Alright baseball fans, do you know who Ron Roenicke is? How about Sonny Jackson? Except for a few baseball purists out there, these names have no bearing. But Roenicke and Jackson faced off last year on baseball’s biggest stage as the third base coaches for the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants, respectively. So why are these two well-qualified coaches relatively unknown? Because in professional baseball, the manager garners all the recognition.
Often times in the big leagues, a third base coach’s role entails relaying the manager’s message from the dugout to the diamond. Many college baseball programs, including Michigan, eliminate the middleman.
Michigan coach Rich Maloney not only rules the maize-and-blue dugout, but also hits the field every inning as Michigan’s third base coach.
“For me, I can see the game better when I’m actually out there to make the decisions that I have to make,” Maloney said.
Although Maloney claims his assistants are “certainly capable” of manning third base duties, he gladly embraces the responsibility.
“There are a lot of situations that coaching third base can make a difference in the game – winning or losing,” Maloney said. “I think that’s pretty significant, and that’s one area where I feel comfortable and enjoy being out there in the game.”
Maloney likes his players to possess an aggressive mentality on the base paths, but with the team’s current offensive onslaught and recent weather patterns, the skipper has utilized a more conservative approach.
“Right now, we’re a power-hitting team – we have homers and a lot of doubles,” said Maloney. “If the wind’s blowing out, you want to let those guys hit. You don’t want to make outs on the bases.”
In the next few years, Maloney hopes to mold Michigan into an extremely active squad on the base paths and be able to flex his muscles as third base coach.
“(This year’s style) is a little bit different than I’d like to run, so we’re recruiting guys here in the future that have a lot of speed,” Maloney said. “I’d like to play more of a speed game, especially in our park where the wind typically doesn’t blow out.”
Backing up the best: Through 24 games, Michigan catcher Jake Fox is tearing the cover off the ball, hitting .360 with eight homeruns and 27 RBIs. But catching five games a week can take its toll on a hitter’s body.
“(Fox) is a special talent, I just have to be careful not to get him too tired,” Maloney said. “You can just see in his face sometimes that he does look a little tired.”
This is where Jeff Kunkel comes into play. The redshirt-freshman catcher has flourished in spot starts and pinch-hitting opportunities. Always known for his defense, Kunkel has stepped up his offense production – hitting .316 with a double, triple, and four RBIs – to give Maloney a legitimate backup for one of the Big Ten’s premier catchers.
“Jeff’s a solid defensive catcher, and really when we’ve put him in there, he’s hitting pretty good – he’s shown sparks,” Maloney said. “It makes you feel a lot better when you’ve got two solid catchers like we’ve got.”
In the extra inning of Michigan’s loss to Minnesota last Sunday, Kunkel entered the game as a pinch hitter. Although Kunkel struck out swinging, the opportunity to bat with the game on the line showed the team’s confidence in him.
“Jeff Kunkel’s been swinging the bat really well, and I thought, especially with a right-handed pitcher up there, he (gave us) a very good opportunity to get a base hit and get a winning run,” Fox said.
More cancellations: The Wolverines’ game today against Detroit was postponed due to the snowy field conditions. A make-up date has not been scheduled.
To make up recent lost games, Michigan has scheduled a home game for tomorrow at 3 p.m. against Concordia University, an NAIA school in Ann Arbor.