AUBURN, Alabama — Mike Candrea and Clint Myers are essentially the same coach.
Even Candrea’s cadence sounds the same as Myers’ reaction to questions involving his softball team.
“I probably do, don’t I?” Candrea said. “We’ve been around a long time.”
They have their own styles, of course, but their approach on the softball diamond is similar for a reason: they’re longtime friends and baseball nuts.
They both got their start at Central Arizona College as softball coaches, and as their careers blossomed, so too did their programs. When Candrea left CAC to coach Arizona, it was Myers who stepped in as the head coach at CAC. The two tenures combined to win eight NJCAA national championships (six by Myers-coached teams) before Myers became CAC’s baseball coach and won another national title in 2002. Years later they became rivals as the head coaches at Arizona and Arizona State and Candrea got the best of his buddy, going 11-10 against Myers.
They’re all even now at 11-11 after a 20-2 Auburn victory over Arizona in 2015, but the biggest series of their friendship starts this weekend as Arizona travels to No. 4 Auburn for a super regional and a shot at a spot in the Women’s College World Series.
Arizona has won eight national titles in Candrea’s 30 previous seasons but hasn’t reached the College World Series since 2010.
Without Candrea’s success, Myers may not even be in a position to travel to the World Series for a ninth time (and for the second time in his three years at Auburn).
“What you’re trying to establish is a legacy of your program, the one that has a chance to play for the national championship,” Myers said. “We did that early on at Arizona State. We compared a lot of things to what Arizona did because that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to have that kind of legacy and being there (at the Women’s College World Series) seven out of eight times, we were moving in the right direction.”
Myers and Candrea’s relationship is deeper than most rivals. They both had children in the same age range and summer baseball was a priority for the Myers and Candrea families. Corey Myers, who coaches pitchers at Auburn, and Casey Myers played summer ball with Mikel Candrea throughout their formative years. They won three state titles with Mike Candrea coaching first base and Clint Myers coaching third base.
“We had one of the best coaching staffs in the country, I would say,” Corey Myers said. “Basically what you see out here on the softball field is how we played baseball.”
The summer league provided time for Mike Candrea and Clint Myers to share ideas and become friends.
“They shared a lot of knowledge,” Mikel Candrea, 36, said. “They both were really giving and that they were willing to talk about what they knew. They had different backgrounds. Coach Myers played professional ball, my dad never did. My dad was in softball for a while and coach was getting into softball.”
The fathers were “pretty laid back,” Mike Candrea said, and bonded because of their love of the game of baseball. Mike Candrea is a big fan of the New York Yankees and the legacy of Mickey Mantle.
“We had a few adult beverages at Mike’s house strategizing and having fun,” Clint Myers said. “There were a lot of good memories with the kids and Mike.”
Clint Myers coached softball and baseball while at CAC before he got his big break at Arizona State, where he won two national titles while competing against his friend and rival. Mike Candrea had a lot to do — directly and indirectly — with the success Clint Myers experienced while coaching the Sun Devils.
Those summer nights preparing for summer league baseball games helped a lot.
“You know Clint. He can talk forever,” Mike Candrea said. “Back then Casey and Corey were not involved, but you bring those two into the conversation now, it would probably last for days. We always had some great conversations. Really it was a lot of fun to be a part of watching our kids grow up and play a game that we purely loved.”
Fond memories will certainly stir in the back of their minds inside the dugouts this weekend at Jane B. Moore Field. Game 1 of the best-of-three series at Jane B. Moore Field begins Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Times, however, have changed. The kids are in their 30s and the fathers are two of the more successful coaches in the business. From summer ball to the Women’s College World Series, Clint Myers and Mike Candrea did it their own way — and usually that meant doing it the same way, whether it was technique or similar in-game adjustments.
“Your dad is always the tougher coach,” Corey Myers said. “That’s why I say all the time I’m lucky to be coaching with him and not playing for him. I get yelled at a lot less being a coach with him now than being a player for him.”
The stakes on the field, however, have never been higher for these two families, who are Sun Devils at heart. After all, Mike Candrea graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State and Myers coached the Sun Devils for eight years before leaving for Auburn to coach the Tigers in 2014.
“It’s kind of funny how everything goes in a circle in life,” Mike Candrea said.