by Matt Kosderka, Lewis & Clark baseball head coach
In our baseball program, we look at the meaning of success a little differently than most other programs do. Instead of judging ourselves by wins and losses, we judge ourselves by whether we can look in the mirror at the end of the day and say that we got the absolute most of ourselves and those around us. Well, based on that definition, Jerry Gatto was one of the most successful men that I have ever known. My life and the lives of many others have been drastically enhanced because Jerry was a part of it – and his passing will leave a hole in me and so many others that can never be filled.
I never got the chance to play for Jerry – only against him while I was at Willamette – but it wasn't hard to see his passion for his team, the game of baseball and life in general. In fact, Jerry had so much passion, that he got thrown out of a game all four years that I played against him at Lewis & Clark. While I laughed about his antics with the umpires at the time, I would come to find out after I really got to know him a few years later, that he just couldn't help himself – he just cared that much.
After my competitive career ended at Willamette, I got the chance to know Jerry as more than the guy that was always getting tossed by the umpires and instantly could see why he has had a positive effect on so many lives. I've never been an easy person to read or get to know, but Jerry found a way. It's hard to describe, but Jerry had a way of seeing right into your soul, and his smile melted right through the wall that I had used to keep others at a distance for most of my life. From the start, he treated me like an old friend, and eventually, we became just that. While we didn't see each other that often with our busy schedules, he would always find a way to send a random email or text to boost my confidence right when I needed it. I'll really miss that.
As a young coach, I thought I knew it all until the game quickly humbled me and brought me back to earth. Eventually, I figured out that I needed to keep growing as a coach, and the first place I turned to was Jerry's NWStar Baseball Coaches Convention that he put on every year here in the Portland area. Quickly it became one of the highlights of my year, and I credit the things I took from that coaching convention for helping me grow as a coach and eventually earn my current position here at Lewis & Clark.
Front and center of the event each year was Jerry. Officially he had been out of coaching for over a decade, but he never really stopped coaching. Whether it was swapping embellished stories with old coaching buddies or offering some timely advice to a young coach, Jerry always had time for everybody and his main concern was that you left the convention a better coach, but more importantly a better person. I know I did every single year, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
I've always found it funny how things seem to happen for a reason. If I hadn't played against Jerry and gotten a chance to know him later on, I likely wouldn't have ever landed my dream job here at Lewis & Clark. During the hiring process, Jerry was right alongside me, offering his support and well wishes. I truly believe that his support was the difference in bringing me to Lewis & Clark, and I am bound and determined to bring as much pride to the program as he did.
Over the past two years, I have gotten to hear countless stories about Jerry from his former players, associates and friends, and every time I am blown away with what his role in their lives meant to those people. In fact, I met with a small group of his former players recently, and they still talked about the "I BELIEVE" cards that Jerry had them carry as players, and of which many of them still carry today. I often think about what my legacy will be, and to know that so many people have been influenced by Jerry's legacy, I have great hope that I can be a difference maker in the lives of those around me.
In thinking about my legacy two years ago, I came up with three professional goals – all of them heavily influenced by Jerry. They are:
- Be a master motivator
- Be a master mentor
- Have as many people at my funeral as possible.
I came up with the third goal, not in a selfish way, but one that would come about because I had invested enough in as many other lives as that they felt the need to come back and celebrate our time together. And while it is a shame that he won't get to see it himself, I have absolutely no doubt that Jerry's Celebration of Life will be a packed house - just the way Jerry liked it.
Thank you so much for everything, Coach. I will always BELIEVE!