By STEVE KRAH
It is a buzzword that’s popular these days in high school athletics.
Can a team change to a culture of dedication and winning?
In the case of the Hobart Brickies, the answer is a resounding yes.
Bob Glover Jr., who in his 11th season as a baseball coach at his alma mater (the last eight as head coach) has witnessed a positive change in the Hobart diamond culture.
The year before Glover took over as head coach, the Brickies went 9-20. In 2014, Hobart set a school record for victories, going 26-6 and earning the program’s first sectional championship since 1993.
“It was all about culture from the very beginning,” says Glover, who saw his career coaching record move to 137-72 with a season-opening win against Merrillville. “We had some battles trying to get kids to take the game more seriously.”
Glover, a 2001 HHS graduate and son of Hobart athletic director Bob Glover Sr., and others wanted to make baseball more than a hobby or springtime time-filler.
For the first time in years, the Brickies won more games than they lost in Glover’s second season at the helm and with that achievement came the raising of expectations.
“That was a big step for us,” says Glover, the seventh head baseball coach at the school since 1956. “We proved we could do that.”
Then it was time to aim for the next level. Not satisfied with just being good, players wanted to max out their potential as a team and as individuals.
“We had to convince them they were good enough to get to that level,” says Glover. “The more success we had, the more they believed they could.”
But it wasn’t just an attitude change. Hobart’s rise coincided with an improvement in facilities. Midway through the 2008-09 school year, an entirely new school complex opened. That included a fieldhouse, two side-by-side baseball diamonds and a turf football field that could be utilized by baseball on days that their fields were unplayable.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done in the improvement of our won-loss record and overall standing of our program,” says Glover. “But (the facilities upgrade) is definitely a part of the story.”
The 2014 team was full of three- and four-year varsity players, many of whom went on to play college sports. Brandon Murray was drafted in the 30th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, but the right-handed pitcher opted to go to the University of South Carolina. He is one of the top prospects in NCAA Division I.
“You’ve heard it said, ‘no animals; no zoo’?,” says Glover. “You have to have great players to be successful. We’ve had a lot of talented, dedicated and hard-working kids.”
A number of team and individual hitting and pitching records have been established the past three seasons.
Like in past seasons, the Brickies will be looking for leadership.
Glover says that can take many forms, but is usually most effective at the high school level when shown by example or through performance and effort.
“Kids these days don’t respond as well to (vocal leaders),” says Glover. Good leaders show consistency and how business is conducted and the others will fall in line. “The good part of the last five years or so is once we had that established, we had really good continuity.”
Graduation took 10 players from that Hobart team. There are just two seniors on the ’17 squad.
The Brickies are coming off a 2016 season that saw them go 21-9 overall and 10-2 in the always-competitive Northwest Crossroads Conference (other members are Andrean, Griffith, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).
The NCC plays home-and-home games against the same opponents on Mondays and Tuesdays. The league adopted the format in recent years after playing two rotations with conference contests on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays one week and Tuesdays and Thursdays the next.
“We didn’t like the way that was playing out,” says Glover, speaking for his fellow NCC coaches. “This is more like true baseball. You get to see the depth of the pitching staff.”
Speaking of pitching, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district representative Glover addressed the new pitch count rules.
The Brickies had been tracking pitches at all three levels the past few seasons, noting the number of pitches and days of rest. There were no times the past two seasons at the varsity level that the team would have been over the new limit and few times the JV would have risen above its ceiling.
In talking with other coaches, Glover has come to the conclusion that the pitch count rule with its rest requirements is going to have its biggest impact during the IHSAA state tournament series, especially in the sectional where multiple games are played in a fairly short span of days and the regional where teams play twice in the same day.
“Our sectional is pretty difficult with large 4A schools and a lot of parity,” says Glover. “I believe in the last couple of years that (some teams) have used their No. 1 pitchers in all three games in the sectional (start first game, relieve in second game start third game). That won’t be an option anymore.”
Glover has six assistant coaches — Jim Nohos and Tony Curatolo with the varsity, Jesse Smith and Bobby Wineland with the junior varsity and Nick Roberts and Tom Anderson with the C-team. Nohos is also a well-known coach of area summer teams. Curatolo and Anderson played for Glover. Smith (Griffith) and Roberts (Merrillville) are former players at Region schools. Wineland has a son in the program.
An associate scout or “bird dog” for the Atlanta Braves since last summer, Glover reports to an area scout on players he sees while coaching for Hobart and also checks out some players in the fall.
“I keep my ear to the ground, so to speak,” says Glover.
Head coach Bob Glover Jr. has helped changed the baseball culture at Hobart High School.