Derek Nicholson Peninsula

Derek Nicholson takes over the Peninsula baseball program following the 2019 season. Nicholson, who graduated from West Torrance High, played in the Tigers and Astros minor league systems after playing at the University of Florida. (Photo courtesy Derek Nicholson/Peninsula High School)

Derek Nicholson is no stranger to baseball on the hill, or in the South Bay for that matter. 

A 1994 West Torrance graduate, Nicholson has held a coaching position within the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District since 2012. 

Following Peninsula's 2019 season, and Brian Bowles' resignation, Nicholson felt the time was right to run a program once again. 

"I went to them (Peninsula principal Brent Kuykendall and Athletic Director Wendell Yoshida) and expressed interest more than anything," Nicholson said. "I thought it was a great and exciting opportunity. The worst thing about it was (Bowles) resigning, but it's nice to have someone inhouse who knows what's going on." 

Nicholson becomes the Panthers' fourth coach in the last 12 years. Dennis Gonsalves stepped away in 2012, before John Hangartner ran the program from 2013-16, with Bowles holding the reigns the last three years. 

Already having a knowledge of the program, its players and parents, Nicholson feels the transition will be uncomplicated. 

"It's good that I know about the players and the program, but it's about creating an identity," Nicholson said. "Brian did a great job, but we're going to change the identity and it will be a completely different style of baseball." 

Nicholson spent 13 years playing professionally in the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers minor league systems, and he feels that it's vital to the success of the program that the players show respect for the game of baseball. 

"You have to keep your poise and keep a level head, because there's always work to be done," Nicholson said. "The game is bigger than this team, and it's about respecting the game. That's bigger than anything." 

A father of two, Nicholson is currently a para-educator, working as a teacher's aide with students with special needs in the PVPUSD's Special Education department. 

He feels his biggest challenge within the Peninsula program is helping the players grow and thrive. 

"We have a lot of talented players who we project to be good players," Nicholson said. "Our biggest challenge is going to be trying to figure out to get them to be the best version of themselves, as student-athletes." 

Nicholson's South Bay connections run deep. He played at West Torrance with current South Torrance coach Grady Sain, coached alongside Palos Verdes coach Alex Morales at both PV and Peninsula, and played with former PV coach and current Santa Monica Athletic Director Evan Fujinaga at the University of Florida. 

But it was his time coaching under Fujinaga at PV that he feels provided the biggest learning experience. 

"I've learned everything I know from Fuj," Nicholson said. "He's been the best mentor. We were great friends growing up together, and if I know anything about coaching, it's from him." 

When it comes time for the 2020 season, Nicholson feels the key to success is not worrying about the team in the opposing dugout. 

"We don't have to worry about who we're playing, we just have to worry about ourselves," Nicholson said. "If we give our best day in and day out, that's a victory. We can't concern ourselves with anyone else, we're just trying to be the Peninsula Panthers and that's it. 

"Once we're only worried about what we have to do, winning and losing will take care of itself."

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