Northeast Times

Coaching Pioneers

— Bob Peffle and Juan Namnun did noth­ing but win at Frank­ford, but their strong bond ex­tends bey­ond base­ball.

Frank­ford base­ball coach Juan Namnun watches the game against La Salle for the Class AAAA City Title. La Salle’s base­ball coach Bob Peffle was once Juan’s coach, Thursday, May 31, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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Em­bar­rassed.

That was the word Frank­ford base­ball coach Juan Namnun used when he phoned his ment­or, Bob Peffle, after last Thursday’s bru­tal 14-1 loss at the hands of La Salle in the City Title game.

Peffle was quick to con­sole his former prot&ea­cute;g&ea­cute;, telling Namnun that one ugly game would mean noth­ing in the grand scheme of things. Fo­cus on the fact that you won 18 games, Peffle said, as well as the third Pub­lic League title in Namnun’s five years in charge.

“I told him, ‘Stop right there,’” Peffle said. “One game does not define you, and what happened to them on Thursday can hap­pen to any­one on any giv­en day. I told him to look at the big pic­ture, to look back on what he’s done there and be proud.”

If any­one would know how to point Namnun in the right dir­ec­tion, it’s Peffle; after all, you could say the two have a bit of his­tory to­geth­er.

Peffle, now an as­sist­ant coach at La Salle, was the long­time base­ball coach for the Pi­on­eers. A Frank­ford alum, he won five Pub­lic League titles in 19 sea­sons and had reached le­gendary status by the time he re­tired in 2007. Dozens of play­ers came and went dur­ing his ten­ure, but one stuck out more than the rest: the one he had to beat to win La Salle the city cham­pi­on­ship in the game at FDR Park in South Phil­adelphia.

In 1992, Peffle pro­moted a then 14-year-old Namnun from the JV team to varsity, only to see Namnun be­come an in­teg­ral main­stay of the base­ball pro­gram in his sub­sequent three years as a play­er. After trans­fer­ring from Kutztown to West Chester Uni­versity in col­lege, Namnun de­cided dur­ing his seni­or year to get in­to teach­ing in Phil­adelphia. Back in the area, he called his former coach to ask about an as­sist­ant job.

“I wanted to get in­to teach­ing be­cause of him, and I happened to get a good stu­dent-teach­ing op­por­tun­ity in Philly dur­ing my seni­or year,” Namnun said. “So I figured since I was back in the area, I’d try to get in­to coach­ing, too. Only prob­lem was Bob had nev­er had an as­sist­ant, so I knew it was a long shot. I told him, ‘Just let me hang out. I’ll hit ground­ers, throw bat­ting prac­tice…whatever you need me to do.’”

For Peffle, the de­cision to bring Namnun on board was an easy one, even though he had pre­vi­ously been a lone wolf on the Frank­ford bench.

“I’ve al­ways been care­ful of who I bring on board be­cause I’ve de­veloped a cer­tain way of do­ing things where every prac­tice and game is planned out to the minute,” Peffle said. “If I’m bring­ing a guy on my staff, he’s got to have what I’m look­ing for in terms of know­ledge and work eth­ic. That was nev­er a prob­lem with Juan. I had full faith and trust in him and was con­fid­ent he would do things the way I wanted them done.

“That makes it so much easi­er for a coach,” he con­tin­ued. “I’m a Frank­ford grad, he’s a Frank­ford grad and he played for me. Even though I’m at La Salle now, we still both bleed those red, blue and gold Frank­ford col­ors. Everything I ex­per­i­enced with him as a play­er made it easi­er to say yes.”

So in 2000, Namnun came on board, and the dy­nam­ic of he and Peffle’s re­la­tion­ship shif­ted from play­er-coach to as­sist­ant coach-head coach. Namnun ad­mit­ted it wasn’t the easi­est trans­ition at first, as he had to learn how to ap­proach the game from a coach’s view­point.

“I re­mem­ber so clearly how, early on, he showed me how to man­age a game,” Namnun said. “He’d ex­plain to me why he’d pitch hit­ters a cer­tain way, or why he’d align the de­fense the way he did. As a play­er you don’t see those things, you just re­act and trust your coach. He taught me how to run a team be­hind the scenes.”

Namnun’s ar­rival as an as­sist­ant co­in­cided per­fectly with Frank­ford’s el­ev­a­tion to ar­gu­ably the top Pub­lic League base­ball pro­gram in the city. Peffle had ex­per­i­enced suc­cess be­fore Namnun showed up as a 22-year-old as­sist­ant, but it wasn’t un­til Namnun’s first year on staff in 2000 that Frank­ford won its first league title since 1981.

Once Namnun se­cured a full-time teach­ing po­s­i­tion at Frank­ford a short time later, the re­la­tion­ship between him and Peffle flour­ished. From 2000-07, the two men com­piled a stag­ger­ing 101-11 re­cord and five cham­pi­on­ships in Pub­lic League com­pet­i­tion.

Hav­ing just turned 60 dur­ing the 2007 sea­son, Peffle knew the time had come to pass the bat­on to Namnun. Little by little, the lat­ter had as­sumed more coach­ing re­spons­ib­il­it­ies and was call­ing most of the shots in Peffle’s fi­nal sea­son. Know­ing he had found the per­fect re­place­ment made Peffle com­fort­able in his de­cision to re­tire, but walk­ing away didn’t come without some trep­id­a­tion.

“The way it works in the Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict is you have to ap­ply for the coach­ing po­s­i­tion, so I wasn’t sure Juan would get the job,” Peffle said. “I just hoped that I was groom­ing the next Frank­ford coach.”

Of course, Namnun got the job, something that was per­son­ally met with mixed emo­tions.

“It meant the world to me,” Namnun said. “As a man, you dream about be­com­ing a per­son of le­gendary status like Coach Peffle did. Now, I had the op­por­tun­ity to be­come a part of that fra­tern­ity. To­geth­er, we built the pro­gram from the ground up, so for me to take over without him be­ing there…it was dif­fi­cult.

“I re­mem­ber the night be­fore my first game, I had this fear that I wouldn’t be able to main­tain the level of suc­cess we had spent al­most ten years build­ing,” he con­tin­ued. “But when he re­tired, he told me the only ques­tion he had was would the right per­son take over? When he found out it was me, he had no fear and was com­pletely con­fid­ent, which meant so much to me.”

Fresh off his Frank­ford re­tire­ment, Peffle was soon presen­ted with a unique op­por­tun­ity at La Salle; hav­ing already served as the school’s soc­cer coach since 1987 (a role he still holds today), he was offered a full-time fac­ulty po­s­i­tion at the school. Then, long­time friend and le­gendary La Salle base­ball coach Joe Par­isi offered Peffle the chance to come on as an as­sist­ant, an op­por­tun­ity he was ex­cited but re­served about. Not want­ing his old school to think he was “abandon­ing” Frank­ford for an­oth­er job, Peffle phoned Namnun to ask for ad­vice. After some ini­tial hes­it­a­tion, Peffle’s former pu­pil told him to ac­cept the job, no ques­tions asked, a fur­ther in­dic­at­or of the strong bond and trust level the two men share.

Though he ad­mit­ted it was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for him to write “BEAT FRANK­FORD” on La Salle’s dugout white­board on the eve of the city title game, Peffle found com­fort know­ing him end­ing up with the Ex­plorers worked out per­fectly for both parties. For Peffle, he still gets to ful­fill his pas­sion of ment­or­ing young stu­dent-ath­letes, while Namnun con­tin­ues to strengthen his re­sume as one of the city’s top base­ball coaches. In five full sea­sons since in­her­it­ing the Frank­ford po­s­i­tion, Namnun has gone 58-12 in Pub­lic League play and won three titles, bring­ing his total coach­ing mark to a stun­ning 159-23 with eight titles in 13 sea­sons.

“That man, along with my fath­er, taught me everything that I know,” said Namnun, who showed up to the La Salle-Neu­mann-Gor­etti Cath­ol­ic League title game to sup­port (and not scout) his former boss’s team. “I met him when I was 14 and he was present in all the ma­jor mo­ments in my life, from me mar­ry­ing my high school sweet­heart to the birth of my sons. He guided me in mak­ing the right de­cisions; he was al­ways sup­port­ive and hon­est with me. We still talk and text each oth­er reg­u­larly throughout the week. Since the first day I met him up un­til last Thursday, our re­la­tion­ship has been all about a friend­ship that that ex­tends a mil­lion miles bey­ond the base­ball field.”

For his part, Peffle said he still mon­it­ors Frank­ford’s pro­gress every day, something that will nev­er leave him des­pite fin­ish­ing up his coach­ing ca­reer at La Salle. It’s something that will nev­er dis­sip­ate, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing someone he cares so deeply about is lead­ing the base­ball pro­gram.

“Juan is very spe­cial to me,” Peffle in a phone con­ver­sa­tion on Sunday night. “I have two grown sons that I love dearly, and he’s in that cat­egory for me, too. I think so highly of him.

“You have to know that I al­ways pick up the pa­pers to look to see how Frank­ford did the day be­fore,” he con­cluded. “Frank­ford High School burns through me, and I was ex­tremely blessed to go there when I did and get my coach­ing ex­per­i­ence. I will forever fondly re­mem­ber all the young men that played for me, par­tic­u­larly Juan Namnun.” ••

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You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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