By STEVE KRAH
Fourteen years ago, Jake Martin chased fly balls in the Mud Hollow outfield.
Now he’s back on the Wabash College campus as head baseball coach.
Martin, who earned letters in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, leads the Little Giants on the diamond at Goodrich Ballpark.
“I enjoyed my time here as a player,” says Martin. “This is a passionate place. There’s great support for athletics and success across the board.
“I’m excited to come back. To play a part in your alma mater’s tradition and make your own mark on it is a pretty special experience.”
On the wall at Goodrich (christened in 2011) it reads “Wabash Always Fights.”
It’s an athletic motto. But it goes farther than that.
“It means you’re in a classroom working hard for good grades, working hard to get a good job,” says Martin. “(You’re) able to handle adversity and have confidence that you’re gong to be successful and your experience here has prepared you to do so.”
At an NCAA Division III school with high academic standards, getting athletes to come to Wabash involves the understanding that grade-point average and batting average both have worth. But academics is higher in the pecking order.
“Everybody that plays college baseball has to have a baseline of talent,” says Martin. “We start our recruiting with the classroom. This is a serious place where you’re here to get a great education and to play athletics at a high level.
“We need to find guys who are going to be able to handle the academic rigor and manage their time so they’re able to take advantage of the facilities that we have and the great opportunity to become the best baseball player they can be.”
Wabash coaches — Martin’s assistant are Andy Weeks (Wabash Class of 2009), Cesar Barrientos and John Walker — attend showcases or tournaments and the conversation with potential recruits involves grades, test scores and class rank. The admission office will weed out the ones who would struggle in an environment where they will be pushed both as a student and an athlete.
“We have to make sure that are being set up to be successful here,” says Martin. “They need to be committed to the classroom first. Right behind that needs to be a commitment to playing college baseball at a high level.”
“We want guys that need to have both as part of their experience. They aren’t willing to sacrifice the academic side for a great baseball experience.”
NCAA Division III does not redshirt athletes, so Wabash players typically finish their undergraduate degrees in four years then head off the graduate school or the workforce.
On the field, Wabash competes in the North Coast Athletic Conference. Other members include Allegheny (Leadville, Pa.), Denison (Granville, Ohio), DePauw (Greencastle), Hiram (Hiram, Ohio), Kenyon (Gambier, Ohio), Oberlin (Oberlin, Ohio), Ohio Wesleyan (Delaware, Ohio), Wittenberg (Springfield, Ohio) and Wooster (Wooster, Ohio).
Leading up the conference tournament where the top two teams from each division converge in mid-May in Chillicothe, Ohio, the NCAC tends to play doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday (four 9-inning games) which calls for plenty of pitching depth and also does not interfere with academic schedules.
In a 40-game schedule this, Martin says there might be three times where the Little Giants will be missing class time.
“We start (games) as late as possible,” says Martin. There are times when Wabash does not take batting practice on the field so players can still attend a 1 p.m. class and still be ready for a 4 p.m. home game.
Mud Hollow was a multipurpose field with a temporary fence and Goodrich rivals even some of the parks used by smaller NCAA Division I schools.
“It’s a great place to come to work each day,” says Martin. “Our guys know and understand how good they have it. We’re very grateful for the alums that made it happen and the support staff that takes care of it.”
The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star Series was played at Goodrich in 2011.
Martin, a Rushville High School graduate, received his Wabash degree in 2003 and went to DePauw where he served as a graduate assistant, volunteer coach, associate head coach and, finally, seven seasons as head coach (he was NCAC Coach of the Year in 2012 and led the NCAC tournament champions in 2014). He was promoted to associate head coach when head baseball coach Matt Walker also became the Tigers head football coach.
While working at DePauw, Martin picked up his master’s degree at Indiana State University.
“I loved my time at DePauw,” says Martin. “I promised myself there were a couple of jobs I would look at if they were to open and this was one. I was blessed to get an interview over the summer and eventually get hired (last) July (to follow Cory Stevens after his 10-year tenure as head coach at Wabash).
“(Wabash vs. DePauw is) a fun rivalry across all sports. It’s not just the Monon Bell game (for football).”
Martin likes the D-III model and the balance between academics and athletics, but he would like to see an increase in the amount of development time coaches can spend with players from the fall to the spring. Right now, counting back from the start of the conference tournament schools get 19 weeks and that includes a few weeks in the fall plus the preseason and regular season.
Players could benefit with individual or small group training sessions with coaches. It would also make possible some valuable conversations.
“We’re missing out on the opportunity to mentor and keep in contact with players in that gap time,” says Martin. “We’re losing out on the chance to check in with them consistently. Contact and relationships are what makes all small colleges special.”
Jake Martin, a 2003 Wabash College graduate, in his first season as Little Giants head baseball coach.
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