Richard Seeking Familiar Playoff Groove

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

May 30, 2019


RIVERVIEW – Success came sooner than expected last season when Riverview Gabriel Richard won the school’s first MHSAA baseball title.

Mike Magier, who was in his fifth season as coach at Richard last spring, did not have a senior on a team that defeated Detroit Catholic League rival Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 3-0, in the Division 3 Final. Many, including Magier, had pointed to the 2019 season as the one that would carry the Pioneers over the top.

“We knew we had a quality team last year,” Magier said. “We thought we could make a run (in the tournament). You have to have some breaks along the way to win (the championship). We did (point to this season). We had done that stepping stone type of thing. We felt we had our sites on this year.”

Expectations increase, often dramatically, when a team wins it all. Richard has 11 seniors this spring, seven who are in the starting lineup more times than not. But injuries, unlucky weather and a touch of senioritis – often unavoidable this time of year as seniors begin looking forward to life after high school – have taken their tolls on the Pioneers.

It’s not that Richard has played poorly this season. The Pioneers reached the Catholic League C-D title game May 24, losing to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 2-0. But this weekend will provide an opportunity to bring everything back together at a time when it matters most, as one must consider Richard (15-5) the favorite at the District hosted by Allen Park Cabrini on Saturday.

Richard will play Taylor Prep in the 10 a.m. semifinal, with the host team taking on Ecorse at noon. The championship game will follow at approximately 2 p.m.

“To be truthful, we haven’t played that well this year,” Magier said. “The weather has been a factor. There was a stretch where we didn’t play a game for eight consecutive days. We’re fortunate in that we have a turf football field and we’re able to practice on it. Some days I’ve received calls saying the field was under water, and we couldn’t practice.”

The Pioneers suffered a significant setback three weeks ago when Magier’s ace, senior right-hander Matthew Silka, suffered a broken right hand. Silka, who tossed a complete game one-hitter in the Division 3 championship game last season, was 3-0 with two saves when the injury occurred. It’s possible Silka will return for the Regional, should Richard advance.

“We think we can be competitive in the Districts,” Magier said. “But we’ll definitely need (Silka) in the Regionals.”

Another senior, Frank Klamerus, suffered a broken left hand two days before Silka went out. Klamerus, who plays third base, first and is one of Richard’s top pitchers, returned last week.

Richard’s best all-around player is Kevin Tuttle, a four-year varsity player who began his career as the starting centerfielder. He moved to the middle infield and is currently playing shortstop and catcher. Tuttle, who signed with Central Michigan University, is batting .465 with 13 RBI.

“He’s an all-around good hitter who can hit any type of pitch,” Magier said. “He plays good defense and shuts down the other team’s running game when he’s behind the plate.”

Another top senior is centerfielder Jacob Gosen, who covers a lot of ground in the outfield and has a strong arm. He hit .500 last season, and his average is hovering around .400 this season.

The two juniors who start are David Zubor, a left fielder who bats second, and right-hander Cole Atkinson, who’s 4-1 this season. Zubor struggled at the plate early but has since picked up his offense and is batting .300.

The cool, often wet playing conditions have made getting in a groove tough for his hitters, and Magier is hoping the weather improves now that the tournament is at hand.

“We’ve only had 20 games,” he said. “We haven’t been able to gear them up. Many of our nonleague have been cancelled.”

Richard played 25 games before the tournament started last season and finished 29-3. That team gave up just six runs over the seven tournament games, and Magier is counting on solid pitching again.

“For us to be successful (in the tournament), our bats have to come alive,” he said. “For some reason, whether it’s the weather or what, we’ve struggled at the plate this year. We just haven’t got into a groove. Our pitching has been solid, and our defense has been good. Our problem has been our hitting.”

A case in point is Tuttle. He bats third in the lineup, and despite his high average has driven home only 13 runs. The Pioneers will need to manufacture more production if they hope to return to East Lansing.

It’s been a steady climb for Magier’s program. The Pioneers lost to Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in a District Final in 2015, 3-1. The following year they lost to University Liggett, 3-2, in a Regional Semifinal, and in 2017 Bishop Foley eliminated Richard, 8-0, in a Quarterfinal.

Regardless of what happens during the next few weeks, Richard’s program is on solid ground under Magier. The 1990 Melvindale graduate, who played baseball at Wayne State, has 18 on varsity, 10 on the junior varsity and 14 on the freshmen team. Last season Richard was unable to field a freshmen team. These are impressive numbers when one considers Richard has an enrollment of just more than 300 students, boys and girls combined.

“We’ve got a bunch of smart kids and they like to compete,” Magier said. “They’re coachable, and every kid plays at least two sports. More than half play three. I definitely like the idea of them playing multiple sports.”

Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Riverview Gabriel Richard’s Kevin Tuttle drives a single to centerfield during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal win over Schoolcraft. (Middle) Centerfielder Jacob Gosen shows off his range at McLane Stadium during the 2018 championship game.

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.)