BY STEVE KRAH
Getting established as a college baseball coach can be a tough gig.
Just ask Kory Winter.
The Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant is in his fifth season and the second as a full-time staffer. He was a volunteer his first three campaigns with the Crusaders.
“I did not collect a paycheck or have health insurance my first six or seven years of college baseball,” says Winter, who was on the staffs at Muskingum University (New Concord, Ohio) in 2013 and 2014 and Shippensburg (Pa.) University in 2015 before landing at Valpo. “You have to be willing to ride out the storm.”
While at Shippensburg and with his girl friend Dana in Cleveland, Winter stocked shelves 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Lowe’s before beginning his coaching day.
“I was working to coach,” says Winter.
In the summer of 2015, he moved to Cleveland and cleaned at chemical plants while sending out his baseball coaching resume.
Valpo head coach Brian Schmack posted a need for a volunteer with outfield knowledge. Winter was an outfielder and pitcher at Scioto High School in Dublin, Ohio, and at NCAA Division III Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) and had experience instructing them as a head coach with the Ohio Elite travel organization as well as at D-III Muskingum and D-II Shippensburg and high school assistant stops at Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome.
“I didn’t think I’d have a chance to move into the Division I game,” says Winter. “I thank Coach Schmack for his willingness to open the resume and look at the cover letter.
“It’s been a life changer for me.”
Kory and Dana Winter have been married a little over two years and have house and a 14-month-old son named Kal.
Winter is now the recruiting coordinator and is in charge of hitters and outfielders.
“The head coach has so much on their plate with administrative stuff,” says Winter. “(Assistant) Casey Fletcher and I map out the game plan (for recruiting). What do we need to two or three years? How do they fit into our culture? We take Schmack’s vision and try to put that into practice.”
They are on the lookout for the under-recruited and tend to go after Midwestern players who understand what it means to play and practice in the cold and can relate to the coaches, who all hail from this part of the country.
Winter goes to see the recruits play and them stays in-contact by phone. It’s also his job to keep track of scholarships and determine what kind of value a student-athlete will bring to the private school.
“To make Valpo financially viable, they give athletic aid,” says Winter. “It’s much more affordable if you have good grades or test scores.
“It makes us more competitive in the recruiting process and more appealing to those families.”
That means a minimum 3.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and and ACT of 23 or better. Winter says the average on the baseball team is between 26 and 28, putting them above the 90 percentile.
“It’s nice about having smart kids,” says Winter. “They ask questions and process the game differently.”
As hitting coach, Winter works to get players to understand their strengths and weaknesses in the strike zone.
“We cater their approach to what they’re good at,” says Winter. “We use HitTrax data to build a case for why a guy should be looking middle-out or middle-in.”
For many, there is an adjustment in hitting at the college level.
“In high school, they might get multiple pitches to hit (per at-bat),” says Winter. “We want to get them to understand how they’re being pitched and when to be aggressive and when not to be. What is your plan?”
With the velocity at the D-I level, hitters must often anticipate the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand.
Hitters learn how to sit on pitches in certain counts. Winter says 2-0 should be a fastball, but they may see a 2-1 change-up or 3-2 curve ball.
Winter takes a very conservative approach to outfield play.
“We want to make the right play vs. the great one,” says Winter. “We want to hit every cut-off man. I don’t care if we have zero assists on the season.”
By missing the cut-off, the defense surrenders extra bases.
“Get the ball to the infielders as quickly and accurately as possible,” says Winter. “The right play makes the different to winning and losing ball games.”
To get outfielders reps, the Crusaders have braved the northwest Indiana cold and taken to the Brown Field football turf.
“We get outside whenever we possibly can,” says Winter. “We were out there in the snow. It’s not ideal.
“We don’t complain about it. That’s just the way it is.”
Valpo (1-2) opened the season Saturday, Feb. 15 at Western Kentucky. That was the first time the Crusaders saw live pitching outside. The Crusaders are at Louisville Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23. The first scheduled home game at Emory G. Bauer Field March 24 against Ball State. The first Missouri Valley Conference series is March 27-29 against Dallas Baptist at VU.
Winter graduated from Scioto in 2006. He played for Irish head coach Phil Callaghan, an Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee in 2008.
“He ran an extremely tight ship,” says Winter of Callaghan. “There was a certain standard that every player was held to. We had to sprint on and off the field. We’d even sprint from the bus to the dugout.
“They were small things that may sound crazy. But we’d really buy into the identity of the team and playing ‘the right way.’ That was the mentality and culture. I’m trying to implement that myself (as a coach).”
Winter played four seasons at Wittenberg, where Jay Lewis was the Tigers head coach and Rick White was the pitching coach.
“(Lewis) was an extremely good guy,” says Winter. “Now that I’m coaching college baseball, I look back and remember he was always at the field, mowing the lawn or throwing batting practice. It was total immersion. I really appreciated his work ethic and sweat equity.”
After receiving a degree in English and education from Wittenberg in 2010, Winter taught for a year at Groveport Madison High School and coached with 2004 OHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Tim Saunders at Dublin Coffman in 2011 and Chris Huesman at Dublin Jerome in 2012. In the summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013, Winter coached high schoolers for the Ohio Elite.
By this point, he decided he wanted to be college baseball coach rather than a teacher and hooked on as a graduate assistant at Muskingum on the staff of Muskies head coach Gregg Thompson.
“Coach T was very intense in a good way,” says Winter. “I had never coached under a guy who was just so passionate about winning.”
If Muskingum had a game at noon, Thompson was at the field several hours before that, getting things ready.
“It was a great learning experience for me,” says Winter, who is often on the job by 7 a.m. “You give 100 percent to whatever you’re doing.”
Matt Jones was the head coach at Shippensburg when Winter was with the Raiders and really paying his dues.
“I had to work my way trudging through the mud,” says Winter. “It’s the necessary evil of it.
“It builds some character when you work though some personal adversity.”
Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter (right) talks with head coach Brian Schmack and other Crusaders coaches during the 2019 season. Winter is in his fifth season with Valpo in 2020. (Valparaiso University Photo)
Valparaiso (Ind.) University baseball assistant coach Kory Winter was an volunteer his first three seasons and is now in his fifth with the Crusaders overall. The Ohio native is the recruiting coordinator and leads hitters and outfielders. (Valparaiso University Photo)