HUDSON – Let it be known that there is little debate in the Horwath household who has the sweetest swing on the diamond. Dinah does.
“I like my swing and I think it’s good but, honestly, I have to say she does,” said Ambrose Horwath, a junior three-sport athlete at Hudson High School in Lenawee County.
“I think mine is better,” said Dinah, laughing – but agreeing.
No matter whose swing is better, they both are swinging hot bats this spring.
Going into this week, Dinah Horwath, a sophomore, was batting .479 and has been at or around .500 all season. She is the Lenawee County leader in hits (46), runs (44) and RBI (36).
Ambrose is batting a healthy .466. He’s among the Lenawee County leaders in hits (41), runs (37), RBIs (34), pitching wins (8) and strikeouts (49).
The two have a sibling rivalry, but there’s no competition to who will have the highest average at the end of the season. That’s because they are both rooting for each other.
“A couple of weeks ago, Ambrose was in a two or three-day slump,” said Hudson athletic director and varsity baseball coach Jeremy Beal. “After our practice I walked back to our field and there was Ambrose and Dinah. She was throwing soft toss to him. They must have had two buckets of balls.
“I’ve seen that before among brothers, but never a brother and sister. It was awesome.”
Ambrose’s slump didn’t last long.
“They pull for each other, and both have really good attitudes,” Beal said.
The Horwaths are a sports-crazed family. Father Lance is a Waldron native who is a principal in the Hudson school district and the Tigers varsity boys basketball coach. He played college baseball at Defiance, where he met Jamie. They were later married and had two kids – Ambrose and Dinah.
“I played college baseball with her brothers,” he said. “That’s how we met.”
Horwath was a teacher at Camden-Frontier when he moved into the Hudson district a little more than two decades ago. Ambrose has been a varsity basketball player since his freshman season and will go into his senior campaign a few 3-pointers shy of 1,000 career points. He also was a starter on Hudson’s Division 8 championship football team in the fall.
Dinah has plenty of varsity experience herself, despite being just as sophomore. She was second on the team in scoring this past basketball season and one of the area's top 3-point shooters. She said she and Ambrose often play one-on-one in basketball.
“We’ve done that since we were little,” she said. “We’re competitive, but we get along very well. We don’t really fight.”
Lance Horwath said the two of them are often together working on either their shot in basketball or swing in baseball/softball.
“They are always playing something,” Lance said. “Sports is a big part of our family. They’ve both been playing since before they even started school. It’s cool to see them together. They are very supportive of one another.”
Dinah, who is considering pursuing a career in sports management, throws right-handed in softball but has been batting from the left side of the box since she picked up a bat.
“From Day 1, she’s batted lefthanded,” Lance Horwath said. “I put her on the left side of the plate because that’s how I batted, and I wanted to teach her. She makes good contact.
“I love how she’s carved out her own niche in softball. She played travel ball when she was younger. She just loves playing the sport.”
Hudson softball coach Amy Hill said Dinah is constantly trying to get better.
“Her secret is she works very hard,” Hill said. “She puts in the time to improve and takes practice time seriously. She spends a lot of time on the tee. She’s a coach’s dream, always looking for ways to improve.”
During Hudson’s baseball and softball games, Lance and Jamie try to find a location where they can stand and watch both games.
“In Hudson, we can stand along the leftfield line and see both games,” he said. “They are both fun to watch. We’re blessed.”
If one sibling’s game ends early, the other gets to the other field as quickly as possible.
“I like it when our games get done so I can get over and see him play,” Dinah said.
Ambrose is no different.
“It’s cool to get to watch her games,” he said. “Every time I look over there or go watch, she’s on base.”
Ambrose said sports came natural to them.
“We will go out and hit together two or three times a week,” he said. “We’ve always been very close. It helps, I think, that we are only one year apart.
Hudson’s baseball team is looking to make some history this spring. The football and wrestling teams have already captured state championships, as did the competitive cheer team. The baseball team is 23-5 and close to winning at least a share of its first Lenawee County Athletic Association championship since 1968.
The Tigers are 9-3 with a doubleheader remaining against Ida. Onsted leads the league at 8-2 but has doubleheaders remaining against Clinton and Dundee, both formidable opponents.
“We need some help for that to happen,” Ambrose said. “But we just have to take care of our games first.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Dinah, left, and brother Ambrose Horwath are among Lenawee County’s leading hitters in their respective sports. (Middle) Dinah prepares for the pitch from her spot in the infield. (Below) Ambrose makes his move toward the plate. (Photos by Rachel Stiverson.)
If there is anything that Brent Gates knows for sure, it's that there is no single explanation for three MHSAA Finals baseball championships.
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.
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.
"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.)