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IHSBCA All-Star alum Fox speaks from the heart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Fox knows the honor of being chosen as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Before he went on to play at the University of Michigan and 14 seasons in professional baseball — making his big league debut in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs — Fox played for the South in 2000 in Fort Wayne.

Fox, who is now retired as a player and living in Michigan, accepted an invitation from former Wolverines and current Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to address the 2017 All-Stars and their families at a recognition banquet Friday, July 14.

A 1 p.m. doubleheader is slated for Saturday, July 15 with one wood-bat game at noon Sunday, July 16 at Ball State in Muncie.

Outlining the passion, persistence, perseverance and patience it took him to make it to baseball’s pinnacle and play five different positions with seven different MLB organizations plus stints in independent ball and in Mexico and Korea, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate told his story.

Fox, 34, first congratulated the Class of 2017 All-Stars.

“This is a great honor,” said Fox. “You may not know it now. But looking back on my career, these are some of the memories that I hold dear. It is a testament to your talent and a dedication to your craft. It’s awesome.”

Why did Maloney choose Fox to speak when the coach has had so many players with what many would call better resumes?

“I asked him why me?,” said Fox. “He chuckled like the answer was obvious — ‘You played. You were there.’ Who else was going to stand up here and talk about getting from here to where I am now?”

Deciding against a prepared speech, Fox spoke from the heart.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a superstar player,” said Fox, who was selected in the third round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs and signed by scout Stan Zielinski. “I was a role player my whole time in the big leagues (through 193 games, 489 at-bats, 20 home runs, 73 runs batted in with the Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles). These kids don’t want to be a role player. They want to be the best.”

Fox asked the people who know him best to list his best qualities and he compared them with his own self assessment and came up with those four P’s.

Playing with passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, Fox found a way to stay on the field. He related a story of playing in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. He came up as a catcher and was working out before a game as a third baseman when his manager came to him.

“‘Of all the players I ever managed or coached, you’ve got the most out of your ability,’” said Fox of the words he heard that day. “That’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got.”

The manager went on to say that Fox did not have the physical ability of some of his teammates, but he possessed something special and said: “You come out here and find ways to compete. You’re trying a different position not because you have to but because you want to. You’re trying to get better.”

Fox said he was not equipped to talk about being a superstar, but he could speak to the effort it takes to get the most out of his God-given talent.

“My nose was to the grindstone,” said Fox. “I was so concentrated on where I wanted to go that I never actually sat down and thought about what got me there.”

Fox and his closest friends and family agree that he has passion.

“I loved to play baseball and if you don’t love it, it’s not going to last long,” said Fox. “This game can chew you up and spit you out.”

The IHSBCA All-Star alum also encouraged the current All-Stars to enjoy baseball as a team game — something that often goes away when professionals are competing for jobs and playing time and looking out more for themselves than chasing victories.

“That’s why I enjoyed playing in Mexico and playing independent ball,” said Fox. “Guys were just out there playing games.

“There was a time in Triple-A that I hated the most. It didn’t even matter what team was on the other side of the field. It was a competition in your own dugout. That’s not baseball.

For Fox it was about enjoying the competition and seizing the opportunities.

“At the end of the day — even with all the business things — you go out and play,” said Fox. “No matter where it is. No matter what country you’re in. No matter what level you’re at. We get too caught up in where you play and not how you play.”

How about persistence and perseverance?

“Everyday in the major leagues, I was overmatched physically,” said Fox. “These guys were 5-star athletes. I had to find a way to compete. You’ve got to be persistent. Coach Maloney said to me, ‘You know what the second-most favorite thing about you was: You never took ‘no’ for an answer.’”

Fox got much of his MLB playing time on the days when a regular would ask off with a particularly tough pitcher going that day for the other team?

“If you name a tough left-handed pitchers between 2007 and 2011, I probably faced them,” said Fox. “(The regular) would come in and say, ‘CC Sabathia’s pitching today? I don’t feel so good.’”

“When I stepped in that box, I feel I had nothing to lose. They could be a Hall of Famer. What did I care? That’s what made me as good as I was. I just wanted to play.”

Fox also learned to be patient.

“It doesn’t happen on your time,” said Fox. “You can feel like you’re ready. You can feel like you deserve it and you see other people take your place. But you keep playing and you will get your chance.

“They pass guys over because they are too busy complaining (about being slighted).”

Fox reflected on his career and said it was not the numbers he put up but the times he spent with teammates and families and the places he got to see along the way.

“I encourage you to enjoy the journey,” said Fox to the All-Stars. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t. You show up everyday, you play hard and you have fun doing it and the rest will take care of itself.

“I once had a friend tell me, ‘You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ He’s right. You have no idea where this game is going to take you. You have no idea where life is going to take you.”

To illustrate his point, Fox talked about being invited to big league spring training with the Cubs in 2007 and where it led him.

It was Lou Piniella’s first season as manager and Chicago’s top two catchers — Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett — were called away to the World Baseball Classic. Fox was with the big club, but spent his sweaty afternoons warming up pitchers in the bullpen.

“I knew I was getting sent back down. I knew I wasn’t making the team. But I got the experience. I knew what the scouting report was about me: Good hitter. Can’t play defense. It bothered me. I wanted (Pineilla) to see what I was or wasn’t capable of doing before he read it in a report that I didn’t agree with.”

When Barrett came back from the WBC, Fox was the lone player on the roster who had not logged an at-bat or a defensive inning.

Barrett encouraged Fox to say something to the coaching staff.

The Hoosier finally worked up the courage ask for a chance to show what he could do before going to minor league camp.

Fox got his wish. He would play at the end of an away game against the Royals.

Called to hurry from the bullpen, Fox scrambled to the dugout and to the plate and socked the second pitch he saw — a slider — for a double off the wall.

In the ninth, Fox belts a first-pitch home run to plate the decisive run in a Cubs victory.

The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers came to visit the Cubs. Fox started the game on bullpen duty. When called upon to hit late in the game, he pops another first-pitch homer.

“I’ve seen four pitches (in big league camp) and have two homers and a couple,” said Fox.

The next day, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammel told the team to “keep it close until Fox can hit.”

Fox again homers that day.

“I thought I was going to black out,” said Fox.

The next day against the San Francisco Giants, Fox was called in from he bullpen to play left field — for the first time in his life.

Sent back to the minors, Fox opened the season by playing in the outfield and made his debut July 19 in right field at Wrigley Field.

“It just goes to show you that you never know where this game is going to take you,” said Fox. “I played five different positions in the big leagues (right field, left field, catcher, first base, third base). For a guy who couldn’t use a glove, I thought that was pretty good.

“So don’t ever put yourself in a box or limit yourself. Somebody else may see a capability in you that you don’t see yourself.”

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Jake Fox, shown with the independent Somerset Patriots, played 14 professional seasons and was a 2000 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant. (Somerset Patriots Photo)

Roman being hired as Brownsburg baseball’s top dog

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A veteran coach with a resume full of victories is now in charge of the storied Brownsburg High School baseball program.

Dan Roman, who amassed 406 wins at Lawrence Central and most recently at Carmel, is expected to be approved by the Brownsburg school board next week.

Roman, who stepped down at Carmel after the 2016 season, replaces Eric Mattingly, who resigned at the end of the 2017 season. The Bulldogs went 8-21, losing to Avon in the Class 4A Mooresville Sectional championship game.

“There was an opening at Brownsburg. They called me and I sat down for an interview. It’s a great fit,” says Roman, 51. “I look forward to the challenge of bringing back the greatness of Brownsburg baseball.”

Roman did just that for the Lawrence Central Bears and Carmel Greyhounds.

When Roman took over at LC, the program had not won a sectional since 1981 and he helped bring one to East 56th Street in Indianapolis in his second season (1998). He would help take two more (2002, 2004) in his 16-year stint.

Lawrence Central was IHSAA Class 4A state champions in 2004.

Carmel had not won a sectional since 2000 when Roman brought one in 2016 — his fourth and final season leading the Hounds.

“I look forward to doing the same kind of thing at Brownsburg,” says Roman.

The coach met with Brownsburg players and coaches Tuesday. Roman says Bulldogs athletic director Kelly Waggoner told him he will have total say in building his coaching staff.

“It’s all up in the air as of right now,” says Roman. “Decisions need to be made in the next couple weeks.”

Roman, who resides in Fishers, intends to have an elementary camp June 19-21 and Tuesday practices for high school players throughout the summer.

The workouts are open to all.

“I’m coming in with a fresh start,” says Roman. “I treat everybody the same whether they were a  three-year starter or a freshman coming off of the eighth grade team. I coach them all the same.”

Roman, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers in high school (Don Jennings at Terre Haute North Vigo) and college (Bob Warn at Indiana State University, which went to the College World Series in 1986) and a future Major League Baseball manager in the New York Yankees minor league system (Buck Showalter, who now leads the Baltimore Orioles) wants his players to have self confidence.

“That’s where is all starts,” says Roman. “You’ve got to believe you can win. It’s an attitude.

“I want to bring a mental toughness to Brownsburg. When when step on the field, we can win the ball game. When we step in the batter’s box, we can get a hit. When we step on the mound, we can throw a strike whenever we want. Those kinds of things have to be instilled in a kid’s head to be successful. When you start having negative thoughts in the game of baseball, it can permeate the whole team.”

Brownsburg has produced three players currently in the big leagues — Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Drew Storen — and many others that went on to college and pro baseball.

The Bulldogs have won 14 sectionals, five regionals and two semistates with 4A State Finals appearances in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and a state title in 2005. The most-recent sectional crown came in 2013.

Brownsburg is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (along with Avon, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville).

“I consider it the best baseball conference in the state,” says Roman. “I may be biased.”

Playing in three-game HCC series, the Bulldogs went 3-15 in 2017.

Roman has already gotten welcome calls from some Hoosier Crossroads coaches.

“They reached out and said kind words and told me the conference just got tougher,” says Roman.

Not only does Roman plan to emphasize toughness, but he plans to sweat the details.

“Baseball is full of little things,” says Roman. “If you teach the little things to your young men, nothing will surprise them. That’s what I’m all about. You’ve got to have your team prepared. You go over situations in practice time and time again and when you see it in the ball game, you know what to do.”

To Roman’s way of thinking, that knowledge brings confidence which brings success.

“When you expect to do well, you will do well,” says Roman.

He plans to do that in Brownsburg purple.

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Dan Roman, who has 406 victories and a state championship in 20 seasons at Lawrence Central and Carmel, is the next head baseball coach at Brownsburg High School. The school board is expected to approve his hire next week.

Lawrence North’s Winzenread wants Wildcats to play with ‘no regrets’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“No regrets.”

Lawrence North High School baseball coach Richard Winzenread expects nothing less than the best from his Wildcats.

There should be no sleepless nights because of lukewarm effort.

It’s been that way since Winzenread took over as leader of the LN program in 1992.

“If we work hard, good things will come,” says Winzenread. “We want to be the best team our talent level will allow. If we do that, we’ve had a successful season.

“At tournament time, we’re a pretty tough out. You have to bring your best game to beat us.”

Winzenread has gathered a wealth of baseball knowledge from coaches at the high school, college and professional level and he shares that with his LN players.

Then he lets them take over.

“We don’t clone them,” says Winzenread. “I don’t want to take away their natural ability. I tell them it’s their responsibility to get better.”

Players need to take the initiative to get extra swings in the batting cage or more ground balls on their own time.

“We’ve had quite a few kids over the years that have made themselves better,” says Winzenread. “Kids have to take ownership.

“Kids today don’t practice enough. You should practice more than you play. You need to be the best player you can be, so you have no regrets.”

The coach can be tough, but he has the student-athlete’s best interests at heart.

“What makes me the most proud is seeing how the kid grows through his four years of our program,” says Winzenread. “I think the kids know I care about them. I want them to be the best version of a person they can be — as a student and a player. We want them to be ready for college.”

Winzenread does his coaching and teaching on the northeast side of Indianapolis. He first learned baseball on the south side from his father Richard and then played at Southport High School, graduating in 1982 and moving on to play for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover College.

Naylor is also in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

A right-handed pitcher, Winzenread was drafted in the 21st round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1986. In the O’s system he learned much from then-roving pitching instructor Mark Wiley — things he still uses today at Lawrence North.

In his third pro season, Winzenread was injured and decided to come back to Indy. He worked for UPS and helped coach at Southport with Cardinals head coach John Carpenter (John Dwenger was head coach when Winzenread was a Southport player).

Winzenread stayed close to the game by giving lessons and found many of his clients were in the Lawrence area. He completed his education degree and took a middle school teaching job in the Lawrence Township district.

After teaching at various middle schools, Winzenread landed at the high school four years ago as a physical education and health teacher.

Seeing another chance to give back to the game that had been so good to him, Winzenread applied to replace Tim Fitzgerald as LN head coach when he stepped down right before the 1992 season. Fitzgerald is now the varsity assistant on a Wildcats coaching staff that also includes Chris Todd (junior varsity) and Kyle Green (freshmen).

Not knowing how to run a high school program back in ’92, Winzenread made a trip to Indiana University to pick the brain of head coach Bob Morgan.

“He did a lot for me early in my career,” says Winzenread. “He’s one of the best baseball minds around.”

In Winzenread’s first decade at Lawrence North, assistant coach Bob Kraft brought things to the program he had gained while being associated with Stanford University baseball.

Tony Vittorio, who was head coach at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now in his 18th season as head coach at the University of Dayton, followed a similar path to Winzenread in that he played at Southport and Hanover before going into coaching.

“He’s such got tremendous passion,” says Winzenread says of Vittorio. “He works those kids. He can be tough at times. But, in this business you have to be.”

Winzenread has a passion for developing pitchers. Ideally, the Wildcats will have seven or eight capable arms in a season. Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Winzenread uses his top two starters in those games with a third pitcher expected to handle to relief duties. Those pitchers have a bullpen session on Saturday and are ready to go again the following week.

“They build up arm strength to be a starter or build up arm strength to be a reliever and they work different,” says Winzenread.

LN hurlers are expected to throw strikes, but not necessarily rack up K’s.

“Strikeouts are fine, but they’re not something we strive for,” says Winzenread. “Our philosophy is to have (the batter) hit our pitch. Our pitch counts are usually not that high.”

Batters are kept off-balance by the mixing of speeds and location — up and down, in and out, back and forth.

One location in the strike zone is off limits.

“We don’t want to throw it over the middle of the plate,” says Winzenread. “When we warm up, the middle part is black and we have two white edges.

“We want to have a little bit of movement.”

Winzenread calls anything over 15 pitches a stressful inning.

If a pitcher strung together a couple of 26-pitch innings, he would be at 52 and might be done for the day, depending on the athlete.

If those same 52 pitches were spread over five innings, that would be a different story.

“I enjoy winning,” says Winzenread. “But I would never put a kid’s health in front of that — ever.”

With that in mind, he will always protect a pitcher’s arm. If they throw 85 pitches Tuesday, it’s a good bet they might be used as a designated hitter but will not take a field position Wednesday.

The 2016 Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Sectional — won by Lawrence North — was set up with pitching in mind. Games in the six-team format were played on Wednesday with semifinals and finals Monday.

“That’s the only thing that’s fair,” says Winzenread, who has seen LN take seven of its eight all-time sectional titles, both regionals, one semistate crown and one state runner-up finish (7-6 loss to McCutcheon in the 1999 Class 4A final) on his watch. “I wish we’d seed the draw and we don’t. Everyone says ‘pitching and defense (wins championships).’ You can hit all you want, but eventually good pitching is going to shut that down.”

With those factors in mind, LN changed its regular-season schedule and has as many three-game weeks as possible.

No matter where they play on the diamond, Winzenread expects his player to know their role. That might mean starting or coming off the bench.

“Everyone’s got a role to way and you’ve got to accept it,” says Winzenread. “(Reserves are) always constantly paying attention to the game so when you’re number is called, you’re ready.”

And with no regrets.

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Richard Winzenread is in his 26th season as head baseball coach at Lawrence North High School.

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Richard Winzenread took Lawrence North to the IHSAA State Finals in 1999. He has been head baseball coach for the Wildcats since 1992.

Coach, educator King winds way to success at New Castle

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sometimes career paths don’t follow a straight line.

There can be curves in the road.

Brad King knows this.

He didn’t set out to be a high school baseball coach and counselor at his alma mater, but that’s where he wound up and he’s glad it did.

Baseball has long been important to King. He was a third baseman, right field and pitcher for New Castle High School in Henry County. At one time, he held the Trojans’ single-season and career record for saves and five and seven.

After excelling on the diamond for junior varsity coach Ed Gilliland and varsity coach Harold Huffman, King planned to attend college with the aim of teaching elementary schoolers.

He found out he wasn’t ready.

“I wasn’t prepared for it,” says King decades later. “I was not mature enough or organized enough.”

King went to work in a print shop. After half way through that 13-year stint, he was called back to the diamond.

Gary Brown, who had been New Castle’s first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star, was now the head coach and he invited King to be the JV coach in 1995.

“It was a great opportunity,” says King. “We had three coaches total in the program and I had no assistants. I really enjoyed it.”

In fact, he enjoyed it so much that four years into coaching he decided to go back to college. But this time he would prepare to teach geography and psychology to high school students. He took classes at the Indiana University-East satellite campus in New Castle and at the main location in Richmond.

Along the way, he decided to go for his masters degree and become a counselor.

It took him seven years to get his degree. All the while he was still working, coaching and being encouraged by wife Kellie.

“Not any of my successes would be possible with that continued support,” says King, who has two boys with Kellie (New Castle graduates Conner and Spencer). Conner set school marks for average (.429) and career hits (141) before graduating in 2012, playing one season at Indiana Wesleyan University and getting a degree at Purdue University. Because of a knee injury, Spencer switched to golf. He got his high school diploma in 2016.

The Kings celebrate 26 years of marriage March 9.

There have been plenty of baseball successes to celebrate, too.

After the 1999 season, Brown left as head coach and Corey Van Skyock took over as NC head coach for three seasons. King became head coach in 2003, meaning that 2017 is his 15th as head coach and 23rd in the program. He has three 20-win seasons in 14 seasons. That had happened just once in the previous 82 campaigns at New Castle.

King, the school’s 20th head coach since 1907, is now the all-time baseball coaching victory leader for the Trojans at 219-171-1 with North Central Conference titles in 2005 and 2013 (New Castle left the NCC for the Hoosier Heritage Conference after the 2012-13 school year). Trailing King on the victory list is Huffman (who passed away in 2009) at 195-179-3 (1978-93) and Rex Brooks at 169-150 (1958-76).

King, an IHSBCA district representative, has coached five all-staters and four IHSBCA All-Stars (King coached in the 2014 IHSBCA North-South All-Star Series), including 2013 Indiana Mr. Baseball Trey Ball (a left-handed pitcher and first-round selection by the Boston Red Sox). Ben Smith (Class of 2003) was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and is now out of baseball.

The student-athlete is also emphasized for the Trojans. The American Baseball Coaches Association recognized three programs from Indiana for academics in 2015-16 — Andrean, Lafayette Central Catholic and New Castle (3.44 team grade-point average).

The program has also grown. There were 27 players in King’s last season as JV coach. When he took over the varsity reins, he asked for a third squad (then known as C-team) and he now carries 40 to 45 players per year and has seven assistant coaches — Wayne Graham, Tony Gregory, Clint Garrard and Matt York (pitching coach) on the varsity with Rob Chesher, Josh Barber, Kelly Rector and Frank McMahon at the lower levels.

King draws a line between counseling and coaching. The are both about motivating students to achieve. It might mean giving an incentive to raise a grade or getting a more batting practice time.

On the field, the Trojans operate by the mantras of “you control what you can control” and “maximize your potential.”

“Not every ballplayer is going to be Division I or drafted and you can’t control calls by the umpire,” says King. “And be the best you can be everyday.”

For New Castle in 2017, it’s about getting back to basics and fundamentals. The Trojans “Trust the Process.”

Just like their coach trusted the winding path he was on.

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Brad King enters his 15th season as head baseball coach and 23rd in the program at New Castle High School in 2017. The 1989 NCHS graduate is the school’s all-time wins leader.

Gernon building successful baseball culture at Western Michigan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Billy Gernon is reaping the rewards of his labor as a college baseball coach while also giving back to a game he embraced as boy.

Gernon saw his sixth Western Michigan University squad go 22-34 and win the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference tournament championship in 2016 while the Broncos earned their first NCAA tournament berth since 1989.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on,” says Gernon. “I’m trying to capture that momentum and bottle it.”

Left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin was chosen as WMU’s first MAC tournament MVP and was then selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, getting an invitation to big league spring training in 2017.

Akin was the Broncos’ highest draft pick since Harry Shaughnessy in 1970. Shortstop Connor Smith was named 2016 MAC Freshman of the Year.

As if to prove that old adage about the importance of pitching and defense, Western was among the nation’s leaders in fielding percentage at .978 — the all-time best mark at a school that started playing baseball in 1911.

“The strengths for me as a coach speaks to where I come from,” says Gernon. “Competition for big bats is heavy. Competition for defense is not as high.”

Gernon’s first season in Kalamazoo was 2011 after two at Michigan State University and nine as head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Gernon grew up near the baseball fields near Mt. Tabor Road in New Albany, Ind.

“The game became surrogate father,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time.

“I came from a broken home at a very early age. I had an unexplainable love for the game. I was gifted at pitching. Being good at it probably made me like it more.”

Now 50, Gernon still fondly looks back to his 13-year-old summer at playing Babe Ruth League baseball in New Albany, Ind., for a trio of enthusiastic coaches — Louis Jensen Jr., Buzz Benson and John Shine.

“They were young guys and they were a lot of fun,” says Gernon. “I remember looking forward to going to practice.”

Jensen is now director of high school eduction for New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

After graduating from New Albany High School in 1985, Gernon took his pitching talents to Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was the MVP for the IUS and that gave him a chance to play for IU Bloomington as a senior in 1990. Head coach Bob Morgan asked him to join the Hoosiers and he was excited about his opportunity.

Then tragedy struck.

“My brother died it the day I got there,” says Gernon. A car wreck took David Gernon’s life in 1989. “I was a very vulnerable person.”

Morgan’s passion pushed Gernon to succeed on the diamond.

“At Big Ten level, you need to win,” says Gernon. “You need to perform.”

With Morgan’s insistence on hard work, no excuses and accountability, Gernon flourished and became IU’s closer.

“He catapulted me to another level,” says Gernon.

Somewhere along the line, his focus went away from becoming a radio announcer and a chance to coach came along.

“I just decided to go for it,” says Gernon.

There were bumps along the way. At IPFW, Gernon took over a program that made a transition from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I during his tenure. For seven of his nine seasons in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were not in a conference and had just five in-state scholarships with no paid assistant coaches. The teams averaged 11 home games and 40 road games per season.

Yet, Gernon still scheduled the best competition he could find even if his record (157-275-3 in those nine campaigns) suffered for it.

“The biggest teacher for me, personally, has been failure,” says Gernon.

Time, maturity and sincerity plus having a son of his own (Jacob David is 16 and a sophomore at Portage Central High School) have also taught him to be a better coach.

“I always try to keep my brother’s spirit alive in me,” says Gernon. “It’s important to me that my players know I love them. I need to do a better job of not only making sure I was saying it, but doing it.”

His Broncos have responded to that passion.

“Players want to perform for me,” says Gernon, who is 136-193 at WMU. “When they don’t, they’re so bothered. They don’t need anything from me but to address the wound.

“Failure is an event, not a person. The game is riddled with failure and great players learn how to deal with it.”

More than ever, Gernon is concerned with building the culture.

“Cultures are more important than anything,” says Gernon. “Great cultures win over talent. It’s my job as a leader to have guys know what the culture is and become great messengers of the team’s philosophy and culture.”

Gernon expects players to spread the word in the locker room: This is how we do things and this is what’s expected.

“Great culture is why Western won the first MAC tournament in school history and went to the NCAA tournament,” says Gernon. “We have great leaders.”

And through it all, he’s giving back.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach,” says Gernon. “The game’s been taking care of me for a long time. I’m trying to do everything I can to serve it in the form of gratitude. I talk to current players more about their legacy, how they want to be remembered and the mark they want to leave on other players.

“I want to thank every player whoever sweated or sacrificed in a uniform in any place I was ever privileged to coach.”

It’s just that important.

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Western Michigan University head baseball coach Billy Gernon played at New Albany High School, Indiana University Southeast and IU Bloomington and coached at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne before heading north. (Western Michigan University Photo)