New Baseball Coaching Staff Brings Wealth Of Experience

Posted on March 14th, 2016 by

The new Gustavus baseball coaching staff includes, from left, Phillip Klaphake, Jeff Baker, Brad Baker, Dean Bowyer, and Matt Lewis. Not pictured: Bob Bresnahan. (photo courtesy of AJ Dahm, SPX Sports)

Co-written by Gustavus Sports Information student worker Emily Ferguson

ST. PETER, Minn. – The Gustavus baseball team enters the 2016 season with a revamped panel of coaches hoping to breathe new life into a program that’s seen struggles in recent years. The College hired former player, coach, and Gustavus Athletics Hall of Fame member Brad Baker – a St. Peter native – last June, and the excitement for what’s in store for the program has picked up steam as the Gusties prepare for the new season with a clean slate.

Head Coach Brad Baker

Head Coach Brad Baker

A focal point of excitement regarding the team’s future is the coaching staff Baker has assembled, which includes a wealth of baseball experience and credibility. Volunteer assistant coach Dean Bowyer boasts the most experience as he ranks seventh all-time in Division II victories, compiling an overall record of 1064-538-7 in 36 years – 32 at Minnesota State University, Mankato, including 22 league championships and three College World Series appearances. Brad’s brother Jeff Baker, who played collegiate baseball at Division I Oral Roberts University, is also on the staff, along with their childhood friend, Bob Bresnahan, who played professional baseball in the Minnesota Twins organization and grew up with the Baker brothers in St. Peter. Phillip Klaphake is new to the staff after spending the fall as an assistant football coach, and Matt Lewis is the lone holdover from last season’s staff as he enters his fifth season as the pitching coach.

“You ask how I brought these guys together to coach and I’m not sure how I did it,” Baker said. “We’re just blessed, really.”

As a Gustavus alum and decorated baseball player having reached the professional ranks with the Twins, Baker hopes his past experiences will translate to his new team. “I know these guys have it in them to pull out a few surprises this season,” Baker said.

The 2016 Gustavus baseball team.

The 2016 Gustavus baseball team.

Baker is currently the CEO of Craig-Hallum Capital Group, LLC in Minneapolis. After graduating from Gustavus in 1980 he became the head baseball coach, where he guided the 1981 Gusties team to a 16-10 record. He then was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and played for one year at the Class A level. Baker has since been coaching youth baseball in Edina, Minn., but knew that he wanted to return to collegiate coaching. When the position became available at Gustavus he jumped on the opportunity to return to his alma mater.

Jeff Baker

Jeff Baker

Brad’s first assistant coaching recruit was his brother, Jeff. Jeff plans to use the skills he’s accumulated from playing and his experiences as a high school baseball coach to help the Gustavus players build their basic skills, which he believes will translate into success on the field.

“I would like to see the kids have some fun, but to have fun they’ve got to improve,” Jeff said. “We’re working from the ground up so if we can get the little things right, hopefully that will translate into getting some of the bigger things right. We want the kids to improve and have some success.”

The Baker brothers then recruited Bresnahan, who played collegiate baseball at MSU, Mankato under the direction of Bowyer. Having fun, improving, and doing the “little things” right are main focuses for Bresnahan.

Bob Bresnahan

Bob Bresnahan

“The benefit for me is that I stay involved in the game and it’s a lot of fun,” Bresnahan said. “If we can help other kids have fun, I think it’s a great way to give back. These kids have to start expecting to get better and we’re going to make sure that they do. They have to want to get better and they have to want to win.”

After the Baker brothers recruited Bresnahan, the next coaching recruit was Bowyer. Bowyer retired as the MSU, Mankato head coach in 2008 after 32 years in the Mavericks dugout and until now, has only been involved in coaching with his grandson’s team. Bowyer’s relationship with the Bakers and Bresnahan is what motivated him to come out of retirement and join the Gustavus staff.

Dean Bowyer

Dean Bowyer

“I coached against Brad, I knew their dad, I knew the St. Peter history in baseball, and then because of Bob Bresnahan who’s a good friend of theirs, also from St. Peter,” Bowyer said about his return to collegiate baseball. “I knew those guys weren’t in it for an ego thing, they just wanted the ballplayers to have a good experience and to learn to play some baseball. So I was all in just because of who they are. It’s fun to come to practice because both Brad and Jeff have a big smile on their face because it’s not their occupation, it’s their passion, and that’s why I’m excited to work for them … It’s kind of given me new life and being around people that love the game and are coachable, that’s where I get my reward and get my satisfaction is from helping people become a better ballplayer, and a better person.”

Also new to the Gustavus staff is Klaphake, who just completed his first season as an assistant coach for the Gustavus football team. Klaphake has worked with a lot of successful baseball teams and coaches, and intends to teach the team what he has learned throughout his experiences.

Phillip Klaphake

Phillip Klaphake

“I just want to play the game right,” Klaphake said. “I want to be a team that when we play, people know we’re going to compete our tails off, and fundamentally we’re very sound and just let the game come to us.”

Lewis is the only returning assistant coach, and is currently working with the pitchers as he has been for the past four years. In his previous years at Gustavus he has worked with a tight knit team and would like that tradition to continue, but would also like to start fresh this year and build a team with the mindset that they can and will win if they put in the work. In his collegiate days, Lewis became one of the best pitchers in the history of St. Scholastica and plans to pass down everything he has learned to the Gustavus pitching rotation.

Matt Lewis

Matt Lewis

“I understand that every pitcher is unique and not everyone is going to throw the exact same way,” said Lewis. “But it helps a lot when I see kids who are struggling with the same things that I experienced. We want to start a new winning tradition and instill that mindset into the players; change the attitude that we’ve had in the past going forward and be a better team to get back to a winning program.”

Baker, with his variety of assistant coaches, plans to build up the baseball program. “We care about the kids and we’re going to try to help them with their confidence and with their ability,” he said. “We have no real ulterior motives. What we’re doing is just because we love to do it.”

With an almost completely new coaching staff, the Gusties are excited to return the familiar faces of the senior captains – shortstop Danny Carlson (Sr., Plymouth, Minn.), outfielder Joe Melles (Sr., Hopkins, Minn.), catcher Sam Warner (Sr., Chanhassen, Minn.), and infielder Danny Kimlinger (Sr., Lindstrom, Minn.), along with the other returning Gusties.

Coach Baker is excited about the team’s ambition to turn the program around and have some fun doing it. Carlson speaks for his team when he says, “The coaches bring a lot of passion and a lot of knowledge to the game. It’s definitely starting to rub off on us.” Kimlinger agrees, adding, “They really get the guys going and get us to really want to play baseball.”

The Gusties hit the field 1 p.m. Saturday at Mount Marty for their first game of the season.

“You might have seen we were picked last [in the MIAC preseason poll], 11 out of 11 teams,” Baker said. “We talked about it the other day and said respect is earned. We have work to do so in the back of your minds as you’re laboring away in February in the field house, just be thinking about ‘we’re not going to be last.’ The kids are great and they work really hard, and if we do our jobs I think we’ll have a pretty good year this year, at least I’m pretty optimistic. I don’t care about anyone else, I just care about our guys being confident and getting them to try and do the best job that they can do.”

 


3 Comments

  1. John huepenbecker says:

    Excellent article. Very well written, and seemingly well researched. I was an ex-roommate of Brads, and played football with him, so I know him a little bit. And one thing I do know is that Brad is a winner, and a class guy that will do a wonderful job. I don’t think these young athletes realize how lucky they are to have Brad and this fine staff coaching them. And they won’t be last….

  2. Chris Nordin says:

    My son just committed to Coach Brad, the coaching staff and Gustavus to play next year based on that same feeling he exuded when meeting with him. From a dad’s point of view I immediately picked up on the male leader/mentor feeling that was obvious. I was happy to read John’s comments on how lucky my son is…….thanks John.

  3. Gregg Aamot says:

    This was a good read about Gustie baseball and the new coaching staff. Good luck this spring!