By STEVE KRAH
A Pacific Northwest native has found his fit in the Upper Midwest.
Kiel Boynton, who was born and raised in Oregon, is now heading into his eighth season as an assistant baseball coach at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind.
Boynton, 38, shares his time between worship leader at Grace Church in Granger, Ind., and helping head coach Seth Zartman with the NAIA-affiliated Pilots.
While Boynton’s main focus on-campus is pitching and infielders, he handles more of the out-of-state recruiting with his network while Zartman concentrates in Indiana.
“I’m working the phones a lot,” says Boynton. “Recruiting on the West Coast is a little rough sometimes (with the time difference), but my family at home has kind of gotten used to the fact that around a certain time I go into recruiting mode.
“The travel just depends on the player. If I’m interested in the player I’m definitely going to try to go and see him.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bethel coaches have learned to make some judgment calls on recruits through viewing video. But in-person is best.
“We would always love to see them live because a video can make a kid look really great or a video can make them look really bad,” says Boynton. “When you’re out-of-state, you’re trying to maybe sell the school a little bit more than selling the finances. If they’re in-state we kind of know that they’re going to qualify of additional potential scholarship (money) depending on their grades and their family’s income.”
As a coach, Boynton sees pitching and defense as his strength and lets Zartman concentrate on the offensive part of the game.
“I’m big on the mental side,” says Boynton. “It’s important to see how they respond to adversity and different things.”
In practice, Boynton puts his pitchers in high-pressure situations. It may be a closer coming into the game with less than two outs and runners in scoring position.
“My heart rate’s up and I’ve got to figure out how to stay calm and be able to do that,” says Boynton of the hurler’s task. “We’ll put them on a bike between innings. They’ll have to go real fast and get their heart rate up and then we immediately send them to the mound and have have to pitch and calm themselves down.
“They learn how to overcome that and still get outs.”
Sam Riggleman, who was head coach at Bethel (1995-99) and has more than four decades of experiences and a college coach, gave Boynton some advice year ago about pitchers and adversity that stuck with him.
“He doesn’t give his pitchers multiple chances to succeed because he wants them to have to learn to deal with adversity and failure,” says Boynton. “When he puts them in a situation like that, they get the outs or they don’t get the outs.
“It’s all that mental side that comes into play. They pitcher needs to know the situation (and where and how to deliver his pitches).”
Boynton looks on his coaching career and has witnessed constant change in himself.
“When I first started coaching I just wanted to win,” says Boynton. “It was not as much about building relationships. When the team would lose, I would take it personally. It was like I didn’t do my job or I failed. I would get really frustrated.”
Through the influences of Zartman, Riggleman, Dean Stiles, Mike Manes and others, Boynton’s coaching philosophy has morphed.
“I am not just worried about what they do on the baseball field,” says Boynton. “I heard a long time ago a coach say that if you’re a good coach, you get invited to weddings.
“I started really wrapping my head around that. If a player invites me to their wedding that means that I meant something to their life. Whether or not they were successful on the field they knew that I cared about them enough that they wanted me to be a part of the biggest day of their life.”
Kiel (pronounced Kyle) and wife Faith have two children — son Parker (12) and daughter Aubrie (3) — with one on the way.
As a right-handed pitcher/infielder, Boynton played for Stiles at Crook County High School in Prineville, Ore., since his tiny Christian school — did not have baseball. He also played football and basketball.
Boynton was born with mild form of Cerebral Palsy that effects the muscles on the right side of his body.
“The right side will get to a certain strength and that’s about it,” says Boynton. “When I lifted in college you could always see that my left side was stronger. My left leg what take the primary force of my squat.
“My mom (Teri) and dad (John) did a great job of not letting Cerebral Palsy be a crutch for me,” says Boynton. “They always encouraged me to just work harder. I played pretty much every sport growing up.”
Even with the weakness, John Boynton made his son a right-handed pitcher.
“It’s made a big impact on my coaching career,” says Boynton of CP. “I don’t like laziness or pitchers who kind of take time off. In my own life, I never did that.
“I want my players to work twice as hard.”
Patrick Tubaugh, who has been a Director of Baseball Operations for Bethel, also has Cerebral Palsy.
Boynton is a diehard fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers thanks to his father who grew up in southern California, played at Los Angeles Bible College (now The Master’s University) for Pete Reese and had a tryout with the Dodgers. An EMT director job got him to move to Oregon.
“I grew up hearing about Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and all the great Dodger legends,” says Boynton. “I grew up listening to (play-by-play announcer) Vin Scully. I’ve been following them ever since.”
Each Christmas Faith adds an item to Kiel’s Dodger collection.
“She’s running out of things to get me,” says Boynton.
The younger brother of Cy and Shannon followed his sister when he attended Cedarville (Ohio) University and played four seasons (2003-06) for the Yellow Jackets.
“Coach (Greg) Hughes took that gamble on a kid with Cerebral Palsy and I’m very appreciative,” says Boynton. By that time, Reese was the athletic director at Cedarville.
He was a middle infielder and pitcher and earned undergraduate and masters degrees in sport management with a minor in Bible, and coached at the school 25 miles east of Dayton for five — one as an assistant to Hughes and four on Manes’ staff.
During that time, Boynton met Zartman as a competing coach or someone at the same site on a southern trip.
Among the pitchers he coached were the Ledbetter twins of Indianapolis — David and Ryan.
Boynton met Justin Masterson, who pitched at Bethel in 2004 and 2005 and hails from Beavercreek, Ohio, when he used Cedarville facilities to train during part of his big league career.
Boynton left Cedarville and went back to Oregon, where he was a pitching coach at Corban University in Salem, where he was born, for about three years. He was also involved in youth ministry.
During his time in Salem, Boynton received a call from Zartman letting him know of a potential assistant coach job at Bethel.
There was prayer and family discussion and about a week later, Boynton and let Zartman know it was a good fit and he was ready to move to northern Indiana.
Economic uncertainty at the time led Zartman to tell Boynton not to make the move with his family in case the position was cut.
The following year with things stabilized, Zartman called again and the Boyntons came back to the Midwest. He started at Bethel in January 2015.
Boynton says about three-quarters of his income comes from his worship director position.
“The two jobs really work great with each other,” says Boynton. “My coaching job is pretty much Monday through Saturday. My worship leader job is also a Monday through Saturday thing, but the one day that they actually really need me to be doing something is Sunday.”
Bethel, a member of the Crossroads League, is to open the 2022 season Feb. 4 against Lourdes in Hot Springs, Ark.