By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
At least once a week, former longtime Detroit Western International baseball coach Ziggy Gonzalez stops in to Cowboys practice to offer a taste of the program’s history.
“Big Dad” coached the 1972 team that fell 3-1 in the Class A Final and the 1973 team that advanced to the Semis. Among his former players was the late Todd Cruz, who earned a World Series ring as part of the 1983 Baltimore Orioles.
“I tell these guys, we don’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been,” current coach Juan Carlos Sanchez said.
Detroit Western is attempting to go somewhere a Detroit Public School league team hasn’t been in a while – and hoping to accomplish a feat no PSL school has attained before.
The Cowboys, recipients of this week’s Second Half team High 5, are 22-4 heading into this afternoon’s PSL Semifinal matchup against Detroit Cass Tech. Western hasn’t lost a league game in at least five seasons – but took that success to the next level last season when it came within an out of advancing to the MHSAA Division 1 Semifinals at Battle Creek’s Bailey Park.
Western led Temperance Bedford 2-0 in their Quarterfinal before falling 3-2 and ending the season 18-13 overall. Remembering that day, the Cowboys break huddles now with “3-2, Finish!”
“It’s been their focus and drive all year,” Sanchez said. “They’ve been determined to get back, and once I explained the magnitude of making history like that (as potentially the first champion from the PSL) … that’s something they want to be a part of.”
And the Cowboys have a number of reasons to anticipate this final month of the season.
Of 16 players, 14 were on the team during last season’s run. They are led by a strong core which will be back in 2013 as well – juniors Hector Gutierrez Jr. and Jose Ramon Morales, and sophomore Luis Chapa, the team’s top three pitchers and 2-3-4 hitters in the lineup. Gutierrez and Morales man the middle of the infield for the second straight season.
Their only losses this season were to No. 10 Macomb Dakota during spring break and then to top-ranked Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. Sanchez purposely has tried to fill the schedule with strong competition, and the Cowboys should get a look at more top teams at Saturday’s Warren Mott Invitational.
They put in the work. Sanchez said he got texts all offseason from players asking for the key to the school’s batting cage. Seniors and juniors have led conditioning on off-days.
And they’ve got tradition and support. While the state rankings are filled with teams from suburbs and small towns, those from the state’s biggest cities frequently struggle. But southwest Detroit is a baseball community. There’s a thriving men’s league, and Sanchez – who grew up there, attended Detroit Catholic Central and played baseball at the University of Detroit – said it’s common to find pick-up games on Saturdays and Sundays.
"(Baseball) is something bred in us,” he said. “It’s passed down from generations, not just from dads but moms as well. It gets fed to them every day.”
Before last season, the Cowboys had come close to breaking through to the season’s final week during Sanchez' decade coaching in the program – and last season’s run sent the players’ confidence soaring.
Next month, they hope to take another championship step.
“We set the expectations high early,” he said. “We’re not just content to be a good city team. We want to win statewide.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Sophomore Tratez Henton stands in against a Detroit Martin Luther King pitcher this season. (Middle) Coaches speak to the team after its win over King. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)
Brad Bush, a highly-respected educator, administrator and coach over the last three decades, has been selected to serve in the position of assistant director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, beginning Jan. 17.
Bush, 52, taught and coached at East Kentwood High School for four years before beginning a tenure at Chelsea High School in 1997 that has included teaching, then serving as athletic director and later also assistant principal and leading the football program as varsity coach from 1997-2002 and again from 2004-18.
He also has served as a statewide delegate on the MHSAA Representative Council during the last year and provided leadership in multiple roles, including president, for the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) since 2005.
Bush will serve as the MHSAA’s lead administrator for baseball and also among lead administrators for the officials program, which includes more than 8,000 registered officials in all sports. Bush also will be assigned additional duties in other sports based on his vast experiences. He was selected from a pool of 34 applicants.
“I’m incredibly excited to have Brad join our team,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. "He’s been an outstanding athletic director and coach who is highly-respected by those who know him.”
As Chelsea athletic director, Bush annually has supervised a staff of 110 coaches across 31 programs, with nearly 70 percent of the high school’s 800 students participating in athletics. As a teacher and assistant principal, he has served on Chelsea’s School Improvement Team and on multiple committees that provided instructional leadership including in the development of the district’s new trimester schedule. In his roles with the MHSFCA, Bush helped direct an organization with more than 2,200 members and also served as the association’s treasurer and liaison to the MHSAA.
Bush is perhaps best known, however, for his coaching success. Over 22 seasons, he led Chelsea’s varsity football team to a 169-60 record, 13 league championships, 18 playoff appearances, seven District titles and a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2015. During his break in tenure as Chelsea coach, Bush served as an assistant football coach and recruiting coordinator for Eastern Michigan University during the 2003-04 school year, and he has served as an assistant coach at Albion College the last four seasons contributing to the team’s two league titles and appearance in the 2021 NCAA Division III Playoffs.
“I feel like joining the team at the MHSAA is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Bush said. “The 26 years I spent at Chelsea were some of the best times of my life. It’s a professional transition that in the back of my mind, if this opportunity came, was something I needed to do.
“Over time, I’ve grown to care about the bigger picture of athletics and appreciate the role of the MHSAA in protecting high school athletics in Michigan.”
Bush is a 1988 graduate of Ypsilanti High School. He studied and played quarterback at Cornell University before returning and graduating from EMU after majoring in history and minoring in social studies. He earned his physical education endorsement from EMU in 2000 and his master’s in physical education and sports management from EMU in 2002. He has earned continuing education credits in sports management from Drake University and completed the Path to Leadership program from the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP).
Bush was inducted into MHSFCA Hall of Fame and Ypsilanti High School Hall of Fame both in 2019. He and his wife Laura have three adult children, two daughters and a son.
PHOTO Chelsea coach Brad Bush directs his team during the 2015 Division 3 Final at Ford Field.