At the Michigan baseball team’s banquet Friday, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich spent 45 minutes introducing his entire staff. Everyone, from the groundskeepers to the nutritionist to the parents to the student managers, was personally thanked.
Bakich is in his fourth season at the helm of the program, aided by assistant coaches Sean Kenny and Nick Schnabel and volunteer assistant coach Aaron Etchison.
“(The coaches) made it a precedent to make a structural foundation for a new program at Michigan,” said senior left-hander Evan Hill. “One that doesn’t only look at the aspects of baseball, but it looks at the aspects of life and for us as men. One thing that I appreciate in my time here is that I’ve become a better man. I’ve developed a lot. And, more specifically, I’m excited about the relationships I’ve built and know that they’ll be lasting ones.”
Sophomore infielder Jake Bivens, who received several preseason accolades after his impressive freshman year, also felt the coaching staff was helpful — especially by relieving pressure that preseason expectations brought on.
“We have a really talented team,” Bivens said. “So that takes the pressure off of (individual players) and allows us to not play out of our comfort zone and our abilities. The team and coaching staff prepared us well for any accolades. We know any individual accolade is a team accolade.”
In 2014, Bakich’s first year, the team had a total of 29 wins and a 14-10 record in the Big Ten — good enough to tie for fifth place. The second year of Bakich’s reign saw the team win 30 games, finishing in a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten. In the 2015 season, the Wolverines continued their upward trend and then some, finishing with 39 wins and placed second in the NCAA Louisville Regional after winning the Big Ten Tournament.
Bakich is also the youngest head baseball coach in the conference.
“We live in a gratitude zone,” Bakich said. “(The players) say simple ‘thank yous’ all the time, just like they should. (The staffers) sometimes have a job that could be thankless, but our team — this team — is very appreciative.”
Adding on to the lengthy speech, Bakich then spent another 10 minutes on his coaching staff.
He, along with Etchison and pitching coach Kenny, came to Michigan from the University of Maryland. Etchison was a former catcher and Kenny served as the pitching coach.
“(Etchison) is an outstanding player, and now has become an outstanding leader,” Bakich said. “He’s destined for greatness.”
Kenny, an Ann Arbor native, followed Bakich’s trend of improving the team significantly each year. In 2014, the pitching staff finished third in the league, but in 2015, Kenny led the team to second in the Big Ten with 513 strikeouts.
“He’s the best at coaching (pitchers) in the country,” Bakich said. “That’s not just my biased opinion. There’s a lot of people who think he’s in an elite group of pitching. Other programs around the country have tried to steal this guy, but Michigan — so he’s said — is the big leagues. We’re so lucky to have his talents and to have the type of person he is on our staff.”
The final coach, Schnabel, might not have traveled to Ann Arbor from College Park, but he was a teammate of Bakich at East Carolina in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Schnabel, like the others, contributes to the team’s success. In his first year as recruiting coordinator, he was credited with the 20th-best recruiting class in the nation.
But it was 32 Michigan players who won the 2015 Big Ten Tournament.
It was the athletes who walked out of the bullpen and onto the diamond. It was then-sophomore left-hander Brett Adcock who struck out four batters and allowed two hits and a run in five innings. It was his classmate, infielder Johnny Slater, who had two hits, out of the team’s four total, against Maryland. And it was then-junior Jacob Cronenworth who closed out his fourth straight game, pushing the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
But nobody, especially the players, forgot the coaching staff that got them there.
When the players walk onto the field Friday for their season opener, all eyes will be on them. But the athlete’s eyes, when they’re not staring down a 90-mph fastball, will be on their coaches.