Do you have any regrets as a coach, and would you have done anything different?
God blessed me long ago with a great opportunity to serve young men through baseball. I worked very hard at it my entire career. I did the best I knew how with every team for 38 years (We were on track for another great season this spring before it all came to a halt). I, (along with all the coaches) tried to create the best experience for the players that we possibly could in every area we could to the best of my ability at that time in my career. I always thought, that if all it took was more effort and work, than I could do that. My goal for each player when finished with their playing career at CHS that he felt that he was in at least some small way better off because he was a part of the baseball program. As much as I love the game of baseball, it was always about much more.
What are the biggest changes as a coach from your first years of coaching until now?
Most of the differences are things I’ve imposed on myself. The amount of time I put into it year-round over the last several decades. Even during times of the year when there was no training or actual baseball going on, I was spending time reading; watching instructional videos; watching the previous years’ game videos -- trying to do all that I could to be a better coach than I was the season before. When I started, it was pretty much coach during the season. There were no off-season programs like today. I certainly didn’t have a long-term plan in those early years. The number of good coaches and programs in high school baseball has really escalated over the years. There was a time when a many high school baseball programs were an after thought as far as hiring good baseball people and trying to build a successful sustainable program.
You always hear that kids have changed, Have they?
My experience is that young people still respond favorably to a positive consistent environment where they feel like part of something special, where they are challenged, held accountable and where they know the people leading them really care. What has changed is our culture and the influences and opportunities kids have today (not all of them good, in my opinion).
If you could make one rule change in high school baseball, what would it be?
I’ll give you two:
1. Lengthen the regular season by a couple of weeks. Players and coaches put in a lot of work for a 9-week regular season.
2. Adapt the state tournament to the sport of baseball…… make it double-elimination or a best two or three series at some point. Make it that you have to qualify for the tournament which would make every regular season game even more meaningful.
Would you have liked the chance to coach at the collegiate level?
Not really. I never pursued it at all. Deb and I always felt like I we were where we were supposed to be with our family and everything else we had going on.
What three qualities are essential for a winning player to have?
I always felt that a young man would maximize his experience in the CHS baseball program if he would:
Take ownership in improving self and team; best effort always, enjoy the process
Be self-less in his pursuit; seek to serve
Always work for the good of your team and teammates; what can I do to make my team better
Seek to be a part of a larger purpose
Realize that baseball is something you do; it does not define who you are.
When athletes look back on their playing days, they most often talk about the relationships and the experiences of being a part of team and the joy of working together for a common goal.
Do you think kids are getting burned out by playing/practicing year-round?
As a young athlete, I probably would have. I always wanted to play what was in season.
The culture of youth sports has changed. The specializing in one thing or one sport at earlier and earlier ages is not the best thing in many cases, in my opinion. I hear too many talking about concentrating on one sport so I can get a D1 scholarship. In my nearly 40 years at Crawfordsville, we’ve had very few Division 1 athletes across all-sports. I would tell a young athlete to play because you love to play. As you get older, work hard and train your body and mind to be the best you can be and participate in as many sports as you are able to and to enjoy it along the way. It will be over in a hurry. If you are good enough and want to pursue a sport beyond high school, opportunities will present themselves.
What are your thoughts on travel baseball, and do you have suggestions that would make that part of sports in general better?
In my opinion, the purpose of youth sports is to help a young person develop qualities and characteristics that will serve them throughout life and to enjoy doing it. I strongly believe that potentially the most effective athletic programs are those that are part of a school’s overall educational process. That’s not to say that there are not good non-school programs and coaches; there are. However, in an effective school program, the coach is invested in an athlete’s life over a period of years. I had most of my players in the classroom and was able to have a lot of interaction and build relationships away from the baseball field with them. Our focus was always becoming the best team that we could over time by working together. I think that is a good model; being a part of something bigger than yourself.
Do you think multi-sport athletes bring anything special to a team?
Absolutely. The additional experiences in competitive situations and team interactions help them be more effective in other sports. Most of the very best CHS baseball players of all-time were multi-sport athletes. Also, our best teams of all time were loaded with multi-sport athletes. There is also something to say for the daily grind of practice and preparation that you get in each sport. It is also good to learn from several good coaches of different sports. I think high school sports are a great time in life. For athletic-minded young people, what could be more fun than playing competitive sports with your friends and for your school. You are growing as a person and creating some great memories. For those who are capable, I am a strong advocate of multi-sports. I have heard from many former athletes who dropped out of one sport or another to “concentrate” on their main sport during high school only to later regret doing so. Both of my kids participated in three sports throughout high school. BTW, Purdue’s #1 pitcher now is a former 3-sport athlete from CHS.
Who was the toughest opposing coach to play against?
I probably enjoyed coaching against Jake Burton as well as anyone. Early in my career, we could hardly even compete with his McCutcheon teams. In later years however, we won several more than we lost against one of the best 4A programs in the state.
Who were the five toughest opposing players your team ever faced?
Let’s start with the local brothers Kurt & BJ Schlicher (North Montgomery ’87 & ’96). Those two guys were tough and we had to play them two or three times a year for four years. I’m glad at least one of them is finally an Athenian.
There were so many, hard to nail down. Here are some memories of some of the best.
Many top players in Kentucky & Tennessee on our spring trips over the years. Many players who were drafted, played in the SEC, etc.
Some Indiana guys that ended up playing MLB or were high draft picks….
Micah Johnson, Park Tudor
Neal Musser (LHP Benton Central). BTW… we gave him his only loss in front of a bunch of MLB scouts in 1999 just a couple of weeks before he was chosen in the second round. Trey Ball (LHP New Castle). He was the 7th overall pick in the draft in 2013. We won that game also in front of nearly 30 MLB scouts at CHS.
Josh VanMeter (Norwell HS and currently the Cincinnati Reds). We played Norwell in the opener in 2012 at Silver Creek Invite. We had won the 3A title in ’08 & ’11 and they won in ’07 and again in ’13.
The Malaave brothers and LHP Josh Koons (Stanford) from West Lafayette in the mid 90s.
The ’93 Lafayette Harrison team: They had 3 future major leaguers (Todd Dunwoody, Eric Bruntlett and Eric Sabel) in the line-up and five draft picks in total and two additional players who played at Kentucky. We ended up losing in 10 innings at the ceremonial “last” game at Baldwin Field in 1993 in front of a packed alumni crowd. A great memory.
What was the most painful tournament loss?
Almost all of them—seriously. Our guys believed we could win every game. We routinely expected to make a deep tournament with the ultimate goal of getting to Victory Field. You are so focused on preparing and competing and then suddenly the season is over, the seniors’ careers over. It was always an emotional time. Much of it was the fact that you knew that team would never be together again. That was the hardest part. But as hard as it was, it was a good growth opportunity as well. If you’ve extended yourself and poured all you had into something, that feeling is very normal.
One loss that comes to mind is the 2002 Regional Championship game. We had beaten Zionsville with a walk-off grand slam in the sectional the week before and had just beaten #1 Roncalli in the regional morning game. They had like a 20-some game winning streak. That was a special team that had developed into a powerhouse and we were on a roll. We came within a very close call of winning that Championship. It was crushing for all of us at the time. Even these many years later, every time I see one of the guys from that team, that game comes up. I often remind them of how special a season we had. It also was a reminder of how tough it is in a “one and done” tournament. I was thinking of that team when we finally won State in 2008.
All of the tournament losses (Regional and Semi-State) in 2006, 2007, 2009 & 2010. Even though we won two state titles during that span, we felt like we were good enough to win in all those years as well. Three of the four Regional Championship game losses were by a single run.
We were good enough in 1995 to win it all in the single-class tournament. We did not play our best game against Portage and lost a tough one in the semi-state at Loeb Stadium in Lafayette. We were 30-2 going into that game.
What was the most surprise team to win a regional title?
None of them. Each time we were there we thought we were good enough to win.
Which state title run was more improbable?
Actually, neither one. The real surprise was the fact that several more of our very good teams didn’t win it all or at least get to Victory Field. I figured out long ago how difficult it would be to run the table in the state tournament. A lot of things must fall your way in a “one and done” tournament. I know many, many very good programs and coaches who have never won a state title. However, most of our teams over the last 30 years had their eyes on a state championship. I would say for certain we had at least 9 or 10 teams who were one of the favorites to win it all at the start of the tournament. I’ve also thought that if Indiana played a best two of three series or a double-elimination state tournament like some other states, our chances of winning more titles would have greatly increased as we had tremendous pitching depth in most years.
What game/games first pop into your mind when you think back on your career?
After coaching almost 1,200 varsity games, no one game stands out. More than anything I think about the players and teams and the great times we had on and off the field. I loved it all.
What made the Crawfordsville baseball program unique among other athletic programs in the area over the last 40 years?
I don’t know how unique we were except that the same head coach was there for nearly 40 years and the pitching coach for 35. The thing I feel very good about is the consistency that we’ve had on and off the field for decades. I am so proud of all of the players in how well they represented CHS and the community. We had very talented players who were almost all “team-first” guys who played for each other; gave great effort; improved throughout their careers and listened to and believed in their coaches. From my standpoint, I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world to get to do something I love for so long. I am forever indebted to the other coaches, players and parents for making the experience so good for so many.
Is there a person, or a team, that you would identify as the one that most greatly over-achieved?
I know that “over-achieve” is a cliché that is often used in sports. I look at it like we maxed out as a team.
Two recent teams come to mind:
2016: We had graduated a very good 2015 senior class from a 24-win season and then followed in 2016 with a 25-4 regular season playing our normal tough schedule. Those guys were awesome. They just thought they were supposed to win….. and they did, game after game.
2018….. we had some adversity in the off-season and had virtually no varsity pitching experience returning. To win 19 games with our very tough schedule was an amazing accomplishment to me. The guys were disappointed as we failed to reach 20 wins for the first time in 16 years. But I told them what they just did was amazing.
Is there a single game, play or event that stands out as the “one we got away with?”
In the category of greatest comeback ever….. Opening game of the Athenian Invite in 1999 versus Avon. We had a very good team but are down 9-2 versus Avon with two outs and one on in the bottom of the seventh. Somehow, someway the guys strung together some hits, walks, etc and get it to 9-5…… and then amazingly tie the game with a two-out, full-count grand slam. We went on to win in extras. Still unbelievable to this day.
Aside from talking to newspaper reporters, what are you going to miss most?
The day to day interaction with the coaches and players. We had the best of both over all these years.
I also really enjoy the planning and preparation that goes into developing a team.
Has coaching gotten easier in any way in the last 30-plus years?
No, because you’re always pushing yourself to be better for the kids than you were the year before.
Are you going to stay involved with baseball or coaching baseball in any way?
I’m currently serving as my daughter’s assistant for our Montgomery County 10U travel fast-pitch softball team that we are finally getting going. I did that on a part-time basis last summer and am very much looking forward to it. I have three granddaughters who are part of the team.
What are you going to do with all that free time?
Well, I reluctantly got an early taste of it this spring with the cancellation of the season. I found though, that I will not have any difficulty filling the hours of each day. I will have the opportunity to serve in other areas now. I will never be retired in that sense.
If you could have 10 minutes to talk with any person in the world, living or dead, who would that person be and what would be the first thing you talk about?
I am a Christ-follower, first and last. So, to be with Jesus and his Disciples would be incredible. Of course, that is the plan someday.