By STEVE KRAH
Baseball taught Jeff Riedel lessons about mental toughness and personal relationships.
Riedel played at Cookeville (Tenn.) High School, Jackson (Mich.) College and Ball State University and coached briefly at the collegiate level and gave lessons before going into construction to support his young family.
Born in Macomb, Mich., Riedel moved to Tennessee around 10 and played at Cookeville for Butch Chaffin.
“He was very much a mental coach,” says Riedel of Chaffin, who mentored the Cavaliers to a 36-2-1 record and a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association AAA regional title in Riedel’s senior year of 2013. “You need to be mentally tough or you won’t be physically tough.”
Cookesville was put out of the tournament by future major league left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield and his Tullahoma team.
Chaffin had his players read a book that Riedel would return to as his diamond career progressed — “Mental Toughness: Baseball’s Winning Edge (by Karl Kuehl, John Kuehl and Casey Tetertiller).”
Riedel (rhymes with needle) appreciated the testimonials from big leaguers that related to specific aspects of mental toughness.
“He knew the game better than anyone I had been around to that point,” says Riedel of Smith. “For a lot of the guys he was hard to understand. I got it right away. We had a really good connection. He expectations for me and I had expectations for myself.
“I probably went above those and that’s what he and I were hoping for.”
As a Jackson sophomore in 2016, Riedel was a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II first-team All-America selection and the Michigan Community Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year. The righty-swinging outfield paced a 37-14 team in batting average (.489), on-base percentage (.571), slugging percentage (.883), runs scored (69), hits (67), doubles (21), triples (12), runs batted in (61) and stolen bases (school-record 48).
“At the junior college level, it was different,” says Riedel. “Our coaches really expected us to better ourselves.”
Players had essentially unlimited access to practice facilities to get in work on their own time.
“It was very much do-it-yourself,” says Riedel. “That helped me going to the Division I level.”
In the fall of 2016, Riedel signed to play at Oakland (Mich.) University, but a coaching change led him to forego that opportunity.
Chris Fetter, then a Ball State assistant (and now pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers), brought Riedel to Muncie, Ind., for a visit and he soon signed with the Cardinals and went on to enjoy his time around head coach Rich Maloney and assistants Scott French and Dustin Glant.
“Having that connection calms you down and lets you relax,” says Riedel. “Coach Maloney was very passionate about the game. He was very intense.
“What really struck me with him on my visit was that he was very personable. He was very genuine. He told me what he expected out of me. He was very upfront.”
It also got Riedel’s attention that Alex Call was selected in the third round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox.
“I knew Alex signed (at Ball State) for a reason,” says Riedel. “I wanted to see what that was all about.”
In two seasons at BSU, Riedel started 104 times in right field. The first year Alex Maloney, son of the coach and now a volunteer assistant coach at Tennessee Tech University in — of all places — Cookeville, was a roommate.
In 2018, Riedel was named to the all-Mid-American Conference second team and hit .380 in 22 MAC games.
But was a non-league game that really turned heads. In the second game of a March 9 doubleheader at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., Riedel went 5-of-6 with a NCAA-record five doubles.
“I will never forget that day,” says Riedel, who batted in the No. 3 hole in the 20-8 Ball State victory. “I always knew how it was going to go based on my first at-bat. If I was seeing the ball well, I knew it was going to be a good day.”
After sharply grounding out to the shortstop in the first inning, Riedel socked two-baggers to left center in the third, center in the fourth, right center in the fifth, down the third base line in the sixth and to left center in the seventh and final frame.
Riedel earned his Interpersonal Communication degree from Ball State in 2018 and began his coaching career at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College that fall. He also taught lessons at the Hardball Fans Academy in Kalamazoo, and coached briefly with the Kalamazoo Growlers during the 2019 Northwoods League summer collegiate wood bat season before opting to take a construction job.
“The thing I enjoyed about coaching was the connection you made with the players,” says Riedel, now 26. “They came to play for you. They had respect for you and you had respect for them.
“The best coaches I played for, I had respect for them as a coach and had a personal connection with them. It relaxed me more.”
While COVID-19 restrictions have interrupted work, Riedel and wife Kayla got to spend extra time with daughter Nora shortly after her birth in Nora in March. The couple that calls Battle Creek, Mich., home welcomed son Wyatt in February 2018.