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Del Rio has a friend, resource in Wakamatsu

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
I missed my self-imposed deadline on this, as I wanted to write it before the Jags opened camp. They kicked off this morning, but I'm still going to share.

When I sat down with Jack Del Rio in June, we talked a good bit about his relationship with Don Wakamatsu, the manager of the Seattle Mariners.

What are the odds of two coaches of two teams in America's top three major league sports coming from the same high school? Del Rio and Wakamatsu not only both attended Hayward (Calif.) High School, but they were classmates and teammates who remain good friends.

Del Rio and his son made an offseason trip to Seattle for a couple games and got to see Wakamatsu work from close range during his first season on the job.

"It was really a neat experience to go out there and see Don as the manager, it was cool," Del Rio said. "We were seeing Ken Griffey Jr. and hanging out in Don's office and hanging out and taking to these guys. I'm just really proud of Don.

"I watched him, obviously, bounce around the minors and then get a cup of coffee in the majors and play a little bit, but I knew his dream was coaching and his goal was to be a manager. To see him realize that? He was one of my good buddies growing up, I ate him out of house and home because his house was right by our school. After school we'd go to his house."

Del Rio said the two played together from junior high on and were together on Hayward's varsity football, baseball and basketball starting off as sophomores. Those teams collectively won nine straight league championships.

Both athletes were catchers. Del Rio said he caught as a sophomore, and Wakamatsu caught as a junior and senior as Del Rio pitched, played first and moved around.

Then as we went to college, they were both starting catchers in the Pac-10, Wakamatsu at Arizona State, Del Rio at USC.

"He had Barry Bonds and Odibie McDowell and Doug Henry on his team and I had Mark McGwire and Randy Johnson and guys like that on my team," Del Rio said. "We were both good. We did different things well. I think he was a better, more efficient defensive catcher. I probably had a little more offense. But we were both good players."

Del Rio said his first love was basketball, but he got thicker and was drawn to football by the physical nature.

Wakamatsu's first season has been about putting the team back together after a disappointing 101-loss season. Currently the Mariners are three games over .500 and still a dark horse in the American League wild card race. Del Rio's already guided two playoff teams, but is now trying to reshape a squad that crumbled at 5-11 last year.

The two talk about elements of their job that overlap like leadership and how to handle winning and losing, Del Rio said.

"He's got one that's different that mine," Del Rio said when asked about issues. "He's got like seven different interpreters in his locker room for when he's trying to talk to the team. I've got a team meeting every day just about. How do you talk to your team and have that many interpreters? That's a challenge I don't have. He said it's tough and they just work their way through it the best they can."

At some point after the Mariners' season ends, Del Rio said he expects Wakamatsu to bring his sons to Jacksonville.

"He owes me a visit," Del Rio said. "He's got boys and he promises they're going to get out this year."