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Baseball odyssey takes former Indiana Tech assistant Collins-Bride back to Bay Area

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Baseball’s a really beautiful thing. You have to be consistent, work hard and have fun.”

Those words tell of Patrick Collins-Bride’s sentiment toward the diamond game.

It’s a game that has taken him across north America and to Japan.

“C.B.” — as friends know him — played high school ball in northern California (graduating from Encinal Junior-Senior in Alameda in 2008) and collegiate ball in the Bay Area (Laney College in Oakland) and in south Florida (Ave Maria University near Naples). 

Coaching gigs have come in California (San Francisco Seals collegiate summer team that made trips to Canada, Alaska and many states and now at Academy of Art University in San Francisco), Florida (Ave Maria) and Indiana (Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne).

In his current position, working for Urban Knights head coach Dan McDermott, Collins-Bride, 30, is in charge of pitchers, catchers and infielders.

“I’m a teacher,” says Collins-Bride, who joined the ArtU coaching staff in September 2019. “Baseball and strength and conditioning seems to be my best form of teaching.

“When you see people grow and see the light click on and they create really good habits, that’s the special part.”

Developing pitchers at the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference institution for Collins-Bride is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. 

“It’s individualistic once you have a base,” says Collins-Bride. “It depends on the players’ needs.”

Some pitchers possess good command and need to improve their stuff. Some have superior velocity but lack movement on their pitches. Others need concentration on the mental side of baseball.

“We’re picking and choosing what we focus on,” says Collins-Bride.

A strength and conditioning coach for several Indiana Tech teams, Collins-Bride has studied biomechanics as it relates to athletes. He has become OnBaseU-certified.

“You have to know how each player moves and how they’re supposed to move,” says Collins-Bride, who does a movement assessment on each ArtU pitcher. “That’s critical. 

“You structure the off-season around filling those buckets.”

You’re not treating every car like a Toyota. You also have Dodges and Kias. You don’t spend all your time racing the Lamborghini, you also spend time working with it in the garage.

COVID-19 caused the Urban Knights’ 2020 season to halt after 20 games. McDermott and Collins-Bride helped the player see the quarantine as an opportunity for growth.

“It was a chance to check something on your bucket list,” says Collins-Bride. “If you don’t do it, shame on you.

“Many (players) came back (in the fall) in the biggest shape of their lives,” says Collins-Bride. “It was really cool to see what these guys did over 6-7 months after only hearing about it over the phone.”

Alameda resident Collins-Bride used the extra time to go on long bike rides, including a trek around Lake Tahoe.

ArtU practices at The Presidio and plays games at Laney College. During fall practice, players went through daily temperature and system checks.

Most of the time, workouts were conducted with just six to eight players.

“It was different,” says Collins-Bride. “But it was really good from a development standpoint.”

There was more one-on-one time with coaching while raw skills — running, throwing, fielding and swinging — were being refined mixed with intrasquad play.

“Ideally, that’s what a fall should be — create some raw skills and play a little bit,” says Collins-Bride. “Summer baseball is failing kids. They’re playing too much and not practicing enough or practicing too much and not playing enough.

“We had a really good balance (in the fall.).”

It’s about building proper motor patterns. That’s why weighted balls and bats are used to carve a new path for the brain.

“It’s a brand new road and they learn that quickly,” says Collins-Bride.

Born in San Francisco, the son of carpenter Bob Bride and professor/nurse practitioner Geraldine Collins-Bride grew up loving baseball. 

Patrick’s father did not have much experience at the game, but he did come up with several tools to guide “FUN-damentals” for Little Leaguers. Bob devoured books and DVDs while researching training methods.

“He’d have us swing ax handles,” says Collins-Bride. “We’d hit wiffle balls with hoses to teach us to whip the bat. He turned a leaf blower into a wiffle ball pitching machine. To develop soft hands, we’d toss eggs or water balloons. We had stations all around my small house.”

Flood lights were installed over the garage so these sessions could go deep into the night.

Patrick went to the Boys & Girls Club and learned about pitching from major leaguers who hailed from Alameda. Pitcher Dontrelle Willis taught him how to play “strikeout.”

Middle schooler Collins-Bride learned about the proper way to field a grounder from shortstop Jimmy Rollins at an RBI camp held at Encinal.

Collins-Bride expresses gratitude of coaching with McDermott, who is heading into his 28th season as a college coach in 2021.

“It’s like coaching with your dad,” says Collins-Bride. “He really, really loves you and he’s not going to let you mess up.

“We get really great life lessons all the time. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Collins-Bride coached for five seasons at Indiana Tech (2015-19), where Kip McWilliams is the Warriors head coach. “C.B.” worked with hitters, infielders, catchers and volunteered his strength and conditioning services while pursuing and after completing his Masters of Marketing and Management.

Indiana Tech typically carries a roster of 60 or more to help fund the program — with varsity and developmental teams.

“We had to carry a lot of players,” says Collins-Bride. “We decided if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it really well.

“Playoff time is when the Warriors showed up.”

Collins-Bride notes that almost all the players in the starting lineup in the 2015 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference championship game started out on the development team.

When Tech went to the 2019 NAIA World Series, former developmental players also played a key role.

“That was so important,” says Collins-Bride of the large squad. “They all trained together. We created an efficient practice style. Everybody had a purpose.

“We competed. If you were recruited there, you worked hard. When you have that many guys with a passion for baseball, it makes for such a good atmosphere.

“To do it right, you make sure you treat each kid well. I think we accomplished that. The beautiful thing about baseball and life is what a kid can make out of himself in two or four years.”

Collins-Bride said the Tech culture was based on standards and not rules.

“There was an acceptable level of behavior for everyone in the program and accountability is a two-way street (standards applied equally to players and coaches),” says Collins-Bride. “Coaches didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walked.”

Or — better yet — they hustled from station to station just like the players.

It was also an atmosphere of positivity.

“No BCE (Blaming, Complaining or Excuses) was allowed,” says Collins-Bride. “Because it’s not helping the situation.”

Collins-Bride sights three players — Brandon Dossen, David Barksdale and Dante Biagini — as examples of those who bought into the Tech system.

Dosson, a graduate of Heritage High School in Monroeville, Ind., was a highly-touted player in high school who wound up behind an All-American for a few seasons with the Warriors then got a chance to hit behind Tech standout and No. 3 hitter Glen McClain.

Barksdale, who went to Cass Tech High School in Detroit, spent a few seasons on the developmental team then got his chance to shine with the varsity in a game against Florida Memorial.

“He had been training really, really hard,” says Collins-Bride. “He hit a ground ball in the 6-hole and beat it out for a base hit. That was pretty special.”

Collins-Bride calls Biagini, hard-nosed player from San Francisco, the “most impactful kid I’ve ever been around.”

“He was the epitome of leadership,” says Collins-Bride of the national gold glove shortstop. “He’d say what coaches would have to say. He’d see things and fix them.

“They way he practiced, he raised the level of everyone around him.”

Collins-Bride had been with McWilliams when he observed a Spring Arbor University practice led by head coach Sam Riggleman. The SAU Cougars made workouts fast and as game-like a possible.

“Practice is the hardest thing we would do,” says Collins-Bride. “Games were slow. Everything (in practice) counted. Everything had detail.”

Collins-Bride noticed that long-time Lewis-Clark State College coach Ed Cheff and Folsom Lake College coach Rich Gregory (who played for future Indiana State University and University of Washington coach Lindsay Meggs on a NCAA Division II championship team at Cal State Chico) also took to that kind of preparation — skill under pressure.

It did no good to see 50 mph batting practice pitches when the game was going to bring 90 mph.

Collins-Bride went from Ave Maria, where he played two seasons (2011 and 2012) and coached two (2013 and 2014), after checking his options of serving as a graduate assistant to Scott Dulin at Fisher College in Boston. 

On his first working day with Tech, he flew from San Francisco to Boston then drove 15 hours to Fort Wayne. He met McWilliams at 5 a.m. and they drove all the way to Vincennes (Ind.) for a junior college showcase.

“We talked baseball the whole way,” says Collins-Bride.

During Collins-Bride’s entire at Tech, Debbie Warren was the athletic director.

“She was an unbelievable leader of people,” says Collins-Bride. “She knew how to push you. She was very tough and phenomenal to work with.”

Warren helped get the weight room updated just about the time Collins-Bride was leaving to go back to California.

While he was there he planted a desk near the weights and managed 80 athletes in a two-hour window.

While in Fort Wayne, Collins-Bride also got to manage the Indiana Summer Collegiate League’s Kekiongas and played in the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series with the Jackers.

Shawn Summe, a graduate of Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., was the head coach at NAIA Ave Maria. He started the program. The Gyrenes’ first season was 2010.

“(Summe) is a very intense person and an emotional leader,” says Collins-Bride. “We practiced really hard. He was really awesome to play for. 

“He deeply had your back and wanted you to succeed.”

Collins-Bride, who received a Politics degree from Ave Maria, sees his transition from player to coach as a smooth one.

“It was easy to step into a role of leadership and demand respect,” says Collins-Bride. “We had a special senior group in 2013.”

Pete Lesniewski, Gabe Loweree, Trace McDermott, Justin Repullo and Alex Sanchez raised their game that spring for a Ave Maria team that went 38-21.

“(The seniors) were the epitome of sacrifice,” says Collins-Bride. “They didn’t party. They were very good in the classroom. They motivated and led by example.”

Collins-Bride was an AMU assistant on the same staff as Chuck Lennon and Jeff Tenbarge.

Lennon, who died in 2019 at 80, won three baseball letters at Notre Dame and later taught at the university and served as three decades for the Notre Dame Alumni Association.

Lennon’s zeal was on display even at early hours when Collins-Bride was getting a few more winks before greeting the day on an Ave Maria road trip.

“He’s say, ‘Wake up C.B., the world is waiting for us,” says Collins-Bride. “Talk about positivity. He was a beaming, shining light.”

After a semester at Cal State East Bay, Collins-Bride transferred to California Community College Athletic Association member Laney and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Eagles coach Francisco Zapata.

“Coach Z is a great human being,” says Collins-Bride. “He really knew his stuff and he knew how to push you.

“It was really hard to let him down. You know what he had to go through to play baseball. You’ve got nothing to complain about.”

Zapata grew up in Nicaragua and brought a work ethic to his coaching.

“There was an expectation level,” says Collins-Bride.

His prep career began on the Alameda High junior varsity for coach Joe Pearse and concluded at Encinal for Jim Saunders.

“(Pearse) was a hard-nosed guy,” says Collins-Bride. “We were working hard and there was a lot of competition. 

“(Saunders, who coached Rollins) was an excellent manager of talent.”

During his time as a player and manager with the San Francisco Seals, Collins-Bride not only got a chance to enjoy the rivalry with the Arcata-based Humboldt Crabs but got the chance to play all over the place. During a two-year span, he traveled through 33 states and played in around 20. 

Among Collins-Bride’s side jobs has been head of social media marketing for MDS Baseball Bats (a company owned by Brad Lightfoot that has appeared at many conventions, including the American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association).

Collins-Bride and Sara Schaefer are engaged to be married in Fort Wayne in September 2021.

Patrick Collins-Bride has been an assistant baseball coach at Academy of Art University in San Francisco since September 2019. He coached five seasons at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. (2015-19). He played two seasons at Ave Maria (Fla.) High School for Penn High School and Bethel College (now Bethel University) graduate Shawn Summe. (ArtU Photo)

Former Indiana Tech pitcher Kowalski coaching at Northland College

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Adam Kowalski is getting a chance to make his mark as a college baseball coach. He is months into his job as an assistant at NCAA Division III and Upper Midwest Athletic Conference member Northland College in Ashland, Wis. 

Working for head coach and Northland alum Jeremy Snow, Kowalski is in charge of the LumberJacks pitchers.

It’s a different path than Kowalski was on just a few years go when he stepped away from the college world as a player after a discouraging first experience. 

The pitcher from Arlington Heights, Ill., lost his passion.

And that doesn’t work for the 6-foot-4 right-hander.

“I’m not the kind of guy who does not want to do something unless I’m totally devoted to it,” says Kowalski, who spent his first year out of Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, where he played for Jeff Grybash and graduated in 2013, on the roster at North Park University in Chicago but did not get into a game. “It was a wake-up call at North Park that set the tone for me personally: You need to figure yourself out.”

Kowalski was prepared for a life outside of baseball. Then found himself back on a diamond in men’s league and decided to give the college game another try. 

He spent 2015-16 at Harper College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division III school in Palatine, Ill. He appeared in nine games (five starts) for Hawks head coach Cliff Brown with one win and three complete games.

Kowalski decided to transfer to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he spent his first season on the Tech developmental squad following a summer in the Indiana Summer Summer Collegiate League season with the Fort Wayne Kekiongas managed by then-Tech assistant Pat Collins-Bride.

The summer of 2018, Kowalski played with the Kyle Floyd-managed Saginaw (Mich.) Sugar Beets then the 2019 campaign with the Tech varsity and recently finished the course work for a Criminal Justice degree from school.

In the Summit City with the Kip McWilliams-coached Warriors, Kowalski’s baseball fire stoked. 

The big righty struck out 10 in 9 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and was an Ultimate Warrior nominee in 2019. Tech went to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. 

It’s that connection with McWilliams and others at Tech that helped him get on the coaching staff of Steve Jaksa at NCAA Division II Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State University in University Center, Mich., as a volunteer for 2019-20 and land his current role on the banks of Lake Superior. He arrived on-campus at Northland this fall.

“It’s not what you know or who you know, it’s who knows you,” says Kowalski, 25. “If not for my time of Indiana Tech and that period of growth, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It helps to have those types of guys in your corner and speaking for who you are and has seen you put in the work.

“There are people who made me realize who I am and what I can do. I’m very grateful for staff at Indiana Tech, my former teammates, the people I competed against. I now have chance to be a major part of changing a program.”

It’s not lost on Kowalski that he’s starting a coaching job in the middle of a global pandemic.

“It’s an interesting time,” says Kowalski. “I sincerely things will clear up and we can return back to the things we love to do.

“We got through a full fall season — with mainly instrasquads. We were just beginning our off-season training when everything shut down.

It started out with student-athletes in a hybrid — some online classes and some in-person — then only those with prior approval were allowed to stay on-campus.

Kowalski says the LumberJacks were beginning to develop a team identity when they were told to go home.

“It’s a day-to-day process and our guys have done a tremendous job every day we get to practice together,” says Kowalski. “These are smart players. We were teaching some of the bigger concepts and faster-moving practices were becoming ingrained.”

Like at Indiana Tech, Kowalski sees player development at Northland as a personalized experience.

“We’re not trying to create carbon copies,” says Kowalski. “We want everyone to maximize their strengths while improving their weaknesses.”

A Kinesthetic or hands-on learner, Kowalski uses YouTube videos and other resources to take in concepts that he passes on to his players.

He’s also using things he’s learned about Driveline and Ground Force Sports (makers of the King of the Hill training device) and using it to make his LumberJacks better.

While there are a few volunteers, much of the coaching load falls to Kowalski and Snow. The latter is a 2010 NC graduate and spent 2019-20 as an assistant at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima after four seasons as head coach at Lourdes University in Sylvania. Both are NAIA members.

Snow and Kowalski have been busy with recruiting players to the school located 70 miles east of Duluth, Minn. and 260 miles northwest of Appleton, Wis. Ashland is a town of about 8,000 and fishing and hunting is popular with residents and Northland baseball players. When Snow was a player, they put a deer stand on a foul pole and brought down an animal with a bow.

Though he grew up in a metro environment and has never hunted, Kowalski has been taking a hunting safety course.

Adam Kowalski, who played baseball at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., and has completed his course work toward at Criminal Justice degree from the school, started this fall as the pitching coach at NCAA Division III Northland College in Ashland, Wis. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Former Indiana Tech pitcher Adam Kowalski is now the pitching coach at Northland College in Ashland, Wis. Occasionally, the right-hander who went to Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, jumps on the mound to participate in a scrimmage. (Northland College Photo)

Getting players ready for next level what it’s all about for DeLaGarza, Summit City Sluggers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Mark DeLaGarza sees it, there are two paths for travel baseball organizations.

Some like the game but are not that intense about it. To DeLaGarza, that describes 80 percent of Indiana teams.

The rest are serious about competition and learning.

“I’m in that 20 percent,” says DeLaGarza, who founded the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. “We try to do things right and develop players.”

Among the many alumni to play in college or beyond are major leaguers Kevin Kiermaier and Jarrod Parker.

DeLaGarza, who runs the Sluggers with Greg VanMeter and Steve Devine, says there are three reasons that players are in summer baseball — they want to get to the next level; they wish to get better; or they play because their parents say they must get a job if they don’t.

“I can deal with two out of the three,” says DeLaGarza.

At 57, DeLaGarza has been involved with baseball as a player or coach since age 10. He moved from Janesville, Wis., to Fort Wayne to follow his career at General Motors. He was with GM for 33 years.

Besides the Sluggers, he has been a high school head coach at Southern Wells and an assistant at Norwell (where sons Nick and Andy played) and Columbia City as well as an assistant at Manchester University. He has also led the Twins Scout teams in fall baseball and has served as an associate scout for the Minnesota Twins (he still counts supervisor Bill Milos as a good friend in the game) and New York Mets.

The Sluggers started with one team and moved from 12U to 18U as Andy DeLaGarza and his teammates got older. When Andy went on to college baseball (at Coastal Carolina), Mark was approached about keeping it going and Summit City hit the re-set button at 15U.

Eventually, younger squads were added to a growing group and the emphasis continued to be getting players ready for college ball.

“Five or six years ago, I realized that kids stay committed to the same (travel ball) program,” says DeLaGarza. “If you don’t get them when they’re young, you might not get them at all.”

Today, the Sluggers field seven squads (12U, 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and College). Younger teams are just beginning their season of 45 to 60 games with older squads joining in for about 40 contests as the high school and college seasons are concluding.

Why so many games?

“It’s a necessary thing,” says DeLaGarza. “Kids don’t know how to play unless they play. They need to play to learn the game. You don’t hear people say you’re doing too many math or spelling problems.

“In Indiana, we can’t play too much.”

With games at Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan, Manchester and Saint Francis, college squads play in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League (other squads for 2017 are to be the Kekiongas, Panthers and Flippin’ Frogs). The league offers no housing and is made up mostly of area athletes. Cost is $500 per player.

Fees can be defrayed for other players with optional monthly fundraisers.

Summit City winds up the season in late July and holds tryouts for the next season in August at Homier Park in Huntington (site of the Sluggers’ Standing Up To Cancer Tournament for ages U9 to U14 June 9-11).

“If we wait until September or October, other organizations take the players,” says DeLaGarza. “We’ll play games every weekend in September.”

For older teams, many of those games are against collegiate squads.

“It challenges them and gives them the chance to see how good college players are,” says DeLaGarza. “We’re trying to educate them. But we spend most of time educating parents. I tell those going on spring break to get off the beach and go see a college baseball game (to see what it’s all about).”

During the fall and winter, the Sluggers train at a facility in Huntington.

DeLaGarza coaches the 15U team. Other current Summit City head coaches are Mark Fisher (12U), Brent Alwine (13U), Matt Stidam (14U), Lance Hershberger (16U), Todd Armstrong (17U) and Lea Selvey (College).

Finding the ones DeLaGarza wants is not always easy. He has found that many high school coaches are tired at the end of their seasons and don’t wish to coach in the summer and fall.

“It’s trying,” says DeLaGarza. “I don’t like dads coaching. I like skilled coaches with knowledge.”

If DeLaGarza had his way, summer baseball needs more direction. One place to start is to have divisions so that top level teams would not be grouped with lower ones at tournaments.

“We’re under the same umbrella and it’s all watered down,” says DeLaGarza. “These dad teams should be in house ball. I don’t mean to sound arrogant.

“We beat someone 22-1 and it does no one any good. That doesn’t help develop a player. The only way to fix it is to have major tournament directors filter the teams they bring in.”

DeLaGarza would like to see more league play where there is time for pregame and postgame routines.

He wishes Indiana would return to more games where younger teams don’t play on high school/college-sized fields before the players are ready, which to him means 15U. That usually means the mound is at 54 feet from the plate and the bases 80 feet apart (as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches and 90 feet).

Since pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes at the longer distance, games tend to be very slow.

DeLaGarza notes that son Andy did not throw a breaking ball until his junior year at Norwell and advises young pitchers to do the same, getting hitters out with location and by changing speeds.

“Fill the strike zone with fastballs on both sides of the plate and see what happens,” says DeLaGarza.

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Mark DeLaGarza (shown when coaching for Manchester University) started the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. The Fort Wayne-based organization plans to field seven teams in 2017.