Coaching baseball is lifetime passion for Scottsdale’s Billy Horton

Throughout the course of our lives, how many times are we told to scale back our ambitions?

How many times do we feel as if we’ve reached a self-imposed juncture — a juncture that mandates us either taking a scaled-back path to a profitable career or taking what seems like a naïve and over-idealistic path in an effort to attain our dreams?

Cactus Athletic Camps

Scottsdale’s Billy Horton coaches players of all ages — from youth at his Cactus Athletic Camps to rookies who play for the San Francisco Giants. (Photo courtesy Cactus Athletic Camps)

What if the narrative were changed? What if the natural tendency when faced with a tough decision weren’t to temper expectations, but to blow the foundation up, strive for better and dream bigger?

As it turns out, dreaming big and reaching higher are integral parts of Scottsdale resident Billy Horton’s life, as well as his success.

In 2011, Mr. Horton (currently 42 years old) was 10 years removed from a minor league baseball playing career — one that featured stints with the Chicago White Sox, Anaheim Angels and multiple independent teams. He had garnered employment with the Arizona Diamondbacks working in the community relations department and then with the Chicago White Sox in a similar role.

He then started running baseball camps, which vaulted him from Southern California to Seattle and back to his homeland in Arizona. But such location volatility, as well as temperate financial concerns, weren’t ideal for Mr. Horton. Consequently, he began the process of applying for a job as a high school or collegiate baseball coach.

He was a finalist for a few “top-flight” programs, but was turned down by a few high schools and Grand Canyon University for a job as its hitting coach.

The outlook was certainly bleak, but rather than modifying his goals to a watered-down version, Mr. Horton aimed higher and went bigger.

In December 2011, Mr. Horton was hired as the hitting coach for the Arizona Rookie League team of the San Francisco Giants.

“It’s kind of funny because I guess my dream wasn’t big enough,” Mr. Horton said. “As far as trying to get a high school job, I couldn’t even get that. Then, it’s 2012, my first year, the Giants win the World Series. In 2013, we win the Minor League Championship with the team in Arizona. In 2014, we win the World Series. I was a guy four years ago who couldn’t even get a high school job and now I have two World Series rings. It’s been an amazing ride.”

Yet Mr. Horton’s ascension into a minor league coaching job with the Giants is only a glimpse of how he has and continues to strive for more.

Perplexed over the alarming trend of an increasing amount of players burnt out on baseball at a young age, in 2006 Mr. Horton undertook an initiative of offering a year-round baseball league in Scottsdale — a seemingly paradoxical idea given he was essentially advocating for more baseball and not less.

“To be quite honest, I was walking my dogs one night and I was praying,” Mr. Horton said. “From my business standpoint (I was) looking for a revenue stream, but from a community outreach standpoint — a different way to reach people in baseball.”

Modeled after the Phoenix Winter League, in which Mr. Horton participated during his playing days, Mr. Horton’s Arizona Baseball League uses the months of September and October as what he titles the “Fall Training Program” to “slowly get them (the kids) back into the flow of baseball.”

In November, the winter season commences with four different divisions available based on age. Lastly, Cactus Athletic Camps, which is the overarching name of Mr. Horton’s business, are individual baseball camps that run year-round.

“The purpose for this is to give them a small amount of baseball so they’re not worn out,” Mr. Horton said. “If they still want to play a different winter sport like football or basketball, they have five other days during the week to do that. It’s an opportunity to reach out to these kids.”

Mr. Horton didn’t just stop at year-round baseball, though.

Continuing to shatter even his own expectations, his decision to hire only current or former professional baseball players or scouts to serve as coaches ensured his business would be a skyrocketing success (each year he’s had over 200 kids register to participate).

Brett Caradonna, a former first-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1997, coaches a team in the winter and voiced a ringing endorsement for Mr. Horton’s philosophy.

“I love doing it,” Mr. Caradonna said. “Billy and I are kids in adult bodies. We can reach out and find a way to make a kid comfortable. Even though we’ve both played professional baseball, they can see our goofiness. It’s still a little boy’s game. Even at the highest level, it’s still a game.”

Drew Beuerlein, who is one year removed from an assistant-coaching and bullpen-catching position with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (the Colorado Rockies Triple-A affiliate), voiced a similar bigger-picture attitude when asked about what he gets out of coaching in the Arizona Baseball League.

“Being around baseball all your life, and being in a stage in your career where you can give back what you’ve learned, especially at a professional level, to kids whose dream is to do what you’re doing,” Mr. Beuerlein said.

“To be an impact and a role model, being a part of their lives more than anything.”

And yet despite the praise from coaches and parents, an innate desire to dream bigger and a relentless desire for improvement — an indoor facility and perhaps expanding into other sports in addition to baseball were ideas that Mr. Horton tossed around when asked about a future vision — according to Mr. Horton’s friends and co-workers, he remains grounded thanks to his two sons, Connor and Bryce, and his wife, Taleen.

“He’s a man of faith,” Mr. Beuerlein said. “He’s a man of character. Great husband, great father, and then a great baseball mind. Getting to know him and what he stands for, he puts his family first and then baseball comes second. I really relate to that. It’s why we have such a great relationship and why he runs such a great league.”

“My focus is to be a great husband and a great father,” Mr. Horton said. “I pray to be stronger in those two categories. When I run the business and I work for the Giants, I focus on them. I focus on providing for them and being a good example for them.”

Editor’s note: Jacob Garcia is a student at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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