By STEVE KRAH
A.J. Gaura wants his to focus on what his University of Evansville baseball pitchers do best and let the rest take care of itself.
“It’s not about the hitter or the umpire,” says Gaura, heads into his third season in 2020-21. “It’s competing against ourselves.
“We’ve got to be competitive with two to three pitches and try not to over-think it.”
The Aces are beginning their fourth week of team practice after four weeks focused on individuals that missed much of their spring season (Evansville played just 16 games when play was halted in March) and summer to COVID-19.
“We’re getting them into a competitive environment as much as possible,” says Gaura. “Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’re treating like a weekend series.”
That means starters are going four or five innings and relievers two our three. The goal is to have each arm get 18 to 20 innings by the end of fall ball.
After team practice, the plan is to go back to a week or two of individual training before Thanksgiving break.
As a COVID-19 measure, students will turn to online classes and testing and not come back to practice until the beginning of 2021. Baseball players will re-assemble in the middle of January — about a month before the start of the season.
“It’s going to be a big challenge this year,” says Gaura. “We’ll rely on guys to get in work on their own.”
Gaura (pronounced Gore-uh) is also UE’s recruiting coordinator. Because of the virus, there have not been many opportunities to see players perform in-person or have face-to-face meetings.
“It’s definitely a strange time,” says Gaura. “We work the phones to build relationships.”
That’s when coaches can get a sense of a potential recruit’s character.
Evansville’s campus is currently open to visitors who must go through a sign-in process. Academic tours are available.
Gaura is on an Aces coaching staff headed by Wes Carroll.
“Wes is an awesome guy to work for,” says Gaura, 28. “He brings energy every single day.
“He gives his assistants a lot of autonomy. He focuses on the culture of the program and allows us to coach the skill aspects of baseball. It’s a great work environment.”
From 2016-18, Gaura was at Mississippi State University, where he served as graduate assistant video coordinator, coordinator of player development and volunteer assistant/camp coordinator and headed up on-campus recruiting was responsible for the organization of all on-campus recruiting, the scholarship and recruiting database and video needs for both player development and advanced scouting.
During Gaura’s stay in Starkville, Gary Henderson was an MSU assistant then head coach. Henderson began his college coaching career in the late 1980’s.
Gaura gleaned much from the veteran coach about the intricacies of running a pitching staff and program on a day-to-day basis.
“He took me under his wing and taught me the dynamics of working with the coaches and players,” says Gaura. “With his experience, there’s so much that can be learned from him.”
As a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher, Gaura spent two seasons at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs and two at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn.
Playing for head coach Marc Rardin, Gaura was 17-1 and helped IWCC to an National Junior College Athletic Association Division I national championship in 2012.
“It was so much more than baseball for Coach Rardin,” says Gaura. “He was teaching us life lessons.
“I hope I can have half the impact on our guys as he had on me and my teammates.”
Gaura reflects on the JUCO experience.
“It’s not for everybody,” says Gaura. “Guys understand that it’s just a stepping stone piece.
“You’re working to win while you’re there. But you’re also working because you want to find your next home.”
At Austin Peay, he went 4-2 as a starter then a reliever in 2013 and 2014. His head coach as a APSU player was Gary McClure. He then became a volunteer coach for Travis Janssen.
The program was coming off two regional finals appearances when Austin Peay went to the Governors.
“I wanted to carry on winning ways (experienced at Iowa Western),” says Gaura. “After being around the guys, I knew that was the place for me.”
Gaura cites Janssen for his organization skills.
“He did a really good job of laying out what are jobs were as assistant coaches,” says Gaura. “There was no gray area at all.”
Laura prides himself of being organized with his Evansville pitchers.
“Having my guys know what to expect every day they show up to the field breeds confidence,” says Gaura. “They know exactly what’s expected of them.
“They’re not showing up to the ballpark wondering. That way they can be mentally prepared when they get to the yard.”
Gaura is a 2010 graduate of Bay Port High School in Suamico, Wis. — just north of Green Bay. Playing for head coach Mike Simoens, he helped the Pirates to a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state champions state title in 2009 and was a Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association all-star in 2010.
Given the frosty temperatures in northeast Wisconsin, Gaura learned how to get better on the diamond from April to August and what it means to train indoors. His first travel ball came in the summer before his senior year at Bay Port. Before that, he played American Legion Baseball.
“It was a very pure baseball experience,” says Gaura, who has five players from Wisconsin and two from Canada on the Evansville roster. “What I know we’re getting there is blue collar kids from good families.
“Their best days are ahead of them. They find ways to eliminate the excuse of not being able to go outside for long toss. It’s about being creative. If you are really committed to getting better, there’s a million ways you can get your work in.”
While he does not have any camps scheduled and can see more and more virtual meetings in the future, Gaura was able to attend the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics event Oct, 17 at Bosse Field in Evansville. Former Purples Aces head coach Jim Brownlee came out to share with the audience.
Gaura is engaged to Rachel Parrish and a wedding is planned for Dec. 5 in Orange Beach, Ala. The couple met when Gaura was coaching at Mississippi State.