El Cerrito prep
James "Pops" Mitchell, legendary El Cerrito High athlete and former USC baseball player, died Thursday of an apparent heart attack. He was 44 years old.
Mitchell, who had dealt with diabetes in recent years, was a three-time MVP of the Richmond-Berkeley Athletic League, and was named California's Mr. Baseball in 1984 by Cal-Hi Sports. He was one of the star players on El Cerrito's 1983 baseball team that went 27-1 and was named state team of the year by Cal-Hi Sports.
"He had a lot of fun on the field. He loved playing," said Mitchell's longtime friend and current El Cerrito baseball coach Brian Nichols. "He was the kind of guy that loved the competition."
Mitchell was also a standout football player at El Cerrito, earning numerous all-league and all-Northern California honors.
"He'd knock you down, pick you up and smile," said Joe Wolfcale, who covered Mitchell for the West County Times. "He had this gregarious personality that people didn't know about because he was really feared as a prep athlete."
After graduating from El Cerrito, Mitchell played at USC and eventually played minor league ball in the Cleveland Indians organization. He went on to serve as an assistant baseball coach at El Cerrito for nine years.
"He might not have been the best athlete El Cerrito has ever had, but he had the greatest career of anyone at El Cerrito," longtime Gauchos baseball coach Larry Quirico said.
Mitchell is survived by his two sons, James and Devin. Funeral services have not been determined.