PLEASANTON -- Had he chosen to go that direction, Gregg Jefferies knows he could have been a major league coach or manager. He has turned down multiple job offers since retiring as a player in 2000, largely because the vagabond lifestyle didn't suit him. He's a family guy through and through.
The former Serra High of San Mateo star is much more comfortable teaching kids about baseball at his recently opened Gregg Jefferies Sports Academy in Pleasanton than he would be instructing a bunch of big-leaguers who might not listen as closely to what he has to offer.
"When you get in that pro life, you're gone a lot, and it's tough," Jefferies said. "People don't see that. It's a great life, but when I was playing, I missed my oldest son's first words. I missed my daughter's first steps. When she was old enough to know I was leaving, she would stand by the door crying and say, 'Daddy, please don't leave me.'"
Jefferies, 45, has lived in Pleasanton for more than 20 years. He has assisted with Foothill High's baseball program. He has worked at other academies. He has also been a hitting instructor for hire -- the Giants' Brandon Crawford said he worked with Jefferies for an entire offseason.
But Jefferies' dream always was to open his own academy. On Dec. 1, along with business partner and longtime friend Darren Nicholson, Jefferies finally put his name on a 12,000-square-foot baseball storefront and opened the doors.
"A lot of the younger kids who come in here don't even know I was a major league player, but their parents know because they're my age," Jefferies said.
Jefferies wasn't a naturally gifted athlete like one of his Serra predecessors, Barry Bonds. He was a self-made star, a 5-foot-10 firecracker who worked countless hours hitting tennis balls off garbage cans with his father, Rich Jefferies, a former scout for the Chicago Cubs and a legendary assistant at Serra.
Despite his stature, Gregg Jefferies became a first-round pick (No. 20 overall) of the New York Mets, was a two-time Minor League Player of the Year and reached the majors at age 19. For the next 14 years, the switch-hitting infielder played every game like it was his last.
Then one day, he ripped his hamstring running up a baseline, and it was over. A career that included a .289 batting average, 126 home runs and just 348 strikeouts in more than 6,000 at-bats was over at age 32.
"I left a lot on the table because of the way I played," he said. "It cost me -- broken ankle, torn thumb, torn hamstring, I got 40 stitches in my lip once. But I felt I had to play hard because I never thought I was good enough not to."
After his career was cut short, Jefferies couldn't watch baseball for three to four years. It hurt too much. But slowly he worked his way back to the game on the local level, and when Nicholson asked if he wanted to help with a summer travel team Jefferies' son Jake played for, Jefferies jumped at it.
"My first thought was: How is this guy not coaching kids? He's local, he's got great experience and he's not coaching anybody," Nicholson said. "We met and we hit it off about five years ago, and we've been teaching together ever since."
Nicholson, a former vice president of a software company, handles much of the business side of the academy. Jefferies teaches the kids everything he knows about hitting.
"I can't draw up plans to build your house. I can't do your taxes," he said. "The one thing I can do is train your kids to play baseball. I played 14 years at a small size. I wasn't good enough to have bad mechanics or a bad mindset to be successful. That makes for a good instructor. I've never had a kid or parent ask me something that I haven't gone through myself."
The academy has contracted with two Pleasanton Little Leagues and has more than 1,600 youngsters coming in for hourlong sessions each week. Jefferies is usually right in the middle of them.
"His heart is definitely bigger than he is," said Taryn Alexander, the academy's general manager. "He's turned this into a baseball Disneyland."
Hometown: Born in Burlingame, has lived in Pleasanton for more than 20 years.
Career: Infielder was a first-round pick out of San Mateo's Serra High in 1985. He was a two-time minor league player of the year who made his major league debut with the New York Mets at age 19. He played 14 years in the major leagues for six different teams and batted .289 with 200 career doubles and 126 home runs.
Quote: "My father taught me that good hitting is a street fight; it's you against the pitcher, and I lived by that. I don't tell the little kids that it's a street fight, but I let them know it's a battle."