Athletic Director, Joe Wootten, continue to make a guest appearance on this blog, as he sits down with head baseball coach, Kyle Padgett to hear his perspectives on the 2015 season.
Q: There is a long history of great baseball at DJO. In your short time, you have put your own mark on this storied tradition...What style of baseball do you coach and what are you looking for from your players?
Coach Padgett: Coming to O'Connell in 2012, I knew I was joining a baseball program with a storied tradition of success. In the stretch from 1963-1965 the team won 42 consecutive games,which is an insanely successful run at any level, but almost more impressive in high school baseball where you have young men who just haven't had the repetitions to be as consistent as players at higher levels. There was also a stretch from 1985-2001 where the baseball program won the Catholic League Championship for 15 of the 17 years and five State Championships in that same stretch.
While we're working to get the program to that consistent championship caliber again--and we've definitely made some progress--we have a way to go still. I think any time you see a program turn things around, you hear about a shift to a "winning culture." Players need to adjust their expectations and actually expect to win every game, and hold one another accountable at a championship level to maintain a high performance level.
I look for three things from our players everyday: a great attitude where they listen to their coaches and act as a great teammate always, their highest level of concentration and focus while at the baseball field, and a maximum effort. They are taught that this is the only way to properly respect the game of baseball and those who played it before them, and what they owe their teammates who are all working for the same cause. I encourage our players to play fearlessly and with an intelligent aggression, and to compete for every pitch.
Q: What have been the greatest moments for this team? What have been the disappointments?
Coach Padgett: Our most positive moments came in a great week of baseball in Myrtle Beach in beating four very good teams from across the country, a great stretch of WCAC games after starting the year 0-3 and finishing the regular season on a 10-3 run, and our first VISAA tournament victory in my time here down at St. Christopher's (Richmond) in the quarterfinals.
The 2015 season certainly had its ups and downs, and our greatest disappointments looking back on the year are coming away from a mostly successful season without a championship. We lost in the championship game at the Mingo Bay Classic, our spring break tournament which featured 64 teams from across the country. We lost in the WCAC semi-finals to eventual league champion St. John's, and we lost in the VISAA State semi-finals to eventual state champion Liberty Christian. While it was a very nice season with 17 wins, the frustration came in that when we allowed our talent to play, nobody could beat us, but in a number of "big games," we couldn't get out of our own way and really beat ourselves.
Q: Who have been key contributors? And how have they contributed?
Coach Padgett: We are known for keeping a huge roster (30 players this year) because I really do believe we get contributions from every single guy. Many times those contributions don't show up in the box score, but they have been essential to building our program up to a point where we will compete for championships year in and year out. I was studying the Messiah College (NCAA D3) soccer program (both men's and women's programs, in fact) as they've experienced an incredibly successful run. One of the school's professors published a study as to how they've been able to build such a successful program, and I came across something that I love: "The longer you're involved with the program, the more you'll see it's not about the soccer." I truly believe in this concept that the wins on the field take care of themselves if all else has been done correctly and with a proper attention to the details and the process. Our players all play key roles in that process, and the diversity within our roster--from guys who act in the school play, to guys who play other sports, to guys who want to be on the team just because they love baseball--is what allows us to be successful.
That being said, I think its important to recognize the contributions of Nick Meruvia and Brian Murray, two seniors who have been key in getting the program to where it is in their time. Additionally, junior Rafi Vazquez who committed to Coastal Carolina University recently, had another great season following up his WCAC Player of the Year campaign with a First Team All-League and All-State season.
Q: What are your goals for the team moving forward? What areas are we hitting out of the park and what areas have room for growth?
Coach Padgett: Our goals are simple moving forward: continue to develop young men of character through the game of baseball, and as a part of that process win some of these championships we find ourselves competing in. While we've got a solid foundation for that, I think we got away from some of the attention to detail because we had a largely returning roster and took for granted that the players would pick up where we left off last year. It was a good lesson (unfortunately an "expensive lesson") to learn as a young coach and moving forward we will always take an approach where no detail is too small and nothing can be overlooked or it will manifest itself in an inability to perform at an inopportune moment.
It was a challenging yet very fun year as I welcomed my first child, who actually joined us on our Spring Break trip. Learning to balance my time better between the ballfield and home to help my wife with our daughter (while getting sleep when I could) was certainly a learning process and something that I'll continue to work at as my family grows in addition to my O'Connell baseball family. While I believe in what I am doing as a coach and in the foundations and principles that make up my coaching philosophy, I am always trying to get better myself and improve upon how I coach. I believe that if I can pass that along to my players, that is as great a lesson as any other.
Q: What do you look for in a baseball player? Both skills and the intangibles?
Coach Padgett: What I look for in a baseball player is some talent, a willingness to learn and develop, a competitiveness and desire to win, an understanding of what it means to be a good teammate, and a person of strong character who understands that pursuing excellence is a full-time process that cannot be confined to the time spent on the diamond. I like coaching good kids who are good teammates, and I believe that I can teach them how to win baseball games.
Q: Talk about your coaching staff...what contributions are they making?
Coach Padgett: I am incredibly fortunate to have the best coaching staff in high school baseball. As a group, we have three guys who played professional baseball, and some of the finest role models I could have to be around the kids. Coach Rob Riley is the yin to my yang. I strive to be the even-keel voice of calm at all times, knowing that baseball can be a rollercoaster, and if you ride that rollercoaster, you'll be a wreck mentally (another one of those "expensive lessons" I learned back in my playing career). Coach Riley is the intense, fiery guy who yells when yelling is needed, and provides the motivation when motivation is needed. As far as developing pitchers goes, there aren't many guys on the planet who do a better job and we're incredibly fortunate to have him with us in the O'Connell baseball program.
Coach Sean Prince played here and was an All-WCAC player because of how hard he worked at it. While I don't mean to insult him in a comparison with Rudy of Notre Dame football lore, I imagine he was a similar player in that he had to work his tail off for everything he ever got and had to pay attention to everything to find ways to get the most out of his talent. At least that's the way he coaches, and again, we couldn't be more fortunate to have him here with us.
Last year Coach Greg Patton joined the mix and offers a very cool and very helpful perspective. Coach Patton has three sons, with the oldest graduating this year from Yorktown HS. Coach Patton played at GW and then up to Double A with the Boston Red Sox organization. He offers a perspective none of the rest of us has yet and its value cannot be overstated. He's great with helping the young men find a mental focus and mindset that allows them to perform at a high level.
Coaches Luke Skinner, MJ Hurley, Craig George, and Dennis Dwyer did a great job with our JV program this year as the development of the next group of guys will be key for us following next year's class of 12 rising seniors. Finally, Coach Bill Brubaker helped in the development of our catchers, which is no small thing when you have a freshman starting catcher.
This is Joe Wootten and that is The Week That Was!