By Dave Sontag
Reprinted from Prep Baseball Report
At times, he wears a uniform under his uniform.
The attire that rests inside his baseball jersey has an “S” on the chest. The “S” should stand for Superman. For Saugatuck multi-athlete Blake Dunn, he doesn’t think playing four varsity sports each school year is newsworthy.
“Personally, I have never wanted to give up on any sports. I have the support from all of the coaches. I never wanted to close the door to any of the sports,” Dunn said.
The talented junior is currently competing on his school’s baseball and track & field teams. He hopes to end his high school career earning 16 varsity letters, an unprecedented feat in Saugatuck history.
Dunn has been the starting quarterback for three years and starred on the basketball court for three winters. In an age when many high school athletes prefer to specialize in one sport, Dunn has a different attitude.
“High school only happens once,” Dunn said. “My parents are behind me and my coaches all support me.”
So how does Dunn prepare for each of his spring sports?
Track coach Rick Bauer allows Dunn to conduct his workouts in the morning – before school. Baseball coach Dave Gawlak then works with Dunn after school on the diamond. Game and meet conflicts are minimal during the spring sports season.
It helps that Saugatuck’s athletic director is Bill Dunn, Blake’s dad. The veteran AD has not scheduled many events when baseball and track are competing on the same day. However, Blake did have to make a decision his freshman year when both the track and baseball teams traveled to Bloomingdale High School on the same day.
Blake said that day at Bloomingdale was the most memorable he has had during his high school career.
“I started off playing baseball that day and singled in my first at bat,” Dunn said. “I then changed into my track uniform and won three straight events.”
Dunn won the 110-meter hurdles, the 300 hurdles and as part of the 800 relay before changing back into his baseball uniform.
With the “S” etched on his chest, how did Dunn cap his full day of competition?
“I went back to the baseball field and hit a home run in my next at bat,” Dunn said.
Dunn not only intends to earn 16 varsity letters in his high school career, he also has earned all-state recognition in all four sports. He’s also recently been added to the MHSAA football record book for his accomplishments this past season.
Which sport does he like the best?
“I love them all so much. I really don’t know which one is my favorite,” Dunn said.
As an elementary student, Blake grew up on the gridiron with his dad, who is also Saugatuck’s football coach. Being a coach’s son, Blake serves as another coach on the field.
“He’s always hung around the field,” Bill Dunn said. “Ever since second or third grade, Blake has been around me on the football field.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder said there is nothing like “the Friday night lights in football and the Friday night crowds in basketball.”
“I have limited opportunities to play sports. I don’t want to miss out on any of them,” Blake Dunn said.
Demonstrating talent on the basketball court, Dunn scored 51 points against Lawton this winter. He finished his junior year with more than 1,000 career points.
Dunn’s offseason schedule consists of playing travel baseball and working out with the school’s basketball and football teams.
“I don’t wear myself out playing one sport and possibly getting hurt,” Dunn said.
Dunn does realize that college coaches encourage athletes to play multiple sports. In fact, statistics have proven that high school athletes who specialize in one sport are at an increased risk of injuries – especially knee and hip injuries.
David Bell, a professor of kinesiology and orthopedics and rehabilitation at University of Wisconsin, said after his school completed its recent study “Prevalence of Sport Specialization in High School Athletics” that parents need to be more cognizant of their children specializing in one sport.
Athletes who trained in one sport for more than eight months during the study were more likely to have a history of knee and hip injuries, Bell reported.
The MHSAA also is currently spearheading a task force to promote multi-sport participation.
“For years it seemed educators were alone in promoting the multi-sport experience as the best for young people,” Executive Director Jack Roberts said. “Major college football coaches, members of the USA Women’s World Cup Soccer championship team, Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, PGA golfer Jordan Spieth and others demonstrate to us that the multi-sport experience is the healthiest and happiest way to participate in youth sports.”
While playing four sports has kept Dunn busy athletically, he has been able to keep his grades solid. He holds a 3.95 grade-point average with a rigorous schedule.
The two-way baseball player has made a verbal commitment to play at Western Michigan University after high school. He is not sure if he will continue at WMU on the mound or as a catcher – or both.
“They have talked to me about maybe catching and then closing on the mound,” Dunn said.
Staying close to home does not surprise his dad.
“He’s really a down-home kid,” Bill Dunn said of his son. “The relationship with Billy (Gernon, WMU’s coach) is awesome.
The elder Dunn is proud of his son’s work ethic.
“He has God-given skills, but he works at it.” Bill said. “I remember him coming off of a basketball game on a Friday night and heading to Kalamazoo the next morning at 6:30 to work out for three hours.”
The talented junior has been clocked pitching at 90 mph and ran a 6.7-second 60-yard dash.
The script for Dunn has been storybook-like. Peeling off one uniform only to compete in another sport, he has carved quite an athletic career.
But while Western Michigan is waiting for the multi-talented athlete to finish high school, Blake will continue doing what he does best – performing at the highest level on his way to 16 varsity letters.
PHOTOS: (Top) Dunn has starred in football, basketball and baseball during the 2016-17 school year. (Middle) Dunn also was a Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion last spring in the 300 hurdles and as part of the 1,600 relay. (Top photos courtesy of the Dunn family, middle photo by RunMichigan.com.)
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."
2023 Made In Michigan
July 25: After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor - Read
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
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.)