A Trip to Baseball Heaven

Writing this on the plane ride home from Dallas and another ABCA Convention. 2018 marks the 15th year of membership and all but one of those I’ve attended the national convention (I sat out in 2013 for the birth of my son Kobe). His special day was actually Sunday, so best be sure my rear end was on the flight home Saturday night.

The American Baseball Coaches Association is made up of over 11,000 members. 6500 of which, attended the convention last weekend in Dallas. 6500 coaches, wearing hats indoors, swishing by in warm up suits, and making sure that there is at least one seat in between each of their neighbors. Classic stuff! The weekend is amazing, and annually stacks up as one of the highlights of my year. Clinic speeches, exhibit floors with ALL the industry companies, and for me… meetings with youth organization leaders, tech players, and MLB executives.

After 15 years, the annual weekend is full of one-degree-of-separation moments. While I didn’t speak at this year’s clinics, I did serve at the host / MC for half of Day #2 at the Youth Clinic presentations. Wearing the suit and welcoming the second annual youth gathering, it was great to see a 100% increase over the size of last year’s attendees. I have a great story to share about the Youth Clinics, but first I’d like to share some other highlights from the trip.

HALL OF FAME BANQUET

Wow. What a special event this was. My coach, mentor, and friend Scott Pickler was inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame after nearly 1000 wins at Cypress College, 6 state titles, and another 22 seasons spent in the Cape Cod League with 6 more championships. 

I was fortunate enough to attend the banquet and after-party celebrations with the “families” of his high school, college, and summer league coaching fraternity. While the top highlight was sharing the evening with Coach Pickler and his amazing family, a close second was listening to the speeches of all the other Hall of Fame inductees. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up… like six different times! It was AMAZING to celebrate these wonderful men and all that they have accomplished. To hear their stories, to listen to their advice, to reflect on their experiences… it was a baseball evening like nothing I’ve been a part of before. Another highlight of the event was when the host asked all Hall of Fame members in the audience to stand up. As these special special men stood up, it was as if the coaching royalty was rising out of the weeds one by one. To view these icons with the reality that each had 30-40-50 years of coaching experience and their own baseball-family-tree was really powerful. Like, really powerful.

Immediately following, I went to the after-party celebration for another Hall of Fame inductee Pat Doyle. Coach Doyle now runs Play Global along with super-studs Tom Gillespie and Julia McCarthy. Play Global is an international coaching and outreach organization using baseball to reach four continents last year alone. I am very proud to support Play Global and list them as one of Dugout Captain’s international partners. Coach Doyle is an incredible, incredible coach with a resume that could take up page after page. However, I think this best sums up his humility and grace: He spent spring 2018 coaching tee ball for his grandson’s team. And even better, he was the assistant coach! Taking orders from Joe the Plumber serving as Head Coach. I wonder if any of the parents knew who was working with their little slugger. Just amazing.

As I visited with my friends from PONY Baseball & Softball, I briefly met Kristian Palvia from Sweden baseball. He’s collecting athletes from the 6 national clubs and bringing three age-level teams to Europe’s PONY Championships in April. To hear the time and effort he puts into spring the game of baseball in Sweden was equal parts fantastic and humbling.

ABCA CLINICS

I always dig hearing the first speaker of the weekend. It’s the head coach of whatever team won the College World Series last year.  In this case, it was Pat Casey from Oregon State University. I figure there can’t be anyone better to learn from than that coach that “won it all.”  Inevitably, this coach ALWAYS talks about the intangibles that lead to championship success. In Coach Casey’s case, the themes I heard were “the value of time, the importance of culture, setting (very) high expectations, and… dreaming BIG but planning short-term goals.” All one needs to do is listen to these coaches for 40-minutes and it’s not mystery that they land the best players, and get the most out of them.

Tim Freakin’ Corbin. Tim F&*%ing Corbin. Phew, Tim Corbin. What a presentation. I would encourage joining the ABCA, paying for access to the clinic videos, even if only to watch Coach Corbin’s clinic speech. I’m pretty sure it was the best clinic speech I’ve seen. Ever. Vanderbilt’s head coach shared information about his philosophy, practice routines, training regimens, and teaching style. He involves a complete classroom into practice-time… every day.  Every stinking day, the club meets in the classroom first, before taking the field. Athletes are engaged, taking notes and following along with one of his presentations (he quickly showed a slide with over 50 lesson titles from this fall alone). He talked about teaching the game. And then explained how he progresses from classroom to walk through, to slow reps, to mimicking game simulations. There is NO mystery to why his teams win and after listening to how he teaches LIFE… there is no mystery to why his players are respectful, responsible, and show great sportsmanship.

I spent most of the weekend with James Cordes, dear friend and head coach of the Bend Bucks summer baseball club out of Bend Oregon. Like me, James has a wide and varied interest in the sport and business of baseball. It was particularly fun to hear his experiences, meet his baseball buddies, catch up on the newest family member (congrats on Baby Quinn!!!), and then have a trusted ear to bend regarding my own thoughts and questions.

Other special conversations included Kelly Nicholson, manager of the Cape Cod League’s. James Keller of the San Diego Padres and Jason Smith of the Los Angeles Angels.

COMMITTEE MEETINGS

Thursday was the Ethics in Coaching Committee meeting, followed by the Youth Committee meeting. We presented this year’s Ethics in Coaching award to none other than Tim Freaking Corbin. So, to have him speak later in the morning, and literally BLOW EVERYONE away, I don’t think that could have gone any better. I could share with you the winner of next year’s Ethics Award winner, but I’d have to hide you in the closet for the remainder of 2019 – so let’s not do that.

During the Youth Committee meeting, there was an interesting exchange about the challenges the ABCA is having getting youth coaches to sign up with the group. In particular, a really cool group from the Dallas area Grapevine Parks and Rec had two representatives at the committee meeting. Grapevine had offered to register and pay for (!!) the first 100 people that wanted to attend the convention. With two days of Youth Clinics, a full schedule of MainStage clinics, and the largest baseball exhibit hall in the world… you would think that the offer would have been exhausted in minutes. Nope. They were only able to GIVE AWAY 60 of the 100 offered registrations. And the hotel was less than 15 minutes from the Park & Rec field site. If that doesn’t sum up the challenges of working in the youth baseball market, I don’t know what does.

YOUTH CLINICS

I went to the Youth Clinics on Friday to scope out the room and support my friend Steve Springer. Spring killed it, sharing his own story and his Quality At-Bats presentation. If you haven’t heard Steve’s stuff, you really should. The presentation was fantastic and the room was packed. I’d estimate 600-700 coaches in attendance inside the Youth Clinic Hall – it was awesome.

Day #2 had me tap tap tapping the microphone and holding court. I kicked off the speakers by introducing Dan McDonald from the University of Louisville. What a great dude!  Here’s what I learned: Leaders are built. Toughness is a muscle, it requires development. Competing is not only good, it is great! And if it’s important that he make practice fun for Division 1, 18-21 year olds… then it’s doubly-important for those coaches working with younger athletes to do so.

Next up was Andre Butler and his Graveyard Mentality for outfield play at Penn State. Outfield is a really tough topic to cover in clinic format (in my opinion). He was engaging, energetic, and inspiring. AND, he shared some really great drills for outfield / fly ball work. He’s doing amazing work in the Philadelphia area, having started the Jackie Robinson West Philly League for boys and girls 8 and under, affiliated with MLB and the Urban Youth Academy. All in all, he’s a total DUDE.

Coach Andre Butler from Penn State
Coach Andre Butler from Penn State

“THAT” STORY

Alright, back to that story that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Simply put, Frank Johnson from the Kentucky Diamonds made my entire weekend at the Youth Clinics that Saturday. After I introduced coach MacDonald and retreated to the back of the room, up walks this coach with a bright smile and an extended hand. Long story short, Frank Freakin’ Johnson proceeded to share with me his Dugout Captain story. Powerful, inspiring, and so so cool. Dugout Captain has been able to reset, revamp, and re-energize his group that works with inner-city African American youth in and around Louisville, KY. 

Pulled straight from his brochure, “the Kentucky Diamonds Baseball Club allow those kids that otherwise would not be able to play Travel Baseball to do so.” He’s had the same challenge most leagues and larger organizations have had: finding good, quality coaches to lead the kids and run solid practices. He had the same pushback when he offered help and made suggestions. Naturally, he went searching for help on Uncle Google, and found the ABCA. There, he found my speech on pitching from last year’s Youth Clinics… heard me mention Dugout Captain… and then snooped out DC. After watching a video or two, he took a chance with registering. Heck, DC is free after all and he needed help. Well, Dugout Captain is now his official training partner and he’s recommending that all of his coaches follow our curriculum. Frank was really really thankful for all that we’ve done, which made me feel great and we enjoyed an awesome conversation.

What was probably most powerful was when Frank shared with me about his single moms using Dugout Captain to practice with their kids. He also shared a story about his daughter staying up late to watch DC videos, and I watched his 10-year old son sit in the front row listening to speaker after speaker after speaker. Come on!! Do 10-year olds really do that?!? Caleb does.

Either way, Frank is doing GREAT work with the Kentucky Diamonds and I made my small contribution to his non-profit as soon as I got home. If you would like to support Frank and his efforts with the Kentucky Diamonds, visit their page here www.kydiamondsbaseball.com (and scroll to the bottom). We’re gonna change the baseball world together, one Frank at a time!!

Play Hard, Have Fun.

DK

4 thoughts on “A Trip to Baseball Heaven

  1. Dan”freakin” Keller- a great blog. Thank you for the shout out- looks like bring a head coach for farm level is in my future- my grand daughter is fired up to lay again.
    I turned the head coach from last year on to DC and plan to get the hole league involved this season.
    I did not see Tim Corbin’s presentation but plan to view the video.
    Your Kentucky Diamonds story was amazing-good people make good things happen.

    Good luck this season!! I will be keeping track of the Chargers!!
    Cheers

    Pat

  2. Guys….DK is that man!! For me and the KY Diamonds he is truly God sent. Dugout Captain enhanced our organization on 3 levels: coaching, player accountability, and parent involvement. Our goal is to give our kids everything other top-notch travel organizations provide. After two years of existence I had to admit that we needed to improve our instruction time….DC changed the game for us!
    As a 1st timer at the ABCA Convention it was way more than I imagined! But being able to talk with DK was a blessing on top of blessings. Thanks for EVERYTHING DK!!!

    Frank

  3. Dan, your dedication and your efforts are awesome. I read your blogs and always enjoy the energy the come between the lines. Let’s try to get together soon and catch up.
    Doug DeCinces

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