The office of Rudy Lopez, MD, looks like any regular pediatrician’s office at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City: There are colorful patient-drawn artworks, snapshots of smiling kids, Dr. Lopez’s family photos and of course, framed medical diplomas. The one hint of his “other life” is a single photo of Dr.Lopez in a baseball uniform, standing next to a team of smiling Little Leaguers.
“I’ve been coaching those kids for five years now,” says Dr. Lopez, gesturing to the photo. “They’re the Belmont-Redwood Shores Little League.”
And this has been the team’s outstanding year. After an amazing string of wins, “Coach Rudy” and the young people of the Belmont-Redwood Shores Little League got to go to the Western Regional Little League Tournament in Southern California in July.
“No other team from the San Francisco Peninsula has ever gotten to the Western Regionals,” says Dr. Lopez. “We did.”
The members of the team were 8 years old when Dr.Lopez started volunteering as their coach. It was never a secret that he is a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician, but to this day, many aren’t aware of his non-baseball life.
“Kaiser Permanente physicians are all about giving back to the communities where we work,” says Dr. Lopez, “and the pediatrics team here at KP Redwood City has been great about helping me coach the Little Leaguers.”
“Dr. Lopez has always been committed to serving the communities his patients live in,” says Jennifer Cho, MD, chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City. “He’s a great doctor, and we’re proud he’s part of our department.”
Routinely, Dr.Lopez sees patients until 6 p.m., then heads to Little League and becomes Coach Rudy until 8 p.m., when he finally heads home to his family. Actually, the rest of his family.
“My son Nicholas is one of our leading players, so I do get to see him during practice and games,” says Dr. Lopez, but he grimaces a bit while admitting that the rest of his family may have felt a little neglected during the busy Little League season.
Dr. Lopez was a baseball player during high school, but he says he never had a leader/mentor like he hopes he has been to the Belmont-Redwood Shores team. Some of the team members are also his patients at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City.
“I try to teach them life lessons, respect, hard work and how to get better playing baseball,” says Dr. Lopez. “Maybe being a physician gives me a little edge in imparting human skills along with the sports expertise.”
Perhaps it was the human skills that paid off: The All-Stars of the Belmont-Redwood Shores Little League came within one game of going to the national Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
And within 30 minutes of the loss in Southern California, Dr. Lopez says most of the kids were acting like normal 12 year olds again. Disappointed, yes. Devastated,no.
“They worked hard, gave up a lot of free time for the team, and did something no other Little League team from the Peninsula ever did,” he says.
Dr. Lopez jokes, saying that he may be going through the five stages of grieving, but that he feels the Belmont-Redwood Shores community has been entirely supportive and caring despite the team’s loss.
But now that the team members are 12 years old, there’s not a next year: This was their pinnacle year, and Dr. Lopez is grateful that he was along for the ride as long as it lasted.