Kirk Cabana’s life path has been anything but a straight one. “My journey is not orthodox,” says Cabana. At 35, Cabana is the new head baseball coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College, a National Junior College Athletic Association and Michigan Community College Athletic Association member in Donaldson, Ind. “It’s such a welcoming community,” says Cabana. “It met me right where I’m at in my growth and development.” The MCCAA has three divisions: Northern (Alpena, Cay, Delta, Grand Rapids, Mid Michigan and Muskegon), Western (Glen Oaks, Kalamazoo Valley, Kellogg, Lake Michigan, Lansing and and Marian’s Ancilla) and Eastern (Henry Ford, Jackson, Macomb, Mott, Schoolcraft and St. Clair County). Including 8-40 in 2022, the MUAC Chargers have won 67 games since 2013. It wasn’t too many years ago that West Covina (Calif.) High School graduate Cabana worked in pest control more than a decade after going to Citrus College in Glendora, Calif., where he played football but neglected his studies. “I ruined opportunities I had because I wouldn’t go to class,” says Cabana, who years later decided he wanted a change and went back to the same school, played baseball at age 30 and earned an associate in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Citrus in 2018. That was followed by a General Studies bachelor’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University and a master’s degree in Positive Coaching and Athletic Leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He was a player then an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Carolina University in Winston-Salem, N.C. (the Bruins went to the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in 2021 and 2022), from August 2019 until moving to Indiana for a chance to be a head coach and impact lives. “I’ve fallen in love with this process,” says Cabana. “Making the sacrifices these last five years have been fun and rewarding.” His coaching experience also includes head coach in the Puerto Rico Collegiate League, bench coach for the Coastal Plain League’s High Point-Thomasville (N.C.) Hi-Toms and All-American Amateur Baseball Association’s Winston-Salem-based Carolina Disco Turkeys. In September 2021, Cabana founded Pursuit 4 Purpose to help athletes with their struggles of trying to become their best and has released 33 P4P podcast episodes to date related to personal development. “It’s a character-developing, goal-setting organization intended to take the principles, values and life lessons we learn from sports and take them and apply them to other areas of our lives,” says Cabana. “I want to encourage and implore students to be more than athletes so when your sport fails you and it will you’ll have something more to stand on.” Renowned physical and mental skills trainer Alan Jaeger has been a frequent guest. His first guest was Jeremy Sheetinger, former assistant at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and College Division Liaison for the American Amateur Baseball Coaches Association who is now head coach at Georgia Gwinett College (the Grizzlies won the NAIA World Series in 2021). Making himself a sponge, Cabana is soaking up the information while sharing it with others. “I’m just doing my part to help athletes through the process,” says Cabana. Kirk, wife Katie and sons Kooper (6) and Karson (infant) have settled near MUAC in Plymouth, Ind., while he goes about building his first Chargers team with about 25 players and the help of assistants Chuck Bowen, Josh Pitts and Matt Pitney. Bowen played and has coached at Ancilla. Pitts was on the Knox (Ind,) High School staff. The 2023 season is slated to open Feb. 11 against Southeastern Illinois College. “We’re ready to attack the spring,” says Cabana. That will be done while emphasizing team. It’s the model of Mudita promoted by University of Alabama head softball coach Patrick Murphy. “It’s vicarious joy through others’ success,” says Cabana. “What I’m trying to do for my guys is know that somebody else’s success does not mean less success for you. “You have to be willing to move the team forward … There are so many roles on the team … You have to successful where you’re at.” Cabana notes that during a 55-game season there will be chances for players to prove themselves. “It’s a lot more than a baseball team,” says Cabana. “It’s a group of people learning to be their best.”
In that role, Chase will be working closely with foundation executive director and Performance Center general manager Mark Haley.
“Hales and I connected and, honestly, I just want to help in whatever way that I can,” says Chase. “I’ve had some experiences — both in my playing career and coaching career.
“(On the) player development side, I think I can add some value. On the recruiting side, I can help some of the older guys — 15- 16-, 17-year-old guys looking to play in college and get them to understand what the recruiting process is like. It can seem very confusing a lot of times, especially to families who haven’t gone through it. I would just love to provide some clarity with that.”
Chase also has many connections in college baseball and knows where the opportunities lie.
“I really like working with young kids,” says Chase. “Baseball is such a great game from the relationships that you have to the friends that you meet and learning lessons from the game itself.”
Throughout all his coaching stops, Chase has worked with hitters, infielders and outfielders. He was an infielder at Notre Dame. He will help with instruction at the Performance Center, as an advisor in the recruiting process and be a second set of eyes for Haley when it comes to talent evaluation and other matters.
At Dayton, Chase was recruiting coordinator for Flyers head coach Jayson King, who is also a Massachusetts native.
“We went into a program that we both thought had a lot of promise,” says Chase. “There were a lot of positive things. It was a high academic school. The campus was beautiful. A lot of things you can sell to high school kids.
“We really worked hard at it and were able to get Dayton to where we felt it should be — a competitive school in the Athletic 10 (Conference) and getting good players from that area.”
Chase and King had been together as assistants on the Army staff. It was King who brought Chase to West Point, N.Y., having known about him while at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. Chase and coordinator King shared recruiting duties. The Black Knights head coach was — and still is — Jim Foster.
“Coach Foster is a baseball savant. He played many years in the minor leagues as a catcher and he has that kind of brain. He really understands the game. He’s very good at teaching the game to the players.”
Chase says he knew intricacies of the game, but Foster “took it to a whole different level.”
Scott Loiseau is head coach of the Southern New Hampshire Pennmen.
“Scott’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of working with his players and getting them to play at their highest level,” says Chase. “His ability to develop relationships with guys is to the point where the team wants to run through a wall with that guy.
“He really, really cares about his players and his coaches. He allows coaches to develop. He gave me a lot of responsibility when I stepped on-campus as a young kid. He was a great mentor for me.
“Most guys are coaching college baseball out of the passion that they have either for the game or the people that they’re around and — a lot of time — it’s both. There are a lot of things you have to sacrifice to be a college baseball coach.”
As a volunteer assistant at Navy, Chase first learned about what it means to coach baseball at a military school by Midshipmen head coach a baseball lifer Paul Kostacopoulos, who was assistant and head coach at Providence (R.I.) College and head coach at the University of Maine before landing at Navy in Annapolis, Md.
“He’s been very successful for a very long time,” says Chase for Kostacopoulos. “He took over at Navy and really turned a program around that had been relatively mediocre in the past, but had a great history. He brought it to being consistently competitive and at the top of the Patriot League every single year and winning 30-plus games.
“That’s a hard job. There’s a lot of things at a military academy you need to uphold. It’s not just winning on the field. It goes beyond that. It goes to understanding what the cadet life is being able to foster both commitments to baseball, academics and their military requirements. He does a great job to do all those things.”
Chase says that players at military academies may not have the time to devote to baseball that other schools do. But they bring a resilient, hard-nosed mentality to the field because they compete in everything they do.
UC-Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts gave Chase his first college baseball job as the Gauchos video coordinator.
“I learned what a College World Series program looks like in the inside from the time commitment to the culture to the player development,” says Chase. “As a kid just coming out of college you don’t see what the coaches do off the field.”
Chase still maintains relationships with former Notre Dame bosses Schrage and Aoki.
Chase played three seasons for the Irish. He appeared in six games (all at second base) as a freshman in 2009 and missed the 2010 season following knee surgery with Schrage as head coach.
“Coach Schrage gave me a chance to live my dream of going to Notre Dame and playing baseball there,” says Chase. “He was a very personable guy and really cared about the well-being of his players.
“He was always a positive person. He was not a cutthroat-type coach. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Aoki took over for 2011 and Chase got into 11 games (one as a starter).
“He’s a New England guy through and through,” says Chase of Aoki. “He allowed me to work my way to a chance to compete on the field and contribute to the team.”
At the end of 2011 season, his teammates thought enough of him to choose him as one of the captains for 2012 as he played in 17 games (four starts).
“It was a great honor,” says Chase of being chosen as a captain. “I enjoyed having a voice to lead the other guys and help them. When you’re a coach, you’re implementing your culture and you’re talking about the things that are important. A lot of times, the thing that’s most important is the leaders on the team saying the same message.
“A lot of times it’s not what the coaches say, it’s what the leaders among the players say to each other. The players have so much influence over the where the team’s headed and the culture of the team.”
Leaders can handle issues like players coming late to the weight room before it ever becomes big and has to be addressed by the coaching staff.
Chase grew up in Cohasset a few years ahead of Mike Monaco, who went on to Notre Dame and served as a broadcaster for the South Bend Cubs and now counts and has called games for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and the big-league Boston Red Sox.
Tommy and Teresa Chase have three sons — David (2 1/2), Peter (1) and Patrick (5 weeks). They are in the process of buying a home in Granger, Ind. Many friends from Tommy’s Notre Dame days still live in the South Bend area.