BY STEVE KRAH
Nick Ulrey instructs the catchers and hitters in the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program and teaches lessons to youngsters.
The former New Palestine (Ind.) High School, KCC and University of Missouri St. Louis player wants them all to see hitting in three parts — approach, timing and swing.
“The approach is what you can control 100 percent of the time,” says Ulrey. “You’re timing and swing aren’t going to be perfect every time.”
That approach includes always trying to hit the ball hard.
“I preach hard-hit balls rather than launch angle,” says Ulrey. “We’re never thinking about hitting a ball over the fence. We’re always trying to hit the ball through the center field wall.
“Even with two strikes, we will shorten up but we are still driving the baseball.”
Ulrey wants his hitters to have Quality At-Bats. He defines a QAB as one that results in the following: a hard-hit ball, seven-pitch at-bat, single, double, triple, home run, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, walk, hit by pitch or moving the runner over with no outs.
When it comes to the swing, Ulrey works with the hitter’s natural tendencies.
“I’m not a one-way guy,” says Ulrey. “They might be down and through the zone as a contact hitter or a power hitter with a little higher launch angle.
“I make sure they’re getting the work they need and I stress talking about the mental side of the game.”
The verbiage Ulrey uses with hitters is always positive.
He asks them to “drive the ball the other way” rather than “getting themselves out” to move a runner.
“You never want to give your AB away,” says Ulrey.
Rarely has Ulrey given away a day to be around baseball. He’s at KCC games and practices six days a week this fall.
On Sundays, he travels back to Greenfield, Ind., for instruction at The Yard Sports Complex, owned and operated by older brother Chris Ulrey.
Seven years older than Nick, Chris has served as a guide to his younger brother and even served a year on the KCC staff during Nick’s sophomore season with the Cavaliers.
“(Chris) is a great mentor,” says Nick Ulrey. “Ninety percent of what I know as a hitting coach, I learned from him.”
When he’s not working with KCC players or those at The Yard, Ulrey is running camps at Fundamentals Sports Academy in Dwight, Ill.
“I’m around the game seven days a week,” says Ulrey, 24. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stray away from that.
“It’s what I love to do.”
That comes across to the athletes he is instructing.
“Players are real receptive to what you’re saying,” says Ulrey. “Most people want to get to the next level.”
Ulrey played four years of baseball at New Palestine. He was mostly a junior varsity player as a freshman and Al Cooper was the varsity head coach. Shawn Lyons took over the Dragons in Ulrey’s sophomore year.
The father of classmate Corey Lyons, Shawn Lyons had coached Nick and his son on New Palestine youth teams.
“He prepared me more than I ever could hope for,” says Ulrey of the elder Lyons. “We were learning mental side of the game at 10. He prepared me well for the college level.”
Ulrey’s collegiate career started at KCC in 2013, where he started both years behind the plate. He was an all-National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4 performer and is on eight career hitting record lists.
He transferred to NCAA Division II UMSL, where he was a two-time all-Great Lakes Valley Conference selection and led the conference both years in runners caught stealing.
Ulrey was brought to St. Louis by Jim Brady, who died of cancer in 2017 as Ulrey was about to begin his coaching career with the Tritons.
“He was a great man and an even better coach,” says Ulrey of Brady.
Cory Wahl took over the USML program.
“He was a well-rounded guy,” says Ulrey. “He coached at several schools, (including an assistant stint at Vincennes University) he was very versatile and brought a lot of knowledge to UMSL. I learned a lot from him.”
Ulrey holds a degree in Criminal Justice from UMSL.
At Kankakee, Todd Post is the head coach and (former Valparaiso University pitcher) Bryce Shafer is the other assistant.
“He knows more about the game than any coach I’ve ever met,” says Ulrey of Post has led the KCC program since 2001 and earned an NJCAA Division II national title in 2017. “(Shafer) does an unbelievable job with the pitchers and strength and conditioning.”
KCC players spend plenty of time in the weight room in the fall, winter and spring. They are on individualized programs designed to improve weaknesses and enhance strengths.
Nick Ulrey, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, is a baseball assistant coach at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. (Kankakee Community College Photo)