Ahead Of The Curve with Jonathan Gelnar

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November 14, 2019  

Darren Fenster- MiLB Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator, Boston Red Sox

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During this episode of Ahead of the Curve, I interviewed Darren Fenster, Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Darren discusses how his coach at Rutgers University got him interested in being a baseball coach. He also shares the elements that make base-running and being an outfielder very important, and what it takes to get better as a baseball player and a coach.  

Episode Highlights: 

  • Darren Fenster introduces his background, including never envisioning himself as being a coach.
  • Darren Fenster went to the minor leagues for the Kansas City Royals. 
  • How did he go from being a stellar infielder to the outfield coordinator? 
  • What are some different things that can make base-running better. 
  • Which drill help players do better with base-running? 
  • How does he structure his time to handle base-running with so many players?   
  • Darren talks about his journey of learning out the outfield. 
  • Coaches haven’t taught until their players learn.
  • You can get better by watching baseball.   
  • How does he go about communication with players from different locations and languages? 
  • What is something that Darren has been working on and looking to get better at? 
  • What is something that his players love to do in practice? 
  • What is something that Darren Fenster believes that other coaches may disagree on? 
  • What would we notice during Darren’s practices that he typically does? 

 

3 Key Points:

  1. Darren Fenster played baseball in New Jersey at Rutgers University, met Coach Fred Hill who got him into coaching, and left Rutgers as the all-time career hits leader. 
  2. Assume that your players know nothing and everything will surprise you. 
  3. Darren breaks down the game of baseball into singular steps to isolate movements and playing moments for his players to rehearse and practice repeatedly to develop skills. 

 

Tweetable Quotes:

  • “Right now, I am the outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Red Sox on the minor league level.” – Darren Fenster (00:42)
  • “I’m responsible for what we are doing with regards to developing our outfielders and what we are going to do in our approach to base-running. This my 8th year with the Red Sox.” – Darren Fenster (00:51)
  • “For them to see my potential in a role that I really was not an expert in by any means. For them to say, ‘I think you can become one,’ that is as big of a value in leadership as anything else.” – Darren Fenster (12:27)
  • “Base-running, I think, people just look at in the general term of running harder around the bases, and it is so much more than that. The entire skill begins with effort.” – Darren Fenster (13:40)
  • “If we can start every day of spring training with a 10-15-minute block, where the entire camp is doing base-running...a player’s attention span is always going to be at their height at the beginning of your day.” – Darren Fenster (23:43)
  • “I am a huge believer in having groups small enough where guys can get as many reps as they possibly can within the time period that they can.” – Darren Fenster (34:17)
  • “You are actually going to field far more balls on the ground than you ever will on the air because just about every single base hit turns into a ground ball for an outfielder.” – Darren Fenster (29:59)
  • “A lot of people are putting the game in a vacuum, and they are making the ‘always’ and ‘nevers’ to the game. For me, you have to take bits and pieces of everything.” – Darren Fenster (35:24)

Resources Mentioned: 

November 13, 2019  
November 7, 2019  

Doug Wren- Head Baseball Coach, Tyler JC (TX)

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During this episode of Ahead of the Curve, I interviewed Doug Wren, Head Baseball Coach at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas. Coach Wren talks about what it was like as a young 25-year old coach, how he prepares his assistant coaches to give their best and learn enough to be head coaches one day, and how he works with players who might be struggling. Learn from this coach who has had multiple All-American players under his coaching tutelage over the years. 

Episode Highlights: 

  • How did Doug Wren get involved in baseball?   
  • What was Doug’s vision when he started as a coach? 
  • What does Doug Wren’s fall training season look like?  
  • What is he charting for offensively? 
  • What type of environment does Coach Wren set up to integrate new players into the team culture? 
  • Are there any specific things that Doug Wren requires his players to do?  
  • How does he develop his assistant coaches? 
  • What does a typical spring training plan look like? 
  • How does he go about communicating to players about what they need to work on?
  • What advice does Doug have for first-year head coaches?  
  • What is the latest thing that he has learned that he is excited about? 
  • What is something that he does in practice that his players love? 

3 Key Points:

  1. Learn from the coaches that you serve under and write those ideas down.
  2. Give your players 100% of yourself as a coach and expect the same from them. 
  3. You are not doing your job if you aren’t teaching your assistants to one day take your job. 

 

Tweetable Quotes:

  • “I got a light verse that I coach by and its First Corinthians 11-1 and it’s, ‘Follow me as I follow the example of Christ.’ So for me, that has kind of really pointed me in the direction that I wanted to take my coaching career in.” – Doug Wren (03:00)
  • “I restructured practice a little bit to kind of suit what I was trying to do from an offensive and defensive perspective. From the gear that we wore, kind of putting our spin on that.” – Doug Wren (05:30)
  • “We try to play our outside opponents on accommodation on Wednesdays and Fridays, and so Monday becomes a teaching day. So show up Monday morning. Hopefully, the guys are excited.” – Doug Wren (10:29)
  • “Our guys never miss class for baseball. They are never chasing down professors. They are not behind in their work. They are always in class, and if they miss, it is most likely on them.” – Doug Wren (11:44)
  • “There is nothing worse than having an exit meeting at the end of the fall and you felt like this kid could have done a little bit better and maybe he fell behind. But in his mind, he only remembers the good things.” – Doug Wren (13:30)
  • “Excellence in small things is excellence in all things. How you do anything is how you do everything.” – Doug Wren (18:50)
  • “I‘ve had multiple All-Americans that didn’t start the year out as starters.” – Doug Wren (39:31)
  • “Be where your feet are. Be the best assistant you can be where you are at. Be a sponge. Take notes.” – Doug Wren (42:46)

 

Resources Mentioned: 

November 3, 2019  
October 31, 2019  

Joe DeMarco- Hitting Coach, ELITE Baseball (CA)

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During this episode of Ahead of the Curve, I interviewed Joe DeMarco, President and Chief Operations Officer at ELITE Baseball, who oversees all the Elite Baseball teams and private instruction. Joe DeMarco’s extensive experience includes: coaching baseball at the University of Kansas and spending two seasons in the San Diego Padres organization as a member of the Peoria Padres and the Idaho Falls Braves. Joe DeMarco discusses how he trains batters for timing, focusing on finding the ‘when,’ and good sequencing and how do you measure it.  

 

Episode Highlights: 

  • How did Joe DeMarco get involved in baseball?   
  • What does Day 1 look like?
  • What is Joe doing to train for timing.   
  • What did his process look like when he began his position? 
  • What is the definition of good sequencing and how do you measure it?
  • What does Joe mean by ‘focusing on finding the ‘when’?  
  • From a timing aspect, what advice does Joe DeMarco have? 
  • What drills did Joe DeMarco share with Rick Eckstein?  
  • What do they assign for their hitter’s homework. 
  • What are you doing in the dark when no one is watching? 

 

3 Key Points:

  1. Joe trains for timing in areas that include the ball flight timing at the point of contact and working on the player’s sequential timing. 
  2. Praise the right process even if the result is not what the player wanted. 
  3. Joe DeMarco encourages players to keep a journal of the drills and hitting areas that they work on. 

 

Tweetable Quotes:

  • “Day 1, for me you know, I like to develop a relationship and connect with the player. Any time a new player comes in for an assessment, I try to make sure I’m there.” – Joe DeMarco (05:27)
  • “A lot of the stuff with sequencing and just ball flight, we kind of get them to understand, at least our focus is, how their body is operating, and each guy’s rhythm and pace.” – Joe DeMarco (11:17)
  • “Ultimately, I believe the only decision you make is to stop your swing.” – Joe DeMarco (11:50)
  • “If I was going to break down into kind of body part sequencing, when that lead foot hits, then that heel plant. Then there is stabilization of the head, which I think is really important.” – Joe DeMarco (18:35)
  • “The plan has to match the decision.” – Joe DeMarco (49:40)
  • “Trying to train things with rhythm and timing, adding decision in there through your control drills with any kind of toss or seated overhand I think you’re onto something. You have given them a really good chance.” – Joe DeMarco (50:09)
  • “We have the striped balls too. We do a lot of fast ball change out of the hand.” – Joe DeMarco (53:09)
  • “You always want to maintain a good posture with your head and your chest, and really on your backside. You are never going to shift past your backside.” – Joe DeMarco (1:06:16) 

Resources Mentioned: 

October 27, 2019  
October 24, 2019  

Matt Midkiff- Head Baseball Coach, Swarthmore College (PA)

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During this episode of Ahead of the Curve, I interviewed Matt Midkiff, Head Baseball Coach at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Coach Midkiff, shares how he entered into his head coaching with a list of the things that he would accomplish in the first 100 days, how he juggles drills with the 16 falls days he has with players, the rules and standards that his team has to live up to, and how he goes about building strong bonds with his players. 

 

Episode Highlights: 

  • Matt Midkiff shares his baseball background and how he got involved in coaching.   
  • What did the vision look like when he got started coaching at Swarthmore?  
  • What were some of the things that were on his ‘First 100 Day List?’ 
  • How does he find players that meet high academic standards?  
  • What does the fall training look like and what time restraints does he have?   
  • Which things do they cram into their fall practices? 
  • When do they take their 16 days?  
  • Coach Midkiff describes the high-level of work ethic his players have.
  • How does he establish the team culture? 
  • Is there anything that he specifically does to make sure that he builds an individual connection with each player?
  • What are some different competitions that they do? 
  • What are some of the different rules and standards that are in place for his team?
  • How is he helping his assistant coaches grow?
  • What are some things that they do offensively during training? 
  • Coach Midkiff discusses spring training drill sets that they do that may be different? 
  • What advice does Matt have for first-year head coaches?  
  • What is the latest thing that Coach Midkiff has learned that he is excited about?  
  • What is something that Matt does in practice that his players love? 
  • What is something that he believes that other coaches may disagree with? 
  • What are three things that would stand out during Coach Midkiff’s baseball practices?  
  • Does Matt feel that his players feed off of his energy? 
  • What are some of Matt’s favorite books and resources that he has learned the most from? 
  • What is the last piece of advice that Matt Midkiff does have to offer? 

 

3 Key Points:

  1. In the fall, they split their days into teaching, practice, a competitive game piece, and a strength and conditioning component. 
  2. Coach Midkiff is cultivating his players to be responsible on and off the field. 
  3. You are going to fail. But it is the only failure if you fail to learn from it. 

Tweetable Quotes:

  • “In Division 3 we have 16 days of practice that we can have in the fall.” – Matt Midkiff (08:02)
  • “The more we can just play baseball, the more we can just have live pieces in our practice and read balls off the bat and see live pitching and things of that nature, the better we are going to be.” – Matt Midkiff (11:20)
  • “You are talking about high-achieving students that are oftentimes in the top 10%, 5%, 1%. We’ve got a valedictorian on our team. We’ve got some perfect AST, SAT scores on our team.” – Matt Midkiff (14:37)
  • “Myself and our assistant coaches, we really develop a strong bond with our players and their families too.” – Matt Midkiff (17:06)
  • “I try to be as real as I can. If I make a mistake I own it. The guys will make fun of me and we’ll joke back and forth and we just have that relationship where, I take my job seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously.” – Matt Midkiff (18:28)
  • “We like to have a live segment in every practice that we do.” – Matt Midkiff (23:58)
  • “Don’t get your self-worth from your team’s performance.” – Matt Midkiff (42:02)
  • “Take a skill that is a little bit above the level of the player and make them attempt it until they get it.” – Matt Midkiff (45:10)

Resources Mentioned: 

October 22, 2019  

Tyler Jeske- MiLB Hitting Coach, Los Angeles Angels

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Today, we’re joined by Tyler Jeske. Minor League Hitting coach for the Los Angeles Angels. Tyler has had an array of background experiences in the game including coaching in the DR, being a video coordinator in the SEC and at Missouri State. On the show, we talk about his background which includes several applicable ideas on how he got into professional baseball. We talk about the things he has learned in the past year and why systems and reflections are so vital in coach. Tyler also has an amazing event coming up for any hitting coaches listening. Slugfest will be start on November 22 and run through the 24th. 
October 20, 2019  
October 17, 2019  

Larry Day- MiLB Manager, Cleveland Indians

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During this episode of Ahead of the Curve, I interviewed Larry Day, Manager of the Arizona League Indians Red for the Cleveland Indians. Larry shares a wealth of information regarding how he goes about balancing the development of players with winning, how he establishes the team culture with players that are from all over and may not speak English as their first language. Larry Day also provides advice from mentors like Coach Tim Corbin from Vanderbilt University that has been very beneficial to him. 

Episode Highlights: 

  • How did Larry Day get involved in baseball and as a coach?   
  • What set’s Coach Tim Corbin apart as a coach? 
  • What is the reason for the fist bump touches among the players?  
  • What did his process look like when he began his position? 
  • Larry discusses the importance of communication. 
  • What does the process look like for balancing the development of players with winning? 
  • What does a typical day of training look like? 
  • How do they go about culture-building and transitioning players from all over to be ready to be a professional baseball player?  
  • What are some different things that Larry helps grow the coaches he is around every day? 
  • What are some things Larry does to build relationships with his players from different backgrounds?  
  • What are some of the latest things that Larry has learned that he is excited about? 
  • How do we relay complicated details with data for players that don’t naturally speak English?
  • What is something that he does in practice that his players love? 
  • Is there anything that Larry Day believes that other coaches might disagree with?  
  • What are some of his favorite books and resources? 

 

3 Key Points:

  1. Embracing the diversity of different races, cultures, and ages of players helps to establish culture-building.  
  2. Dan Coyle, the author of the book “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” works with Larry Day’s players. 
  3. Players don’t care what you know until they know that you care. 

 

Tweetable Quotes:

  • (Coach Tim Corbin) “He certainly is elite as it comes to coaching and teaching and that is what he truly is. He is a teacher.” – Larry Day (03:45)
  • “Everything that is executed within that program (Vanderbilt) is 100% intentional. Planned, thought out. prepared.” – Larry Day (06:51)
  • “It comes down to having the ability to pre-plan and pre-communicate.” – Larry Day (10:04)
  • “You have anywhere between 4 to 6 fields with games on potentially 4 to 6 fields. You have morning workouts, and you know how baseball workouts go.There is the defense component, there is the throwing component.” – Larry Day (11:12)
  • “You put that time in 8 days out of a 7-day week to be able to run a clean, productive workout.” – Larry Day (20:29)
  • “The last thing that we want our players to do is be confused, or our coaches to be confused on what the objective is, what we are trying to accomplish, what the objective is for the day or the drill.” – Larry Day (20:42)
  • “We have a learning and development component of our organization that solely targets the continued development of staff.” – Larry Day (25:39)
  • “The smile is international. The ability to non-verbally connect and to have a sense of where your players are at from an emotional, mental, standpoint. You can see the physical.” – Larry Day (30:04)

Resources Mentioned: