Dave Meliah is 41 years old, and he’s held a baseball bat in his hands in one capacity or another for as long as he can remember.
So when it was announced last week that Meliah was stepping aside as Walla Walla Community College’s head baseball coach and would take on an administrative role as Jeff Reinland’s assistant athletic director at WWCC, the obvious question was: How are you going to handle not being around baseball, Dave?
“I don’t think I am not going to be around it,” Meliah answered directly. “Part of my duties in helping Jeff in the athletic department will be out at the games helping get things set up so the coaches don’t have to do everything.
“I won’t be at the field every day coaching,” he continued. “But the great thing about this job is still being involved. I’ll get to know all the athletes and work hand-in-hand with all of the coaches.
“I won’t be involved with the daily stress, the self-induced stress I put on myself under both playing and coaching. It’s going to be fun to have some new responsibilities.”
And he’ll have more time to spend with his family, which, he said, is the motivation that led to his decision to give up coaching in the first place. He and his wife Jill are the parents of two, 11-year-old Emily and 7-year-old Kellen.
“They are active in sports and other activities, and Jill’s been the one to run them around,” Meliah said of his children. “I don’t want to miss out. I don’t want to look back in five years and think, I missed everything.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” he said of his decision. “I’ve never considered myself a lifer coach who was going to do it until the day they drop.”
Meliah graduated from DeSales High School in 1995 and played on four Irish Class B state championship baseball teams. He played two seasons at WWCC and helped the Warriors claim the NWAC’s East Region championship as a sophomore.
He moved on to the University of San Francisco for one season before deciding to turn professional after being selected by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round of the 1998 amateur June draft. He spent six years in the Rangers organization and climbed as high as Class AAA Oklahoma City before announcing his retirement in 2003.
Meliah helped coach WWCC baseball under Chad Miltenberger in the offseason during his professional playing days, and he joined the Warriors coaching staff fulltime as an assistant under Mike Cummins in 2004. He was promoted to head coach in 2010 and led the Warriors to a 245-169 record in nine seasons in charge of the program.
Although the Warriors never won the East Region regular-season title during Meliah’s nine season, they were second three times and qualified for the playoffs eight consecutive years. Walla Walla reached the regional championship game five times, won twice and finished third in the 2017 NWAC Championships, WWCC’s best finish ever in the season-ending tournament.
Meliah’s best season was 2015 when the Warriors finished 31-17 overall, placed second in the East with a 19-9 mark, won the regional tournament and qualified for the NWACs. They lost their first two games, however, and did not place in Longview.
“When you get as far as the regional championship game, you are playing good teams,” Meliah said as he looked back. “Some years we won and some years we lost. Nothing is guaranteed at that point, that’s for sure.
“I never looked at it as disappointing when you get to that point. I’ve just always been proud of the guys and the commitment they made. Even after 2017 when we finished third in the NWACs, the sense of disappointment was that this team is never going to be together again.”
It was no different this season, Meliah said, when his team posted a 21-21 record and failed to qualify for the East Region tourney for the first time in his tenure.
“It was that same feeling that the team is never going to be together again,” he said. “I’m just proud of all the teams, not one more than another. They were all great groups to coach and be around.”
In addition to his duties as assistant AD, Meliah will continue in his position as an advisor in the student development center and also take on the role of the school’s sports information director, a position he held early in his WWCC career.
Meanwhile, Bobbi Hazeltine, WWCC’s women’s head basketball coach, is giving up her role as Reinland’s assistant AD as well as her position in the school’s financial aid department to become the school’s new director of first-year experience. She will, however, continue to coach and serve as WWCC’s female commissioner to the NWAC.
And Justin Speer, who was a WWCC assistant baseball coach in 2015 before taking over as the head softball coach in 2016, returns to baseball as the Warriors’ new head coach. Speer coached WWCC’s softball team to a 98-48 record in his three season, placing second in the division all three years and finishing third in the 2016 NWAC tourney.
“There were just a lot of moving parts that all came together to make this happen,” Reinland said.
“Dave has done a great job with baseball and has been a good mentor and role model,” Reinland added. “And he’s run a real successful program. I had mixed emotions about it, but this is what he wanted to do. He’s been in baseball for a long time and is ready to move on.
“I’m going to be expecting the same thing from Justin,” Reinland said. “He has a little more fiery personality than Dave, so I’m excited about the job and the opportunity. This is his dream job, he told me, and I know he is super excited and super gung-ho.
“What he did in softball speaks for itself.”
The next step for Reinland will be to identify a new head softball coach.
“We’ve opened it up and are advertising in newspapers and on the NWAC,” Reinland said. “We want to get that going as quick as we can and are hoping to fill it by mid-August at least.”
Article by Jim Buchan of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin