Monday, Dec. 21, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Longtime Green Valley High baseball coach Rodger Fairless had one requirement for the ballplayers in his program.
Fairless, who guided the Gators to six consecutive state titles from 1993 to '98, wouldn't settle for anything less than an athlete's best effort. Try going about your job in a lackadaisical fashion and the hard-nosed coach would find someone to take your place.
So, when roughly 40 graduates assembled Saturday for the program's annual alumni game, the players went about the friendly competition as if they were playing longtime rival Bishop Gorman for the state championship.
The group of men, most in their 20s and a few in their early 30s, jumped out of the home dugout for infield practice with the same enthusiasm they had during tryouts when they were freshmen.
The day, which started with a home run derby, celebrated the tradition of arguably the state's best high school dynasty. Green Valley has won eight state titles since opening in 1991, including the string of six straight when they were one of the nation's top teams.
In 1999, when the streak of titles was snapped, no senior had graduated without being part of at least one championship team.
Now, that's a tradition to be proud of — even a decade later.
"Coach Fairless had a saying from Pete Rose, 'The harder you work, the harder it is to lose,'" said Chad Hermansen, a 1995 graduate and member of three state title teams. "That's the mentality we had at Green Valley. No one was going to work harder than us."
Nick Garritano, who became the Gators coach in 1999 after Fairless left to coach at the College of Southern Nevada, has worked tirelessly to continue the traditions Fairless started.
He's led the Gators to a pair of state titles and kept the program as one of the Las Vegas Valley's best. The area has more schools now than the late 1990s and the Green Valley attendance zone has been gutted since the program's glory days.
Still, Garritano holds the program to the same standard of working hard for success. That's one of the reasons for the alumni game, which pits the current team against members of past squads.
"There is a lot of tradition with that alumni group," Garritano said. "There are a lot of state titles sitting over in that dugout. It's what we say all the time and how we consider ourselves one big Gator family. Well, today the older brothers are coming back."
Ryan Heroy, currently a senior first baseman at Pepperdine, won the home run derby with eight long balls. Most of his blasts cleared the left field fence where Fairless' jersey No. 32 is retired and several of the program's other achievements are documented.
"Just look at this place — it's awesome. I love it here," Heroy said. "I have a lot of respect for all of the guys out here. It is like one, big family."
The group of past players included outfielder Jordan Parraz, who is on the Kansas City Royals 40-man roster, and Chad Hermansen, who was a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and hit 13 career big-league home runs. Jake Dittler, who reached Triple-A in the Cleveland Indians organization, started for the alumni team.
The appearance of past players helps give current players something to strive for. Green Valley hasn't won a state title since 2003, but will return nearly its entire lineup this spring from last year's team that won the Sunrise Regional crown.
"It's nice measuring our accomplishments against those of past teams," junior shortstop Brett Harrison said. "Everyone wants to be a Gator, and when you (are done playing), you wish you could still be a Gator."