By STEVE KRAH
Greg Kloosterman shared a story of perseverance and belief Friday, July 20 at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet.
The former standout at Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College who was a left-handed pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization is now a husband and father of two who works in the gas and oil business and coaches youth baseball in Pennsylvania.
Kloosterman took the audience of about 250 at the Century Center in downtown South Bend through his baseball journey. Many of his remarks were aimed directly at the all-stars — recently-graduated players from across the state who were chosen to play three games (two Saturday and one Sunday) at Four Winds Field.
With wife Megan and sons Grady and Blake in the audience, Kloosterman described what he labeled the four stages of baseball.
It was during Stage 1 that he started to develop his belief in himself.
“In Stage 1, you’re 6 years old, chewing on dandelions, doing cartwheels in the outfield,” said Kloosterman. “I was that kid.”
Though his coach criticized him for his ways, he used to to fuel him.
“I truly, honestly, passionately don’t care what you think about me,” said Kloosterman. “You’re opinion means absolutely nothing. You have no idea what I’m capable of doing.
“I can’t tell you how vital this has been.”
Then emphasized a few points to the all-stars.
“Trust me, gentlemen, there’s going to be a college coach that looks at you and says ‘no.’ Should you quit?,” said Kloosterman. “There’s going to be a D-I coach that looks at you and says you’re not fast enough. Should you quit?
“That tool came in handy not just in T-ball but in pro ball.”
In the second stage, a drive and hunger was developed.
“Do you remember the first time you wanted to beat the living tar out of your opponent?,” said Kloosterman. “The world stopped. You stopped hearing all the crazy parents yell at you, coaches (acting) like they’re trying out for the big leagues and didn’t even notice your friends on the other team.
“It was an uncontrollable, insatiable desire to put a quick foot on their throat and win by 10 in five. I was 12. I became addicted to winning.”
Kloosterman admits that when he didn’t win as a 12-year-old, he completely melted down.
“I cried after every loss until I was 13,” said Kloosterman. “I was icorrigible. I’m glad I got over that because that could have gotten really weird in high school and college.”
Kloosterman credits this drive as a the single most important thing that allowed him to play as long as he did and brought him success in his career.
“Losing stinks,” said Kloosterman. “There’s no justification for it. We can learn from it.
“But make no mistake, winning’s great. Winning’s the reason we train the way we do. It’s why we stay late and don’t go to parties.
“We have laser focus. We don’t do it so we can lose. We do it so we can win.”
Stage 3 is when Kloosterman tasted success, but also learned that there were other talented ballplayers in his world. He saw the nasty stuff of second-round Major League Baseball draftee Eric Good, gave up a home run and was picked off first base in the same game by major league catcher-to-be Rob Bowen and got hit regularly by future major leaguer Hunter Pence.
“I hold that pretty close to my heart because I always wanted to strive to be better,” said Kloosterman. “Look to those people who were that good and so special and fight to be like that. Go beat them. If you can’t do it now, do it tomorrow.”
It’s still a driving factor in his life and he related it to the all-stars in the audience.
“It motivates me to work even harder. Someone, somewhere is better than you,” said Kloosterman. “They throw harder, run faster and hit the ball harder. And, to be honest, they’re probably a freshman.
“Never forget what got you here and you use these times to make you stronger.”
Kloosterman, 36, is now in the fourth stage. He coaches baseball, but he no longer plays it. But he can look back fondly on the people and moments that helped get him to this point.
“I reaped all the benefits while playing this game,” said Kloosterman. “Now, I’m reaping the benefits post-baseball.”
He thanked his family at the beginning of his speech. At the end, he singled out Elkhart Central coach Steve Stutsman and wife Kristie and Central assistant, Concord head coach, Bristol American Legion Post 143 manager and North/South All-Star Series organizer Jim Treadway and his wife Mary Jane for their impact on his life.
“I always call him Coach because he earned it,” said Kloosterman of Steve Stutsman, who is also head coach for the North in this year’s North/South All-Star Series. “He allowed me to play on his team at Elkhart Central from 1997-2000.
“What he might not tell you that he basically allowed me to live with him my whole career because I didn’t have the best home life.
“Coach, you loved me and I can’t thank you enough for that. You gave me a place to play baseball and forget how bad things were outside the white lines.”
Jim Treadway introduced Kloosterman and said, “You never know where this road is going to take you guys. But continue to work hard and believe in yourselves when nobody else does.”
Kloosterman expressed his appreciation for Treadway, who he met as a Central freshman and has been close with ever since.
“He was somebody that has the guts to grab a 13-year-old kid and talk some sense into him,” said Kloosterman. “He loved me when I wasn’t good, loved me when I was good and gave me the encouragement to be better than where I came from.
“Jim Treadway, without you I would have failed. I want to thank you for guiding me, discipling me and giving me everything and — above all — love. You will always be a dad to me.”
Kloosterman wrapped up his remarks by encouraging all-stars to thank the people in their lives, especially parents, coaches and trainers and then told them that it’s them that will help grow the game in the future.
“They don’t get thanked enough,” said Kloosterman. “As weird as this may sound to you right now, giving back to the game of baseball is way better than whatever you get from this game
“Take the time to teach you kids the game. Teach them what you know. Remind them how much fun this game is.”
Kloosterman presented himself as evidence that baseball can provide so much — an education, a job, relationship and a family.
“Let a kid hit a bomb off you,” said Kloosterman. “Let a kid strike you out.
“Build this next generation of baseball players better than you.”
Jim and Mary Jane Treadway (left) share a moment with Megan and Greg Kloosterman Friday, July 20 at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet at Century Center in downtown South Bend. Greg Kloosterman was the keynote speaker. (Steve Krah Photo)