This story was originally printed in the BYU-Texas football Gameday program, Sept. 7, 2013
Look around and see how many people you spot wearing BYU gear.
That’s a game Cameron Coughlan often plays with a co-worker at Disneyland in California.
Over 400,000 alumni have passed the “Enter to learn; Go forth to serve” sign near LaVell Edwards Stadium, so it’s simple to spot Cougar fans in a sea of blue. With over 40,000 BYU alums living in California, including Coughlan, it’s easy to see why he has fun playing this game as they watch patrons enjoy rides and scramble for lines at Disneyland.
Throughout his life, Coughlan, who had a six-year pro baseball career after playing for BYU from 2000-02, has a habit of studying his surroundings and puts it to good advantage.
Last May he pointed out the subtle nuances to former BYU baseball/football player Jacob Hannemann so that he could become a better base-stealer. One tip he gave the future third-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs was to take a lead off base matching his height. Head quirks, leans, knee lifts and a pitcher’s grips of the baseball, not to mention the way the catcher sets up all aid an alert base runner to become a better theft artist.
The 5-foot-11 Coughlan, who was clocked at 6.58 running the 60-yard dash, has even produced a video teaching base-stealing technique. His best season at BYU was as a junior in 2002 when he stole 33 of 38 bases. The Texas Rangers drafted him in the 18th round after being voted all-tournament at the Los Angeles NCAA Regional, selected All-Mountain West Conference First Team and All-MWC Tournament Team.
He played six years in pro baseball, including four with the Rangers and one with A’s. As a pro he stole 213 bases and was caught 60 times. During his off seasons he would either return to BYU or workout at Pepperdine in his hometown of Malibu, Calif.
Those off season workouts not only helped Coughlan’s baseball career, but made big differences in his life. For one, he converted to The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints. Secondly, it led to him getting a dream job at the Disneyland Resort. He is a Guest Services Manager in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.
“Baseball opened a lot of doors,” said Coughlan, who is now five years out of playing pro ball. “Pepperdine baseball coach Steve Rodriguez asked me what I was going to do after my career was done and gave a call to one of his friends at Disney. I got hired into the management-training program at Disney have had the privilege to work in two different lines of business in five years. It’s partly the result of faith and the job and how they go hand-in-hand.”
Coughlan developed that faith at BYU.
“Because of BYU I’m a better player, person and representative of the university where I met my wife, pursued my dream, got baptized, but there’s more I could have done,” Coughlan said. “Hopefully I’ve been an example.
“UCLA is where I wanted to go, but I was recruited by BYU, New Orleans and San Diego,” Coughlan said. “I remember Bobby Noel (pitching coach) walking us around at the Marriott Center and briefly pointing to where the new baseball stadium would be built.”
By the middle of his sophomore year Coughlan got to play second base—the one he often stole—on the new Larry H. Miller Field.
When Coughlan arrived as a BYU student in 1999 on campus he recognized a girl staying in the same Helaman Halls dormitory complex where he lived. Her name was Sarah Ward, whom he first met in the sixth grade.
“We were on a ski trip from California to Park City with a mutual friend, Darren Dummit,” Coughlan said of his future wife Sarah. “At BYU, she lived in David John Hall, and I was in May Hall. It was a culture shock to be at BYU. But it was not that far off-line. That attracted me. It was more about people and relationships.”
“Cameron came to BYU with great baseball skills,” BYU baseball radio announcer Brent Norton said. “He left for pro ball with even better baseball skills, but more importantly a better person. He appreciates and loves what BYU did him more than any other player I can recall. He is a great supporter and is willing to give back to the program. Definitely in my 20 years of broadcasting one of the most skilled players but even better people I have encountered.”
Another skilled player, Matt Carson was Coughlan’s roommate in their years at BYU. Carson has gone on to play in the Major League with the Oakland A’s and just got called up again to the Major League for the Minnesota Twins from the AAA level. Coughlan recalls those early years with Carson at BYU.
“The missionaries would knock on our dorm door when we were sleeping in on Saturdays or Sundays,” Coughlan said. “In my junior year Ryan Adams (a BYU pitcher and returned missionary) and I started doing the discussions.
“I thought while I was at BYU, I needed to explore it and Paul Warner taught my religion class.”
“He (Coughlan) was always very polite and well mannered with an upbeat personality,” former BYU chaplain Warner said. “He was interested in the gospel from the start and had good, respectful questions about what the doctrines meant. He was fun to be around and had a good relationship with other members of the team. I am really pleased that he is doing so well and that he was baptized because of his BYU experiences.”
When Coughlan was drafted after his junior year in 2002 he missed the influence of people like Warner and others like BYU equipment manager Mick Hill, BYU football operations director Duane Busby, future BYU basketball coach Terry Nashif and former BYU Baseball Coaches Vance Law and Gary Pullins, among others.
“It felt like second family at BYU with Mick and Duane,” Coughlan said. “The environment at BYU made me feel at home.”
After seasons ended in each city, often Coughlan would return to BYU, just like diving back into first base.
“It wasn't until being away from this environment while I was in Port Charlotte, Fla., in the Gulf Coast League that I missed being away from Provo,” Coughlan said. “Every night I talked to my girlfriend (Sarah Ward) over the phone. I brought a guy to the Florida ward, he was a Baptist from Alabama.”
On his first pro team Coughlan also had a good influence from a Mormon teammate Joldy Watts from Idaho.
After that 2002 season in Florida, Coughlan was back in Provo for an off season and lived with former teammate Dave Jensen, an All-American and returned missionary who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals. Jensen sat in with Coughlan on his missionary discussions.
“In January 2003, I was baptized,” Coughlan said. “The whole BYU baseball team was there in a chapel down by Gold's Gym on 900 East, and they had to move the services from a small room to the chapel.
“I had been baptized Catholic when I was born and grew up attending Presbyterian services in Malibu (Calif.). After getting baptized in Provo, the missionary from Virginia who taught me would follow up contacting me every year.”
After being baptized in 2003, Coughlan stayed in shape by working out in spring ball with Jensen in BYU football drills and trained under Justin McClure and Jay Omer.
“Coach (Brian) Mitchell just called us ‘baseball’ instead of by our names,” Coughlan said. “I left in late February for Spring training.
“The biggest test of my faith came in 2003, when a born-again Christian challenged me because some of the things for which I didn't have answers,” Coughlan said.
While Coughlan played pro baseball in cities like Port Charlotte, Fla.; Clinton, Iowa; Frisco and Midland, Texas; Stockton, Calif.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Winnipeg, Canada, his wife often found employment in those cities because she was an experience employee of Pottery Barn. Cameron completed his BYU degree in 2006 and Sarah graduated in 2003. They now have a 2 ½-year-old son with curly blond hair who throws a baseball as a righty and a lefty.
“I never had a church calling until I retired,” Coughlan said. Then he was called as Elders Quorum secretary. He currently serves as the assistant to the Teachers Quorum in the Lake Forest Ward, Rancho Santa Margareta Stake in Irvine, Calif. At Disneyland he works nights and weekends until 3 or 4 a.m., often keeping an eye out for patrons donning BYU gear.
“I can’t say enough about BYU,” Coughlan said. “I wish I would have had more of an impact on others when I was there. Now I want to give back for what everyone has given me. I want to pay it back in some shape or form. It's not about me, it's about having impact on other people. I'm passionate about this school. Being a member of the church you really get an understanding what your role is in life.”