Heritage Coach 'Connects' for Milestone

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

May 2, 2017

Baseball has always been a big part of Bob Andrezejewski’s life.

“I was one of those guys that would sneak a radio in his bed when he was younger to listen to the Tiger ballgame,” Andrezejewski said. “This was back when I was 8, 9, 10-years old. I’ve always been a big baseball fan.”

Half a century later, the enthusiasm for the game is still there for the Saginaw Heritage skipper, who recently became the fourth baseball coach in state history to reach 1,000 career wins.

“I haven’t really tried to stay in coaching to try and get a certain number,” said Andrezejewski, who began his career in Bridgeport in 1970 before coming to Saginaw Heritage in 1996. “There are more positives than any kind of negative that comes up with coaching. Even though I’ve been coaching for a long time, every year is a new year. There are new players, a new direction – that’s just part of the challenge, and it’s exciting.”

Win No. 1,000 came on April 22, when the Hawks – who are now 11-2 on the season – defeated Beal City 12-3 in the Midland Dow Tournament. He entered the season with a 996-440 career record, and joins Pat O’Keefe of Grand Ledge, Larry Tuttle of Blissfield and Frank Sumbera of Grosse Pointe North in the state’s 1,000-win club.

While Andrezejewski said he hasn’t taken the time to think about reaching the milestone, his players certainly knew it was coming up and were excited to be part of the team that helped their coach reach it.

“It’s an honor to be part of the team that got that win for him, but I pitched in that game, so it was even more memorable for me to be able to contribute like that,” Heritage senior Brendan Jackson said. “To do it in that fashion, it really made it even more special.”

Andrezejewski was born and raised in Saginaw and attended Saginaw Arthur Hill High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball. He attended Central Michigan University before coming back to the Saginaw area and joining the Bridgeport baseball coaching staff as the junior varsity coach in 1970. He stayed in that position for three seasons before taking over the varsity position.

In more than 20 seasons at Bridgeport, through the spring of 1994, Andrezejewski had a 449-257 record.

“Then I took a year off – I wanted to concentrate more on my family,” he said. “I took a year off, and the opportunity came and they wanted me to try out for the head baseball job in Heritage, since I lived in the community. I said, ‘OK, I’ll do that for a year or so.’”

Twenty years, 558 wins, five Saginaw Valley League titles, six District titles, three Regional titles and three MHSAA Semifinal appearances later, Andrezejewski is still at Heritage, and still going strong.

“He’s definitely an old school guy, but in a good way,” Jackson said. “He’s a great leader, and he’s able to motivate his players to get things done, as you can see. He’s able to connect with his players.”

During a career that has spanned more than 40 years, Andrezejewski has plenty of special memories, but didn’t want to single any out as favorites. Instead, he said, it’s the relationships he’s made at both schools that really stick out to him. He still communicates with players he coached in the 1970s, and it’s things like that which stand out more than championships.

“We’ve had teams that were very, very good that went a long ways, and we had teams that were very, very good that didn’t get out of the Districts,” Andrezejewski said. “We’ve had teams that were maybe mediocre that had things click at the right time. That’s what makes baseball so much fun, because it’s so unpredictable. Just because you have a real good team or an average team, it doesn’t mean you’re going to come out on top or make it through. One game should not make the season.”

Perhaps that’s why Andrezejewski’s rallying cry isn’t to go out and win the game, but to go out and play your best. It’s something that has stuck with his players.

“He doesn’t care about winning or losing, he cares about us going out and playing our hardest,” Heritage senior outfielder and pitcher Noah Marcoux said. “He just wants us to go out and give it our best, and winning or losing, that will come.”

It’s a message that has resonated generation after generation for Andrezejewski. So even though he’s coached through five different decades, he’s still reaching and motivating his players. 

“I’m a firm believer that baseball is really a timeless sport, and being able to connect through that is really the key to getting your guys fired up and ready to go,” Jackson said. “He has so much baseball wisdom with the experiences he’s had and the teams he’s coached, you can’t not give the guy respect. And even beside that, he’s just a great guy.”


Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Heritage coach Bob Andrezejewski reached 1,000 wins as a high school baseball coach April 22; here he instructs Devin Sutter before his at bat against Flint Carman-Ainsworth on April 24. (Middle) Andrezejewski was selected to be part of the coaching staff for the first North/South Baseball Classic with high school players from Bay City and Saginaw taking on players from Flint on July 15, 2015, at Dow Diamond. (Photos by Lamont Lenar/Township View).

Vast Experience Shapes Retired MLB-er Gates Into 3-Time Finals-Winning Coach

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

August 1, 2023

If there is anything that Brent Gates knows for sure, it's that there is no single explanation for three MHSAA Finals baseball championships.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.For starters, the Grand Rapids Christian coach credits the superior coaching he had as a youngster, especially for helping him make the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Dream Team in 1988.

From there, Gates points to the experience gained as a former Big 10 Baseball Player of the Year, a seven-year major league playing career that saw him rubbing shoulders with such notables as Hall-of-Famer Tony LaRussa and Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly, and then landing at a high school where the critical support he received from players, community and administration was priceless.

Put it all together and that, at least in part, explains Gates becoming the first Grand Rapids-area baseball coach with three state titles on his resume.

The Eagles' 2-1 win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the June 17 Division 2 Final marked Gates' third title as a coach. His Grand Rapids Christian clubs had previously won back-to-back titles in 2012-13.

Gates passed former Grandville Calvin Christian coach Jay Milkamp as the Grand Rapids-area coach with the most state titles. Milkamp won in 1994 (Class C) and 1996 (Class B).

Gates, a member of three Halls of Fame, is quick to deflect the credit for three championships and two other championship game appearances. What he treasures most is being mentioned in the same breath as other legendary west-side coaches such as Jenison's Gary Cook, Ron Engels of Wyoming Park, Hudsonville's Dave Van Nord, East Grand Rapids' Chris LaMange, formerly Rockford and now Ada Forest Hills Eastern's Ian Hearn and Milkamp, most of whom Gates either played against while an all-stater at Grandville or through coaching at Grand Rapids Christian.

"I'm just a small piece of what has transpired in 11 years," he said. "Just to be mentioned with them and their success is an honor. (Three titles) is not an individual thing, but because of many people and what they can do working day in and day out together.

"I've always said the west side doesn't get the recognition it should in baseball. There are some great coaches here with great baseball talent, and I think you see that in the postseason."

If basketball can spawn what is affectionately known as "gym rats," then Gates is surely a classic example of the diamond's version of someone who has lived and breathed baseball his entire life. He was a two-time all-stater at Grandville who went on to a standout career at the University of Minnesota that included a lifetime .387 batting average. He was named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1991 and consensus All-American. Gates played internationally with USA Baseball on the 18U team in 1988 and then the collegiate national team in 1989 and 1990. Over those two seasons on the collegiate team he appeared in 68 games, hitting a combined .363 with 49 runs scored and 54 RBIs.

He was drafted by the Oakland A's in the first round (26th overall) of the 1991 draft and went on to hit .264 in 685 major league games over seven seasons.

Gates makes a tag at second base while playing for the national team.Upon his retirement, Gates founded the Frozen Ropes training facility in Grand Rapids, worked as a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays, became the West Michigan Whitecaps' second-ever manager in 2001, coached Byron Center for two years and has compiled a remarkable 298-89 record in two coaching stints at Grand Rapids Christian.

After virtually a lifetime in baseball, Gates said his coaching success can be spread in many directions. He said it began at Grandville, was influenced by such managers as John Anderson at Minnesota and LaRussa and Kelly at the major league level, and with brushing shoulders with many of Grand Rapids' most successful coaches.

The experience led him to a coaching philosophy that includes a priority on building relationships with players, providing a full explanation of his thinking to the players, a quiet but firm coaching of fundamentals, and, above all, communication. If there is anything that Gates does not do, it's relying on the "old-school" coaching method where coaches demand excellence in no uncertain terms.

"I've taken little bits and pieces from a lot of people," said Gates, a member of the Grandville, University of Minnesota and Grand Rapids Halls of Fame. "I want players to figure out who they can be. Whether it's Ken Griffey Jr. as a hitter, Randy Johnson as a pitcher or Terry Steinbach in catching, you don't just take one person and say who can I be? If you want to compete at a high level, you need to be better than anyone you go up against.

"Part of being a good coach, and it doesn't matter if it's a 9U program or high school, is about making players understand and be able to apply what they learn. Baseball is a hard game, one of failure where if you succeed three times out of 10, you're a star. You have to get players to understand failure."

Gates said all three Grand Rapids Christian champions were marked by different strong suits. The 2012 club, for example, breezed its way to a 36-5 record, while the 2013 club finished the regular season just 12-15 but put together a torrid seven-game winning streak during the tournament. This year's team was marked by a deep pitching staff and what Gates describes as a "group of gamers."

"All of them were different, but I firmly believe that pitching and defense win championships," Gates said. "But you also have to get hot at the right time."

It's not unusual for major leaguers to completely hang up the spikes once their playing days are over. They're tired of the pressure, the frustration of fading talent and losing the battle with Father Time, and the constant travel away from family. Gates faced all that and still found himself enthralled with the idea of coaching.

Gates presents the championship trophy this season to his Grand Rapids Christian players."I've loved the game since I was like 4 years old. There's nothing better than smelling pine tar or the look of manicured grass. The smells and sounds of baseball, that's what I love," he said.

One of his coaching goals is to impart the love of the game to his players. And it seems the message is getting across.

"It's awesome playing for him," said first baseman/pitcher Ty Uchman, who graduated this spring. "He gets us to focus on the little things. If there is something on our minds, we know we can go to him. He's an open book. I know he'll always talk to us, and that builds trust and a bond."

Another recent grad, infielder Kyle Remington, will follow Gates' footsteps to the University of Minnesota and said one particular trait sticks out to him about his coach.

"He's very patient," Remington said. "There are all levels of players in high school, and he treats them all the same. Doesn't matter if they're struggling; he never raises his voice. He's a very comfortable and relatable coach to play for.

"He knows baseball is a game of failure so if you don't understand a drill or an adjustment to have to make, he'll talk to you in a patient way."

Gates said he suspected even when he was a major leaguer that coaching was likely in his future.

"I did, and it was an easy decision. God has a plan, and I had a feeling I would stay in the game," he said. "Baseball has given me everything. I love the game, and I know I've been blessed. I want to take what I've learned and pass it along. That's always been a part of me."

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PHOTOS (Top) Brent Gates appears on the USA Baseball collegiate national team in 1989 and makes a pitching change during this spring’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Gates makes a tag at second base while playing for the national team. (Below) Gates presents the championship trophy this season to his Grand Rapids Christian players. (National team photos courtesy of USA Baseball.)