By STEVE KRAH
Derek Simmons has spent more than a third of his life as an assistant college baseball coach.
Simmons, who turns 37 on May 31, is in his fourth season on the staff at Indiana University.
He wears multiple hats for the Hoosiers. He is the program’s recruiting coordinator and helps with hitters and infielders. On game days, he coaches third base.
As recruiting coordinator, Simmons travels to high school games in the spring.
“I try to get out and see our commits,” says Simmons of a group that ranges from the current senior class (2023) to freshmen (2026). He missed one IU game while traveling to watch a commit in California. “Then I see our top-priority guys who are uncommitted or we are trying to recruit.”
Indiana hitters have an approach that centers on velocity.
“You’ve always got to stay on fastball timing,” says Simmons. “For us it’s the fastball and then we try to adjust to anything else.”
Each day in practice, the Hoosiers are seeing 92 to 95 mph off pitching machines.
Simmons, who played mostly shortstop and second base in college and pro ball, preaches the fundamentals with his infielders.
“But I give our guys a lot of freedom with one hand and outside of the funnel because 80 percent of the balls aren’t going to be hit right at you,” says Simmons. “They’re going to be hit either to your left or your right. It forces our guys to use their forward and their backhand.”
Indiana plays many games on turf, where the ball tends to move faster.
To get acclimated to a dirt infield, infielders will sometimes will go to IU’s softball diamond — Andy Mohr Field. It’s located next to Bart Kaufman Field.
As third base coach, Simmons has a routine.
“Before each and every game I always watch the other teams take infield-outfield,” says Simmons. “I get to know how the outfielders’ and infielders’ arms are and how they move in space.
“I like to be very aggressive. I like going first to third and and first to home.”
Simmons considers several factors when deciding to send a runner or hold them up at third base.
There’s the number of outs, the strength of the outfielders’ arms and who’s the on-deck hitter.
“Is it a guy who’s swinging the bat really well to where I can hold the (runner) up at third or is it a guy hitting lower in our lineup and I’m going to gamble and send this (runner),” says Simmons.
Jeff Mercer is head coach of a Hoosiers staff that also features pitching coach Dustin Glant and volunteer Zach Weatherford plus director of player development Scott Rolen and director of baseball operations Denton Sagerman.
Simmons describes Mercer as “very passionate.”
“He’s a very humble guy,” says Simmons. “He is very workman-like in everything that he does. You always know what you’re gonna get. He’s very even-keel and doesn’t get too high and doesn’t get too low.
“I’ve known him for over 12 or 13 years now. I love coming to work for guy like him. He is incredible.”
Before landing in Bloomington, Simmons served two seasons at Kent (Ohio) State (2018-19), one at Alabama (2017), four at Kennesaw (Ga.) State (2013-16) and two at Central Michigan (2011-12) after the 2004 graduate of Chattahoochee High School in Johns Creek, Ga. (near Duluth) played two seasons as an infielder at NCAA Division II University of Montevallo (Ala.), including a D-II World Series appearance in 2006, and two at Georgia State plus a stint with the independent professional Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.).
Simmons was an assistant to Jeff Duncan at Kent State, Greg Goff at Alabama, Mike Sansing at Kennesaw State and Steve Jaska at Central Michigan and played for Goff at Montevallo and Greg Frady at Georgia State. Duncan is a former Purdue assistant. Goff is now Purdue’s head coach.
In his career, Simmons has coached or recruited 53 all-conference honorees, a pair of conference “of the year” award winners, nine All-Americans and four Freshmen All-Americans. He was also named to Baseball America’s Coaches to Watch list in 2018 and 2019.
He is also a part of the USA Baseball program, which includes stints with the 18U National Team and the 14U National Training Development Program.
“Once I got done playing, you know, I just enjoyed the college game so much that I wanted to get into college coaching,” says Simmons. “I never wanted to leave college.
“I’ve just been really fortunate enough to have a great support group. My wife (Erin, the mother of daughter Bella and son Braxton) has been incredible and I just love the college game. Absolutely love it.”
Simmons and the Hoosiers (23-10, 7-2) go to Illinois April 14-16 for a three-game Big Ten series. IU sits atop the conference standings, just ahead Michigan State (20-10, 6-3) and Michigan (18-14, 6-3).