Preview: McLane Welcomes Major Players, Familiar & 1st-Time Title Contenders

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 14, 2022

The team with the second-longest winning streak in MHSAA baseball history, and the appearances of three likely high-round Major League Baseball draft picks are among several intriguing storylines as we head into this weekend’s Baseball Finals at Michigan State University’s McLane Stadium.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (42-0) has won 64 straight games, going back to last season and second only to Homer’s 75 consecutive from 2004 to 2005. Perhaps more notably, the Eaglets with two more victories this weekend can break the single-season record for wins in a baseball season of 43 shared by four teams. St. Mary’s Brock Porter is a projected first-round draft selection and likely will be joined by teammate Ike Irish and Detroit Edison’s Gregory Pace Jr. in being selected next month.

Pace’s team is among nine seeking a first MHSAA baseball championship, and one of eight looking to advance to a title game for the first time.

Division 1 – Friday
Battle Creek Lakeview vs. Grosse Pointe North, 9 a.m.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's, 11:30 a.m.

Division 2 – Thursday
Grosse Ile vs. Grand Rapids Christian, 9 a.m.
Ada Forest Hills Eastern vs. Goodrich, 11:30 a.m.

Division 3 - Friday
Detroit Edison vs. Pewamo-Westphalia, 2:30 p.m.
Buchanan vs. Standish-Sterling, 5 p.m.

Division 4 – Thursday
Whitmore Lake vs. Beal City, 2:30 p.m.
Riverview Gabriel Richard vs. Rudyard, 5 p.m.

FINALS – Saturday
Division 1 - 2:30 p.m.
Division 2 - 9 a.m.
Division 3 - 5 p.m.
Division 4 - 11:30 a.m.

Tickets cost $11 and may be purchased online only at GoFan. One ticket is good for all baseball, softball and girls soccer games at MSU’s Old College Field that day. All Semifinals and Finals will be broadcast and available with subscription from, with free audio broadcasts on the MHSAA Network.

Below is a glance at all 16 teams taking the field (with statistics through Quarterfinals unless noted):

Division 1

Record/rank: 29-7, No. 15
Coach: Kyle Kracht, fifth season (98-42)
League finish: Second in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (2006), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Kooper Etheridge, sr. OF/P (.490, 37 R, 14 2B, 38 RBI, 13 SB, 6-1 pitching, 2.39 ERA); Jake Kucharczyk, jr. OF/P (.462, 49 R, 37 RBI, 24 SB); Zach Kucharczyk, jr. C (.461, 57 R, 13 2B, 30 SB); Jackson Haywood, jr. 1B/P (.389, 33 R, 45 RBI, 5-3 pitching, 2.93 ERA).
Outlook: This will be Lakeview’s first Semifinal since 2014 and comes after a 7-2 Quarterfinal win over No. 2 Northville. The Spartans also emerged from a league that included No. 12 Portage Northern and 2021 Division 1 runner-up Portage Central, and they are a combined 61-16 overall over the last two seasons. Junior second baseman Jayden Miller (.415, 18 SB) adds another big bat in the middle of the lineup, and junior Malachi Goss (5-0, 2.31) is another contributor from a pitching staff that has nine with at least one win on the mound this spring.

Record/rank: 24-11, unranked
Coach: John Dolce, seventh season (132-110)
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Justin St. Antoine, fr. IF/P (.351, 27 R, 17 SB, 4-2 pitching, 2.00 ERA); Jonah St. Antoine, jr. P/IF (.388, 44 R, 12 2B, 24 SB); Jack Snow, sr. P/1B (.395, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 9-1 pitching, 1.75 ERA, 94 K); Connor Foley, sr. P/1B (.318, 6-2 pitching, 2.24 ERA).
Outlook: Dolce, who previously led Grand Rapids Catholic Central to the 1985 Class B title and is approaching 250 wins over 13 seasons total, has FHN set to play in its first Semifinal coming off its third District title in four seasons (not counting COVID-canceled 2020). The Huskies opened with a 5-1 District win over No. 11 Rockford and have won three games by one run apiece during the playoffs. Five seniors anchor a starting lineup that’s topped by the St. Antoines. Jonah St. Antoine will continue his career at Pittsburgh, while Foley will play next at Canisius (N.Y.) and Snow at Davenport.  

Record/rank: 22-7, unranked
Coach: Kevin Shubnell, first season (22-7)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference White
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2006).
Players to watch: Brennan Hill, soph. OF/P (.333, 4-0 pitching, 1.06 ERA ); Drew Hill, jr. OF/P (.462, 40 R, 10 2B, 13 SB); Jake Tedesco, sr. 1B/P (.344, 29 R, 33 RBI, 12 SB, 5-1 pitching, 1.96 ERA); Jordan Arseneau, jr. P/OF (.299, 27 RBI, 7-0 pitching, 0.17 ERA).
Outlook: This will be the Norsemen’s first Semifinal appearance since that most recent championship season of 2006. North has been on an impressive roll averaging 7.3 runs per game over six playoff wins including a 9-2 District-opening victory over No. 17 Grosse Pointe South. North won three of four games total this season against South, and also two of three against Division 2 No. 7 St. Clair. Seven regulars are hitting .299 or higher, also including seniors Luke Babcock (.321), James MacAuley (.314) and Parker O’Neill (.308).

Record/rank: 42-0, No. 1
Coach: Matt Petry, 12th season
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2021 in Division 2), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Brock Porter, sr. P (8-0, 0.27 ERA, 109 K); Jake Dresselhouse, sr. OF (.409, 56 R, 10 2B, 40 RBI); Ike Irish, sr. C (.460, 45 R, 10 HR, 42 RBI); Nolan Schubart, sr. OF (.336, 47 R, 12 HR, 38 RBI), Jack Crighton, sr. IF (.435, 35 R, 27 RBI).  
Outlook: Last season’s Division 2 champion brings seven starters back to MSU from last year’s Final, plus its top pitcher. Porter, Irish, Dresselhouse and Schubart all made the all-state Dream Team last season, and Crighton joined them on the Division 2 first team. The Eaglets are averaging 9.5 runs per game with Ryan McKay (.383), Jasen Oliver (.391) and Ryan Mooney also returning starters from 2021. Porter, who has hit .486 in limited at bats, is a projected first-round pick in the July Major League Baseball draft, and Irish is expected to be selected among the early rounds as well. Seniors Ciaran Caughey (9-0, 0.46 ERA) and Nolan Higgins (5-0, 1.65) and sophomore Aidan Donovan (7-0, 0.92 ERA) are three more starters among six total who have at least five wins on the mound.

Division 2

Record/rank: 37-4, No. 1
Coach: Ian Hearn, seventh season (171-67)
League finish: First in O-K Gold
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Evan Parks, sr. IF/P (.458, 38 R, 18 2B, 50 RBI, 8-1 pitching, 0.89 ERA, 86 K); Leo Hearn, sr. C/IF (.387, 40 RBI); Jacob Pallo, jr. P/IF (.368, 34 RBI, 9-0 pitching, 0.95 ERA, 79 K); Ashton Feenstra, sr. P/1B (8-0, 0.87 ERA).
Outlook: Forest Hills Eastern’s weekend was especially eventful as the Hawks won their first Regional title and advanced to the Semifinals, and Coach Hearn went over 600 career wins – her previously led Rockford to the 2011 Division 1 title and also coached Traverse City Central and at Michigan State. Forest Hills Eastern won its first 25 games this season, and two of the losses came to Division 1 No. 5 Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills. Eight pitchers have at last one win – senior Caleb Kuiper (6-2, 2.26 ERA) is another main starter – as the team has a combined 1.57 ERA this spring. Kuiper (.337), senior Collin Fridsma (.327, 50 R), junior Mac DenBraber (.342, 38 R), senior Brian Messing (.305, 42 R) and freshman Max Ferrick (.312, 31 R) also bring .300 averages to the starting lineup.

Record/rank: 37-2, No. 4
Coach: Bob Foreback, 28th season (723-278)
League finish: First in Flint Metro League Stars and overall
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final
Players to watch: Travis Liford, sr. SS (.382, 35 R, 11 2B, 36 RBI, 24 SB); Carson Raether, soph. C (.441, 35 R, 11 2B, 32 RBI, 17 SB); Brady Gauthier, sr. OF/P (.392, 8-0 pitching, 0.42 ERA); Noah Keller, sr. P (.404, 12-0 pitching, 0.10 ERA, 141 K).
Outlook: Goodrich is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 2008, with four shutouts over five playoff games and only one run given up in the fifth. Keller made the all-state second team last season and will continue his career next season at Cornell. He tops a stellar pitching staff with a combined 1.24 ERA; Gauthier, senior Josh Denton (61, 1.59) and junior Gavin Hart (5-0, 1.09) also are standouts. The Martians hit .334 as a team with nine batting .304 or better. Junior Jack Foreback is another top contributor at .382 with 32 runs scored and 21 steals. Juniors Erik Wyczalek (.338) and Jordan Conn (.323) and seniors Bryston Hautamaki (.314) and Joey Belanger (.304) also help fill out the lineup.

Record/rank: 26-8, No. 14
Coach: Brent Gates, eighth season (second tenure, 209-67 overall at GRC)
League finish: Fourth in O-K White
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Ty Uchman, jr. 1B (.400, 35 R); Kyle Remington, jr. P (.432, 42 R, 11 2B, 15 SB, 5-3 pitching, 1.37 ERA, 77 K); Jackson Isaacs, soph. OF (.450, 37 R, 40 RBI); Cannon Paul, soph. OF (.398, 29 R, 10 2B, 10 SB).
Outlook: Grand Rapids Christian has won 17 of its last 18 games, the only defeat coming during a split with Division 1 semifinalist Forest Hills Northern. Retired pro Gates led the Eagles to back-to-back Division 2 titles in 2012 and 2013 and returned to the program in 2019 after a pair of successful seasons at Byron Center. Grand Rapids Christian is built for continued success with only two senior starters, although senior Christian Burgess (4-0, 1.55 ERA) is another top pitcher with Remington and junior Cam Seth (5-1, 1.37). Burgess also hits .317 and Seth .347 as nine hitters total are batting .297 or better. From that group, junior Josh Winkle (.356), senior Nate Hedlund (.330) and junior Alec Koval (.297) also start, and Seth and Hedlund are tied for second on the team with 30 RBI apiece.

Record/rank: 23-6, No. 20
Coach: Mario Garza, seventh season (79-84)
League finish: Second in Huron League
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final
Players to watch: Tyler Garza, sr. IF/P (.483, 38 R, 12 2B, 32 RBI, 14 SB); Cannon Kawadri, jr. C (.412, 11 SB); Caleb Jones, fr. IF (.340, 30 R, 10 SB); Michael Madrigal, sr. IF/P (.293, 6-0 pitching, 0.51 ERA, 84 K).
Outlook: Grosse Ile’s first trip to the Semifinals has included a District Final win over No. 18 Trenton, its first Regional championship, and 13 wins over the Red Devils’ last 14 games total. Garza has brought the program from a tenure low of six wins in 2017 to more than reversing that’s season’s 6-22 record five years later. The team has only four seniors, with Will Lowery another major contributor hitting .291 with a 7-2 record and 1.98 ERA on the mound. Two of the team’s other most notable wins came in splits with Division 2 No. 2 New Boston Huron and Division 4 semifinalist Riverview Gabriel Richard.

Division 3

Record/rank: 27-4, No. 2
Coach: Jim Brawley, fourth season (85-15)
League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red
Championship history: Class C champion 1985, three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Drew Glavin, sr. OF/P (.355, 42 R, 27 RBI, 6-2 pitching, 2.35 ERA); Matthew Hoover, sr. IF/P (.511, 45 R, 12 2B, 51 RBI, 9-0 pitching, 1.21 ERA, 88 K); Murphy Wegner, sr. C (.467, 15 2B, 33 RBI); Macoy West, sr. OF/P (.463, 12 2B, 41 RBI, 7-1 pitching, 1.55 ERA, 81 K).
Outlook: Buchanan is returning to the Semifinals for the second straight season, with a lineup bolstered by six seniors including three who earned all-state recognition in 2021. The Bucks have shut out four of their six postseason opponents, including No. 11 Onsted and No. 12 Clinton in their two most recent victories. Hoover and Glavin made the all-state first team last season, and Wegner made the second team. Junior Cade Preissing is another standout, hitting .393 with a team-high 56 runs scored this spring.

Record/rank: 24-12, No. 16
Coach: Mark Brown, sixth season (116-62)
League finish: First in Charter School Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Gregory Pace Jr., sr. OF/P (.425, 46 R, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 44 SB); Marwynn Matthews, soph. IF/P (.387, 35 RBI, 18 SB); Keith Smith Jr., sr. OF (.360, 44 R, 36 RBI, 35 SB); Edward Gregory Jr., sr. SS/P (.318, 43 R, 11 2B, 46 SB).
Outlook: Edison is making its first trip to the Semifinals, also after winning its first Regional title, continuing a postseason run that opened with a 5-4 win over top-ranked Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and most recently included a 9-1 Quarterfinal victory against No. 14 Algonac. Pace made the all-state first team last season and has signed with Michigan, and he’s also projected as a high-round pick in July’s Major League Baseball draft. Senior Caleb Johnson adds another .300 bat (.311) with 13 stolen bases for a team averaging more than six runs per game despite playing a schedule filled with many larger schools and a number of ranked Division 1 and 2 teams. Five losses came by just one run.

Record/rank: 23-10-2, unranked
Coach: Curt Nurenberg, second season (53-14-2)
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Players to watch: Tanner Wirth, sr. OF (.423, 11 2B, 14 SB); Nate Simon, jr. OF (.347, 31 R, 10 SB); Ashtin Wirth, sr. C (.329, 27 RBI); Brock Thelen, sr. IF (.337, 33 R, 28 2B, 36 SB).
Outlook: P-W is back at MSU for the second time in four years after also making the Semifinals in 2019, and this time with a District Semifinal upset of No. 3 Hemlock to its credit plus double-digit scoring in three of five postseason games. Saturday’s 12-8 Quarterfinal win over Lansing Catholic avenged a regular-season sweep. Wirth made the all-state first team last season, and Thelen made the second. Junior Drew Nurenberg (4-0, 0.63 ERA) and senior Austin Schafer (6-2, 1.84) lead the team in starts this spring, but sophomore Gabe Miller (7-2, 1.15 ERA) leads the team in wins despite just four starts on the mound. Senior infielder Adam Nurenberg (.333) adds another solid bat to the lineup.

Record/rank: 35-6, No. 5
Coach: Ryan Raymond, fifth season (139-49-3)
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference 10
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Cole Prout, sr. OF (.505, 83 R, 13 3B, 9 HR, 46 RBI, 21 SB); Charlie Kolbiaz, sr. C (.452, 12 2B, 49 RBI); Chase Raymond, sr. IF (.472, 48 R, 10 2B, 10 3B, 76 RBI); Addison Vallad, sr. IF (.358, 51 R, 32 RBI, 8-0 pitching, 2.87 ERA).
Outlook: After reaching the Quarterfinals for the third time over the last six seasons, Standish-Sterling will play in its first Semifinal since 1976 with a Regional Final win over No. 13 Houghton among highlights of this playoff run. The offense’s numbers are incredible – the Panthers have averaged 14.5 runs per game during the tournament and 10.3 per game for the entire season. Senior Brett Bartlett (.452, 41 R, 35 RBI), sophomore Cooper Prout (.429), freshman Sam Briggs (.357) and senior Matt Yealey (.356) are among others having substantial success at the plate. Five of the team’s six losses came to teams ranked among the top eight in Divisions 2, 3 or 4. Chase Raymond will continue at Saginaw Valley State.

Division 4

Record/rank: 29-2, No. 1
Coach: Steve Pickens, fifth season (131-32-1)
League finish: First in Highland Conference
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Wade Wilson, sr. P/CF (.421, 34 R, 5-1 pitching, 1.20 ERA); Brendan Martin, sr. P/1B (.323, 11-0 pitching, 0.70 ERA, 73 K); Kaiden Andrews, sr. 2B/SS (.477, 49 R, 11 2B, 31 RBI, 12 SB); Brayden Haynes, sr. 3B (.511, 44 R, 10 2B, 63 RBI).
Outlook: Beal City has reached the season’s final week for the third time in four seasons (not counting COVID-canceled 2020), its only losses to Division 2 Gladwin and Division 3 No. 17 Hudson (the latter in a split). Wilson made the all-state first team last season, while Martin, Andrews and Haynes made the second team. Sophomore Cayden Smith is among others having a massive season, hitting .500 with 48 runs, 10 doubles, 35 RBI and 20 steals, and he’s 5-0 in the mound with a 0.96 ERA. Senior Konnor Wilson also is 5-0 and hitting .474 with 39 runs scored and 33 RBI. Seniors Hunter Miles (.494, 46 R, 43 RBI) and Josh Wilson (.494, 39 R, 40 RBI) and sophomores Jack Fussman (.376, 40 R) and Jake Gauthier (.367) also are piling up major numbers.

Record/rank: 17-12, unranked
Coach: Mike Magier, ninth season (record N/A)
League finish: Third in Detroit Catholic League AA
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2018, Class C runner-up 1994.
Players to watch: Tylor Morehouse, soph. IF; Connor Silka, sr. P/IF; Ashton Nowak, sr. P/OF, Brenden Hills, sr. IF/OF. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Richard had a rare 8-16-1 finish in 2021 but capped that season with District and Regional titles, and the Pioneers have surged over the last month again to return to the Semifinals. Four of five MHSAA Tournament games have been shutouts, including wins over No. 20 Bay City All Saints in the Regional Final and No. 9 Marine City Cardinal Mooney in the Quarterfinal. Silka, Hills, Nowak and catcher/infielder Bryan Tuttle are the only seniors.

Record/rank: 28-6-1, No. 3
Coach: Billy Mitchell, third season (46-18-2)
League finish: Second in Straits Area Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: EJ Suggitt, sr. IF/P (.529, 44 R, 44 RBI, 24 SB, 10-3 pitching, 3.13 ERA, 73 K); Tate Besteman, sr. OF/P (.393, 47 R, 36 SB); Brett Mayer, sr. P/OF/IF (.367, 38 R, 38 RBI, 24 SB, 13-0 pitching, 1.46 ERA, 104 K); Cam Peterson, soph. IF/C (.366, 44 R, 20 SB).
Outlook: This will be Rudyard’s third trip to the Semifinals over the last 10 seasons (not counting canceled 2020), and first since 2015. The Bulldogs emerged from a Regional that included No. 4 Maple City Glen Lake and No. 7 Indian River Inland Lakes, and they’ve won 22 straight games. Suggitt helped lead the football team to the 8-Player Semifinals and boys basketball team to the Division 4 Quarterfinals as well this school year. Austin Warner (.358) leads the team with 39 stolen bases while Rudyard as a whole has 211 swipes in 232 attempts. Sophomores Eli Sprague (.333), Aiden Bickel (.327, 29 SB) and Landen Mayer (.308) also bolster the lineup.

Record/rank: 22-9, No. 13
Coach: Hank Dreffs, second season (36-23-1)
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Alden Stefanovski, sr. C (.461, 20 2B, 29 RBI); Alex Di Dio, jr. IF (.442, 36 R, 30 RBI, 1.83 ERA); Hayden Collingham, sr. IF (.349, 24 RBI); Zane Gregg, jr. P/IF (.314, 0.57 ERA, 107 K).
Outlook: Whitmore Lake won its first Regional title and will make its first Semifinal appearance after avenging a late-season sweep by Britton Deerfield with an 11-5 Quarterfinal win. The Trojans also defeated No. 16 Decatur in the Regional Final. Third baseman Garrett Engstrom joins Stefanovski and Collingham as the team’s only seniors, and there are eight underclassmen on the 15-player roster. Whitmore Lake has won league titles both seasons under Dreffs and improved this spring from 14-14-1 overall a year ago. Junior Dalton Bachman (1.83 ERA) provides another valuable arm.

PHOTO Beal City's Kaiden Andrews (7) attempts to beat the tag at the plate against Clare early this spring. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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.)