BY STEVE KRAH
Kyle Baker has been on the job as a baseball assistant coach at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., for less than two months.
He took the full-time job after 1 1/2 years as a volunteer at University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he was also a player.
Baker has been involved in recruiting and is getting ready for practice to resume at NCAA Division III Manchester on Jan. 30. The Spartans open the 2023 season Feb. 25-28 with games in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Manchester is to play DePauw in a March 4 doubleheader at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.
The home opener at Gratz Field is slated for March 8 against Olivet College.
Baker will be working with catchers and hitters and has talked with veteran Manchester head coach Rick Espeset (2023 will be his 27th season in charge of the Spartans) about how they will take on first base coaching duties.
While Baker sets up routines for infielders and outfielders, Espeset is crafting regimens for pitchers.
“I want to gain his insight on what practice plans should look like for Manchester,” says Baker. “(Coach Espeset) been doing it for a long time. He’s really good at what he does. I’m fortunate to learn from him.”
The rest of Espy’s staff includes Josh Brock and volunteers Keith Shepherd and Peter Shepherd.
Baker, who grew up in Monroe, Ind., traces his drive to coach to his senior year (2014) at Adams Central High School in Monroe, where he played baseball for Jets head coach Dave Neuenschwander.
“I learned a lot from Newy,” says Baker. “I enjoyed playing for him. I liked it so much I went back and coached with him.”
AC’s Lance Busse, Josh Foster (who is now head coach), Jalen Hammond, Joel Reinhard and Thad Harter also have a place in Baker’s heart.
Most of Baker’s time as a player was spent at catcher and he sees the connection between catching and coaching.
“You see a lot of big league catchers go into managing and they are typically successful because they know every facet of the game,” says Baker. “There’s always so much going on.”
Baker is demanding with his receivers.
“I expect a lot out of my catchers,” says Baker. “I tell them mid-play if a pitcher is not backing up (a base) where he’s supposed to be. You’ve got to remind them while watching the runners and trying to decide where the ball needs to be redirected. I expect them to compete at a high level all the time and be able to block the ball whenever they need to.
“The key to a successful baseball team is having a really talented and baseball-savvy catcher.”
Baker places receiving, blocking and calling pitches as high priorities for catchers and plans practices accordingly.
He throws in game situations like fielding pop-ups and backing up bases.
“Knowing where everyone is supposed to be on any given play is pretty high up on my list,” says Baker. “You really set your team up for success when you’re able to know what’s going to happen before it happens.”
Knowledge of each pitchers’ repertoire is key.
“What’s their best pitch and what are they’re not so comfortable with?,” says Baker. “How can you talk to them? Is this a pitcher that you can scold a little bit or is this a pitcher that you need to talk to more calmly?
“Just what type of pitcher are they and how are you going handle specific situations? There are 100 different situations.”
Baker also wants his catchers to develop relationships with umpires.
Before every game, they introduce themselves to the official and get their first name. They find out what they can do to make the umpire’s job easier that day.
“Ultimately, we want to have umpires that want to come back to our field and the person that they talked to the most has to probably be the nicest, too,” says Baker.
A topic in the catching world in receiving the ball with one on the ground. Baker is both new school and old school on this.
“When (runners) are on-base or there’s two strikes on the batter we need to be on two feet (because it allows more lateral movement than one knee down, which is a knee saver),” says Baker. “Why not use the best of both worlds?”
Baker says coaching college hitters often comes down to making one minor adjustment as opposed to a total overhaul of their swing.
“They’ve probably been successful at some point in their career,” says Baker. “What I teach may work for you, but it may not work for your teammate. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.
“Coaching hitting is a really tough thing to do because it is so individualized. You get into it and see how they hit and react to certain things.
“If you’ve got a team of 50 players there’s probably going to be 50 different swings that you have to learn and adapt to as a coach.”
As a coach at NAIA’s Saint Francis, Baker gained an appreciation for giving college players a good experience from Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher and assistants Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday and for Butcher’s running game.
“That’s something I’ll probably keep forever because (Saint Francis) is very successful at it,” says Baker. “It’s aggressive and knowing when to run.
“We talked a lot about the ‘free base war.’ When the defense is not paying attention but the ball is still in-play why not try for that extra base?”
Baker attended the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville.
This gave him a chance to network and bounce ideas off of other coaches.
“Nobody ever knows all the answers in baseball,” says Baker. “It’s just an endless pool of possibilities and outcomes. Someone in California many have seen something that I have not seen here in Indiana yet.
“There’s always stuff to learn at these clinics. Some of it you may use, some of it you may not use. It all just depends on how it fits your program.”
Baker is coaching athletes, but it goes further than that.
“I want to develop them as baseball players but also as student-athletes and people who are going to grow and maybe one day have their own families if they so choose,” says Baker. “Whatever they want to do in life. I want to put them on a path for their own success as much as I can.
“You’ve got to be a really good time manager when it comes to college. You typically find out right away if you’re going to be good at it or it’s something you need to improve upon.”
Baker has been dating Goshen (Ind.) High School and Goshen (Ind.) College graduate Lourdes Resendiz for more than two years.
Kyle’s parents are Richard and Yolanda Baker and he is the middle of three brother, between Randall Baker and Matthew Baker.