By STEVE KRAH
Adam Piotrowicz is preparing for his first season as a college baseball head coach.
He is running the show at NCAA Division II Saginaw Valley State University in University Center, Mich., after assistant stints at NCAA D-III Heidelberg University (2008-10), NCAA D-I Valparaiso (Ind.) University (2010-13) and NCAA D-I Western Michigan University (2013-22).
“I feel very prepared for this because of all the people I’ve worked for and with,” says Piotrowicz, 37. “(Western Michigan head coach) Billy Gernon gave me all kinds of freedom and increased my role every year.
“Brian Scmack at Valpo is another big mentor for me I’ve always been able to lean on.”
Piotrowicz served as the associate head coach, recruiting coordinator, hitting coach and catching coach at WMU before making the transition to skipper of the SVSU Cardinals.
“The one big difference is that my phone is always ringing,” says Piotrowicz. “It was always ringing before but I always knew it was recruits. Now it’s anything and everything.
“It’s compliance or a fundraising thing or an alum that wants to meet up for dinner or the bus company. I was prepared for it. It comes with the territory. I knew that was what the job was going to be.”
As Saginaw Valley prepares to open the 2023 season Friday, Feb. 17 against Cedarville University in Xenia, Ohio, the roster is full of upperclassmen.
“Thankfully we have a real good group of older guys coming back,” says Piotrowicz. “It helps from a recruiting standpoint that I’ve been recruiting the state for the past nine years.
“I’ve got good assistants in-place and that’s key, having the right people around you.”
The coaching staff features pitching coach/co-recruiting coordinator Justin McMurtrey, co-recruiting coordinator/baserunning/outfield coach Brandon Evans and hitting/infielder coach Demeris Barlow.
McMurtrey pitched at Eastern Michigan University.
Evans was an pitcher/outfielder at Rochester University.
Barlow was a corner infielder at Indiana Tech and Indiana University South Bend (playing for Doug Buysse, a teammate of Piotrowicz at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind.) and is on the coaching staff of the 2023 Lafayette Aviators of the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League.
Piotriowicz took his assistants to the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville in January.
“I like to listen to the speakers,” says Piotrowicz. “We have a young coaching staff and it’s good for them to go down and network. They see what the profession is like.”
Saginaw Valley belongs to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. As an NCAA D-II school, the game limit is 50 — six less than D-I.
“My thing is I want this place to be ran like a Division I school,” says Piotrowicz. “The first guy I worked for — Matt Palm — said make it ‘big time wherever you’re at.’ We were a small, little Heidelberg University (in Tiffin, Ohio). We treated each day like we were competing for a spot in Omaha (and the D-I College World Series).
“We have a few less hours to work with (players) out-of-season but it’s nothing major,” says Piotrowicz, who sees the recruiting, player development and in-season and out-of-season periods as very similar.
In addition to getting the Cardinals prepared, SVSU has hosted prospect and youth camps.
“We try to make those affordable so we can get more kids out and excited about baseball,” says Piotrowicz. “This area for baseball is really, really good. I feel like it gets under-recruited sometimes. Some of the best guys I coached at Western were from out of this area.”
University Center is about 110 miles northwest of Detroit and about 100 miles northeast of Lansing.
Left-hander Keegan Akin, who went to high school in Midland, Mich., made 45 appearances for the 2022 Baltimore Orioles.
There’s also Connor Smith, Alex Goodwin, Chad Mayle and Grant Miller.
“A lot of those guys didn’t have a lot going on out of high school,” says Piotrowicz. “You’ve got smaller schools but with that you get some multi-sport (athletes). Once they get to focus on baseball year-round the development really takes off.”
Piotrowicz says the transfer portal has many D-I programs looking there for players at the expense of those at the prep level.
“More and more high school guys are not getting the looks they would have four or five years ago. There are more grad transfers because of COVID. It all kind of goes together.
“That opens up a really good market for us at the Division II level.” says Piotrowicz.
Not many players come to the Cardinals via the portal.
“It has to be the right fit,” says Piotrowicz. “I’d rather get guys through high school or our (junior college) connections.”
Saginaw Valley plays at the SVSU Baseball Complex and — when the weather does not allow for outdoor work — trains in the SVSU Fieldhouse.
“Everything we have is better than some of the (D-I Mid-American Conference) schools,” says Piotrowicz. “We have a beautiful indoor turf football field with a track and windows all around that makes it pop as a first impression.
“There’s an auxiliary gym with an additional 2 1/2 batting cages. We’ve got a Division I weight room.”
The Cardinals also have access to outdoor turf football and soccer fields.
Piotrowicz graduated from John Glenn in 2004 and Manchester University (North Manchester, Ind.) in 2008.
Adam and wife Heather have two sons — Hunter (7) and Elliot (4) — and a third one due in the middle of April.
“It’s a very nature/outdoors type of area and my kids love that,” says Piotrowicz. “(First grader Hunter) is into baseball, basketball and hockey — all that stuff. He’s made the transition very well.”