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Cop mellows as runners round third Tom Basinski | Sat, May 07 2011 12:00 PM

I met rookie cop John Carlson 25 years ago. We both played on the CVPD softball team. I was near the end of my athletic career and John was a hard-charger, just off the diamond at San Diego State University and two years in the Padres farm system.

During Carlson's first CVPD practice while taking grounders, the ball hit a pebble, took a bad bounce and splattered his nose. We both worked graveyard, me as a desk sergeant, and John, a patrolman. He showed up to work with two black eyes and a bandage across his nose. He couldn't work the field due to the injury and he didn't have any sick leave on the books. We let him work inside to help me.

I showed him how to do data entry on stolen vehicles, back then a somewhat complex task. I handed him a stack of reports and left to do something else. I returned 20 minutes later figuring he'd be entering the same report because of the complicated nature. He had them all done, and correctly. It took me forever to learn how. I showed him once and he mastered it.

I decided right then to be nice to him because I'd probably be working for him someday. That didn't happen. I left for the DA's office and John quit climbing the promotion ladder after sergeant and doesn't plan on leaving the force for another couple of years.

On the softball field Carlson was a competitor, to be sure. More than once we had to quiet him down so the umpire wouldn't toss him. John's competitive nature was honed by his experience at SDSU and in pro ball.

When John left the field after being ejected for the first time as a pro, the base coach said, "Hey rook, you know it's an automatic $50 fine when you get tossed in this league? You better get your money's worth." Carlson returned to the field and finished his "talk" with the umpire. Making only $750 a month, Carlson kept his ejections to a minimum after that.

On the CVPD softball team, Carlson's competitive nature ended after the last game of the day when we would reach into the cooler to begin our "debriefing." Those times sitting around with a cold one(s) were priceless. With Dick Coulson, Carlson, and me tossing out the barbs, our team was no place for the thin skinned or faint of heart.

Our team played in tournaments all over California (at our own expense). Over the years CVPD took two medals in softball in the Police Summer Games, no small accomplishment because LAPD, SDPD, and LA Sheriffs brought powerhouse teams. There were hundreds of entries, and very few teams were easy marks.

Carlson and his wife, Yvonne, have three daughters. It was no surprise that John had them playing softball. The 1980 Hilltop High grad began coaching in the Bonita Valley League 17 years ago. During that time his girls teams won four national championships.

Carlson began coaching at Bonita Vista High nine years and seven league championships ago. His youngest daughter is a senior. After her graduation Carlson said he'll coach for one more year because of the crop of girls he has. After that, his coaching career is uncertain.

Carlson's long-time assistant, Troy Hensly, has been with him for the duration. They don't make much money as non-teaching coaches. Carlson says it comes to "about a buck-ten an hour."

Neither coach is in it for the money. Carlson said he has coached hundreds of girls over the years. The reward is when some drop by to thank him for the instruction and good will he has given them.

This year's team is 26-1 and ranked first in the county. The Lady Barons are sixth nationally, but that is a dubious honor because who can nationally rate the thousands of softball teams?

Watching him coach, I was surprised at how he had mellowed. "I'm getting older," Carlson said. "The umpires are good, for the most part, and I pick my battles. Troy and the girls work so hard that I can take it easy during the games. They're so well prepared." Carlson has given much to the community, both as a cop and a coach.

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