Hometown team is a family operation for Boise Hawks manager

Gary Van Tol relishes his role, family's activity with hometown team.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comJuly 30, 2013 

Gary Van Tol was born in Calgary, Alberta, and moved south after an offer to play baseball at Treasure Valley Community College. He later attended Gonzaga University and coached overseas, at several colleges and as a volunteer with the Boise Hawks in the early 2000s before he became an assistant coach with the club in 2008. In his first year as manager, Van Tol, wife Chrissy and his four children are fixtures at Memorial Stadium.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

  • HAWKS FALL IN 11

    Janluis Castro drove in the go-ahead run with nobody out in the top of the 11th inning Monday, then Chris Garia sent two home with a triple to give the Spokane Indians a 5-2 win over the Boise Hawks.

    The Hawks (24-21) didn't manage to get a hit until Jose Dore broke up the no-hit bid with a one-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning. In the eighth, Boise mustered an RBI double from Kris Bryant and a sacrifice fly from Yasiel Balaguert for a 2-2 tie.

    Boise starter Tyler Skulina went three shutout innings, striking out two, yielding two hits and no walks.

As first-year manager Gary Van Tol watches over his Boise Hawks, elsewhere in Memorial Stadium his other team, which he calls "Team Van Tol," is busy at work.

Van Tol, a Boise resident since 2008, has relished his position in his hometown, which has enabled him to have his entire family - his wife, Chrissy, and their four children - waiting at home after each game or helping at the ballpark in their own way.

"If there ever was going to be a perfect scenario, this is it," said Chrissy Van Tol, the senior woman administrator in the Boise State athletic department.

The Van Tols' youngest, 5-year-old son Gibson, chases down baseballs in the outfield during batting practice, hitches rides on the grounds crew's four-wheeler and helps pull hoses to water the field. Daughters Amaia (12) and Peyton (8) place stat sheets for fans sitting in the Diamond Club, run stats to coaches during games and help keep track of entries in the Hawks' postgame ball toss.

Fourteen-year-old Gehrig - like his brother, named after a famous baseball player - is the most active. He serves as the visiting team's batboy at home games and is a fixture in the Hawks' clubhouse, making pregame food runs or heading to a nearby gas station to grab drinks and snacks for players.

"He's always trying to scrap money off us, asking to clean our cleats, stuff like that - I'm thinking he's overpricing that Gatorade a little bit," outfielder Jose Dore said.

Though Chrissy, often seen sitting just behind the third-base dugout, laments that the boys have learned "some … interesting words in at least two languages," the Van Tols say they are lucky to be able to have their children learn firsthand about work ethic.

"It's neat, having that older influence. That'll help them decide who they want to be," Gary Van Tol said. "They see the guys and girls here working hard at their careers, so they know what it takes to be successful. It's a special environment."

The fact Van Tol, who was a volunteer coach the prior five seasons, got his shot to manage a minor-league squad without having to uproot his family is a rare opportunity.

"I feel so privileged, so lucky," he said. "I've had guys in other organizations come up to me and say, 'Wow, what a great deal.' It's not lost on me, how most guys don't have the luxury I do."

Stability in the minor leagues is rare. Managers are dispatched to cities across the country in a team's system, and players pursue their dreams riding buses far from home.

"I've seen my family once in three months, so I can't imagine how happy it makes him to have his kids here at the park all the time, or go home to them after a long day," said pitcher Matt Iannazzo, who played for the Hawks the last two seasons before being called up to long-season Class A Kane County two weeks ago.

In his first year at the helm, Van Tol has led the Hawks to their first winning first half since 2008, which included a seven-game winning streak, the team's longest in nine years. Iannazzo said Van Tol's attention to detail, especially for players just starting out as pros, has been a boon for the Hawks.

Van Tol created, and has overseen, the Idaho Cubs program, which helps prepare two teams of the state's best players for college during the offseason. There are plans to add a third team for U-13 players.

"He's got a gift as a teacher," Chrissy said. "He has these big ideas, but he can really get down to the details to make it work."

Van Tol is quick to point out Chrissy is the "rockstar" of the family, at times having to serve as the lone parent. She stayed back to wait as their houses were up for sale as he moved through the college coaching ranks, from Treasure Valley Community College (head coach) to Portland (assistant) to his alma mater, Gonzaga (assistant).

Chrissy's hiring at Boise State five years ago brought the family back to Boise, where Gary volunteered with the Hawks in 2001 and 2002.

"He'd drive from Ontario just to throw batting practice, and when we came back here, he was happy just volunteering," said Chrissy, who was raised in Parma. "Would he have kept doing it? Definitely. It's just wonderful for him to have this opportunity. It's kind of like a walk-on going on scholarship, earning that chance."

Being a volunteer suited Van Tol just fine - "I was a stay-at-home dad, basically," he said.

But there's no doubt Van Tol wanted to manage. Now that he has his shot, even if it means being home less, he's able to bring a little home to work.

"It's a group effort - at home, at Boise State or here at the ballpark, it's Team Van Tol all the time," Gary Van Tol said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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