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Hall of Famer Riggleman provides pitching guidance, mentoring as Grand Valley State assistant

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Riggleman spent four decades leading young men on and off the baseball field.

As a head coach at six different institutions — John Wesley (Mich.), Mt. Vernon Nazarene (Ohio), Southern Illinois, Bethel College (Ind.), Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor (Mich.) — he went 1,023-661-2 with four trips to the NAIA World Series (two each with Dallas Baptist and alma mater Spring Arbor) and two NAIA National Coach of the Year selections.

Riggleman has been inducted into halls of fame by the American Baseball Coaches Association, NAIA, National Christian College Athletic Association, Bethel and Spring Arbor and has received ABCA’s Ethics in Coaching Award.

He retired following the 2016 season.

Then Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., came calling.

It was a week before the start of the 2019 season and the Lakers suddenly had a need for a pitching coach.

GVSU graduate assistant Jon Newman played for Riggleman at Spring Arbor. Grand Valley head coach Jamie Detillion contacted the veteran skipper about his interest.

“He was looking for someone with some experience and provide a different perspective,” says Riggleman, who accepted the invitation and went about assessing the pitching staff while relishing the idea of creating a competitive culture and mentoring young coaches (Detillion, Newman and Cody Grice).

Riggleman made it clear he did not want to step back into the world of recruiting or administrative details, but he had plenty to offer.

“Teaching and watching guys get better still lights a fire,” says Riggleman. “It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”

Two years prior to Riggleman’s arrival at GVSU, the Lakers had been focused on velocity enhancement programs.

“The ability to command the strike zone was really, really in jeopardy,” says Riggleman. “We walked away from all those (velocity-building) things.”

Pitchers were asked to — do just that — pitch.

“How do you set people up and put them away?,” says Riggelman, who is back for the 2020 season. “How do you force contact on your terms?”

Riggleman has been refining mechanics and mechanical efficiency and getting his hurlers to attack hitters, putting them in defensive (ball-strike) counts.

GVSU pitchers are asked to command two-seam fastballs in order to create late movement while also developing an effective change-up.

“Guys are spending plenty of time working on breaking balls,” says Riggleman.

Grand Valley is an NCAA Division II school and a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“There’s so much quality in players across the board at the Division II level,” says Riggleman. “There are no breaks here. Every single day is going to be a battle.

“How you go about preparing teams becomes the critical issue.”

At his previous stops, Riggleman prepared his players like they were going to compete at the highest level.

“We made practices competitive and demanding,” says Riggleman. “We forced failure on them and made them make adjustments because that it what’s going to happen in the game.

“We have to find a way to replicate. That’s what I’m trying to do at Grand Valley.”

It was early in his career that Riggleman figured out the kind of coach he wanted to be.

“Coaching is an opportunity to help kids develop in their personal, spiritual and emotional lives and athletically,” says Riggleman. “So many life lessons can be pulled out of this game. I’ve tried to take advantage of that.”

As a college coach, Riggleman knows that parents are turning over their sons to guide them in the right way and he does not take that responsibility lightly.

“I had an obligation to do that,” says Riggleman. “Kids are a lot more important than I am.”

When Riggleman was at Mount Vernon Nazarene and in his formative years developing his coaching philosophy, Bob Starcher was head coach at Malone College in Canton, Ohio.

“He took me under his wing,” says Riggleman of Starcher whom he met in the fall of 1979. “I saw guy who put incredibly competitive teams on the field and truly loved his guys. It was a model I gravitated toward.

“You don’t stay in coaches for 40-plus years and enjoy doing it, if you’re doing it exclusively to win games. I never lost sight of what I was doing and why I was doing it — developing young men.

“You’ve got to demand a great deal, but you’ve got to love them at the same time.”

Riggleman learned how to get players to exhibit quiet toughness and be very competitive yet humble. His successor at Mount Vernon, Keith Veale, went into the NAIA Hall of Fame Jan. 3 in Nashville and Sam and wife Kathy were there for the induction.

Besides Starcher, Riggleman counts Hank Burbridge and Richard “Itch” Jones among his mentors.

Riggleman played for ABCA Hall of Famer Burbridge, who won 1,003 games and retired as Spring Arbor head coach after the 2004 season, then coached alongside him before taking over the Cougars program.

“He had such an instrumental impact on me,” says Riggleman of Burbridge.

The two roomed together at the ABCA convention and shared many ideas about baseball and life.

In 2000, Burbridge was head coach for a team of all-stars that went to the Czech Republic and Riggleman was brought along as pitching coach. The following year, Riggleman was head coach on the tour.

Jones preceded Riggleman at SIU.

“His style was really different and unique,” says Riggleman of the former Salukis and University of Illinois boss. “He was and tremendous game coach. Very intuitive.”

Riggleman spent five seasons (1995-99) in Mishawaka, Ind., at Bethel College (now Bethel University).

“We had a great run there,” says Riggleman, who went 176-88 with two Crossroads League championships (1997 and 1998) and a league tournament title (1998) and led Bethel to three NCCAA national runner-up finishes. “A lot of fun and some really good teams there.”

He often got a chance to right son Jeremie’s name into the lineup at shortstop.

“My single greatest highlight of my coaching career was to coach Jeremie at that time,” says Riggleman, who is the grandfather of four. Jeremie Riggleman is now an assistant professor of art at Taylor University. Sam and Kathy’s daughter, Sarah, is married and lives in Granger, Ind.

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Sam Riggleman enters his second season as baseball pitching coach at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., in 2020. He was a head coach for 40 years, including five at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and won over 1,000 games. (Grand Valley State University Photo)

 

Isaacs in charge of a baseball ‘brotherhood’ with Lakeland Lakers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Banding together as baseball brothers, the Lakeland High School program has enjoyed a turnaround in two seasons with Michael Isaacs as head coach.

“We call ourselves a brotherhood,” says Isaacs. “We’ve got a group of young men to believe in themselves and believe in each other.

“Our group is pretty loose. We’re not wound tight. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles the last couple years.”

The Lakers won a combined six games in 2015 and 2016. The first season under Isaacs (2017), Lakeland posted 10 victories.

Heading into three straight Northeast Corner Conference games — Tuesday vs. Hamilton, Wednesday at Churubusco and Thursday at Garrett — the 2018 LaGrange County-based Lakers were 16-5 and with two NECC setbacks tied in the loss column tied atop the standings with Angola.

The rest of the conference includes Central Noble, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview. Each team plays the other once and there is a midseason blind-draw tournament. Westview topped the Lakers 5-2 in the championship game this spring.

Lakeland is in the seven-team IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional along with Angola, Fairfield, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

The Lakers play their home games on-campus. The field has received upgrades in recent seasons of new lights and re-worked dugouts.

There are 21 players in the Lakeland program, with some rotating between varsity and junior varsity as needed.

Two Lakers seniors have made college commitments — right-handed pitcher/first baseman Drew Grossman (Indiana Tech) and first baseman/designated hitter Tristan Witham (Cincinnati Christian). Juniors with college baseball aspirations are shortstop/right-handed pitcher Hunter Frost and catcher Kole Miller.

All three of Michael Isaacs’ sons are involved with the program. Oldest boy Britain, who was a Lakers catcher, is now an assistant coach. Then there’s senior Nolan and freshman Colton. The latter has rotated in enough to earn his letter in his first year of high school.

Isaacs’ other assistants are Todd Miller, Kevin Witham and Aaron Pieri.

A 1987 East Noble graduate, Michael Isaacs played high school baseball for coach Steve Nelson.

After going to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football, he transferred to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, with the idea of playing baseball. But that was the year the Saints temporarily dropped the sport.

Isaacs coached in the Noble/LaGrange Little League out of high school then took about a decade off and got back in when his sons came along.

Besides the Little League, which serves players ages 6 through junior high, some Lakeland players are involved with travel ball organizations such as Hitters Edge and the Indiana Chargers.

The 2018 season marks the second season for pitch count rules in IHSAA-sanctioned games (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“At first, I was very hesitant about it,” says Isaacs. “But then it was not that big a deal. We have mindset for the week of who we’re going to pitch how much we’re going to pitch them. It’s worked out pretty good.

“(The rule) makes you develop four or five pitchers which is good for everybody.”

With teams counting pitches, Isaacs has seen a change in the game. Instead of a pitcher using extra pitches trying to get strikeouts, he’s seen some of them aim for efficiency.

“There’s more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play and letting the defense do the work,” says Isaacs. “It’s something we’re trying to beat into (our pitchers’) heads.”

If Isaacs could change anything about Indiana high school baseball, he would tweak the class structure.

“Personally, I think the private schools should be separate,” says Isaacs, who coaches at a public school. “Now you’re tied to a class because of your size. I’d have public school divisions and the private schools could maybe a big division and small division.”

Isaacs is not an educator. He works in the recreational vehicle industry.  He is a mill room manager for Jayco’s Starcraft division in Topeka, Ind.

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Michael Isaacs (right) bumps fists with oldest son Britain Isaacs during a 2017 Lakeland High School baseball game. Michael Isaacs is in his second season as Lakers head coach in 2018. Britain is one of his assistants.