end.
Perenon said Kaufman's departure came when the school administration was in transition, and that concerns regarding Kaufman's presence around children were part of the conversation in the athletic department during that time.
"A number of the coaches in the department had expressed our concern over his behavior and his personality quirks," he said. "The safety of the kids was a topic that was brought up on many occasions."
Mike Brown, a spokesman for the Diocese of Oakland, said there were no known incidents or reports against Kaufman at O'Dowd. Brown said the school's new administration created a policy that head coaches also teach at the school. Kaufman, a part-time employee, was not a candidate for the job, Brown said.
Palo Alto High Athletic Director Earl Hansen said Kaufman was not a "good fit" for the program and was not asked to returned after his first season.
Kaufman won five league titles at O'Dowd, finishing his final season 25-1, a record that gained the team a national ranking. Many of his players went on to play college and professional baseball, including Tyson Ross of the San Diego Padres.
"The only thing I will say is that I feel terrible for the victims and their families," Ross told this newspaper in a phone interview Thursday. "Beyond that, I don't want to comment."
"He's done a lot of good things for kids," Hayward High School baseball coach Gil Cisneros said. "It's shocking, but I know other people that have had the same claims but weren't true. I'll hold my opinion until I find out what's happened."
Police first arrested Kaufman in August after the male he is accused of molesting and his parents contacted Orinda police. Investigators searching his home later found footage of a second boy in a bathroom taking off his clothes. Prosecutors have not said whether the two suspected victims played baseball for Kaufman.
Within days of his arrest, Kaufman reportedly tried to kill himself using pills and razor blades in a Monterey hotel room, according to Monterey police. Officers found him bleeding in the bathtub.
Kaufman's suspected crimes occurred from September 2005 to June 2012. His charges include two felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child younger than 14, and one felony count of sexual penetration of a drugged person. He is accused of drugging the boy with an unknown substance.
Anyone with information on the case can call Orinda police Sgt. Neil Rafanan or Detective Travis Dennison at 925-254-6820.
Staff writer Vytas Mazeika contributed to this report. Contact David DeBolt at 925-943-8048, Rick Hurd at 925-779-7166 or Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684.