Washington Nationals Organization
Baseball disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it has to do with a missed sign. Sometimes a passed ball. And sometimes, a dropped kid. Mack Jenkins recalls with a touch of horror, his biggest coaching disaster, that had nothing to do with any of his players.
Once, when Mack was coaching third base, there was an on-field promotion with kids running the bases. One small child was having a hard time making it home, so being the good guy that he is, Mack picked him up. As he raced toward home plate, Mack tripped and fell, terrified kid in his arms.
But, the kid was fine. And, except for a bit of a bruised ego, Mack recovered, continuing to make a difference on the field and off, as he coached hundreds of players over the course of 30 years.
During the 1989 World Series, after retiring from playing professional ball himself, Mack was offered a job with the Cincinnati Reds. For the next 23 years, he made his way through the system, coaching all levels from Rookie Ball to AAA. He traveled the world – working in cities such as Billings, MT; Cedar Rapids, IA; Charleston, WV; Chattanooga, TN; and Louisville, KY, as well as stints in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. In 2012 he became the assistant pitching coach for the major league Reds, before becoming bullpen coach, then finally, pitching coach..
In 2019, he made the move to the Washington Nationals organization, working in Class A in Hagerstown, MD.
A valuable lesson learned throughout his baseball tenure is that failure is not fatal. Mack’s players learn early on that uncomfortable feedback is just part of the game for a professional athlete. They have to accept it, embrace it, and learn from it. His players know they have to show up every single day. With enthusiasm and energy, ready to compete fearlessly, no matter how they feel physically.
Mack does not compromise on certain beliefs. Preparation leads to performance. Enthusiasm is the mother of effort. Building relationships is crucial in driving talent and growth. Mack believes in challenging his players. Asking a player to make a dramatic change when necessary, expecting to be trusted, and not needing to be thanked when that pitching change ended up reenergizing an entire career.
Mack understands that the right team culture is key. That a good coach speaks well and knows how to say the same thing with different words. That the thirst for knowledge is never quenched. And, that sometimes, even the best of the best drop a ball.
Or, a kid.
Director of Coaching Development
Some coaches take a straight path while others zig zag their way into their niche. Andrew Bartman’s coaching history had many jumps and joys before landing at USA Baseball.
Andrew started young – as a high schooler he was already helping out at his old junior high school. By college, he was assisting a Legion team in Lincoln, IL, as well as serving as head coach of the Central Illinois Cannons travel team. After he graduated, he got his first stab at the collegiate level as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at a perennial powerhouse JUCO, Wabash Valley College in Illinois. While there, he worked with dozens of players who went on to play professional ball, with two making it to the big leagues.
After three years at WVC, Andrew headed home to take the job as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Lincoln College, where he had played himself for two years. Working for a former coach allowed him to learn lessons through a different lens as he coached and completed his Master’s degree.
Just as he had done as an undergraduate, Andrew transferred from Lincoln to his other alma mater, MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL. As head coach, he was faced with a complete disaster, but was able to turn the culture around and in his first season, tripled the team’s win total from the previous year. The AD who hired him left two years later for Bethany College, an NAIA school in Kansas, and offered Andrew the job as Head Coach and Associate Athletics Director. Proudly, the baseball program performed over 5,000 hours of community service each year as well as qualifying for the KCAC tournament three out of four years.
After four years at Bethany, American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) offered him the Youth Division Liaison position. For the first time since starting his career, Andrew wasn’t living by a coach’s schedule which was a big boon for his family. While at ABCA, he worked with USA Baseball which is how he eventually morphed into his current position. As Director of Coaching Development at USA Baseball, Andrew coordinates over 150 free Community Coaching Clinics and has recently launched a Regional Clinic program as well.
Andrew is a big believer in giving back and has incorporated that philosophy into his team cultures throughout the years. He subscribes to the theory that giving back to one’s community is not only humbling, but allows players to gain a greater world view as they grow as people.
Along the way, Andrew has been influenced by Coach John Stoltzenburg, who taught him how to be firm, but available, and Coach Rob Fournier of Wabash Valley College, who made a national powerhouse out of nothing and continues to raise the bar every single year. Tony Thomas who taught him to care about the person and not just the player. And Kevin Vest, who guided him throughout his career in navigating the baseball coaching landscape.
While a coach has to be a good listener, motivator, and learner, Andrew Bartman realizes that being an effective communicator is just as important. If sharing stories, skills, and journeys can help change the life of just one player or coach, then regardless of runs and records, it’s a win.
Head Baseball Coach
West Chester University
Like just about every kid out there, Jad Prachniak dreamed of going pro, playing in Game 7 of the World Series, maybe even winning a Cy Young. And like 95 percent (give or take depending on who’s doing the stats) of those kids, there comes a time when reality hits you in the glove and you realize it just ain’t gonna happen.
Some people spend a lifetime lamenting the what ifs and the coulda beens, and others, like Jad Prachniak, get out there and put their time and talents to good use.
Jad was a sophomore at University of Rhode Island when he realized there weren’t many MLB teams calling for an undersized right-hand pitcher throwing 83-86 mph with command issues. He began looking at the game through a different lens, taking in every facet of the field and absorbing as much as he could.
Jad spent his fifth year at URI student teaching and working as an undergrad assistant under Coach Frank Leoni. When Leoni accepted the Head Coach position at The College of William & Mary, he asked Jad to join him as the pitching coach. Knowing what a great opportunity it was for a 23 year old, Jad fully embraced the experience, spending the next six years listening and learning as much as he could.
As an assistant, Jad traveled a good amount, working camps, and attending conventions and clinics. While in each of those different coaching environments, he kept his ears open. And, because he listened, he developed as a coach AND regressed as a coach. He learned along the way that along with the great strategies and killer drills, there’s a plethora of good information out there. But, he also learned that coaching baseball is not a one-size-fit all. The best of the best wasn’t necessarily going to be the best fit for him or his team. When Jad took ownership of finding what was right for him and right for the team is when he took his biggest step forward as a coach.
In the summer of 2011, Jad was offered the head coaching job at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and he’s been there ever since. He started building a positive team culture immediately and knew instinctively that for every individual to be taken care of, he had to figure out exactly what they needed in order to thrive. He knows that players need to know that they are cared about, by the coach, and by each other. When he sees his guys taking care of each other away from the field, that’s when he knows the team is in a good place.
From day one he’s always asked his players to DO THE RIGHT THING, which means in the classroom, on the field, in the community, and everywhere else. He tells them, “Be at your best,” when dealing with adversity, and circumstances aren’t the best. And, “Be at your best,” when dealing with success, when it seems like everything’s going the right way.
When Jad was asked what he believes to be the most important quality of a coach, he took a line from the late sports psychologist, Ken Ravizza:
“What is the most important moment of your season? ….Answer: Right Now.”
While it’s important to learn from past experiences and to look ahead to see what the future may hold, the best way to get to where we want to be is to take care of the NOW.
For Jad Prachniak, NOW also includes his wife, Kelly, and daughter, Emilia, who as she toddles about, demands, “Ball, ball, ball!” They are his biggest fans, along with his parents and siblings who supported his baseball endeavors throughout his journey.
With the now that Jad Prachniak is living as a husband, a father, a coach, and a friend, it’s abundantly clear that his future is also going to be pretty darn bright.
MiLB Player Development
So often in life, we get an idea that pops into our mind and just keeps on brewing. We think about it, dream about it, but it doesn’t really take hold until we get outside affirmation. When we do, that’s when we go for it, full-force, never letting go until we get where we were meant to be.
For JT Maguire, the coaching seed was planted his junior year of college. While picking the brain of his assistant baseball coach, JT was told he had the drive and characteristics that are essential for success as a coach. Those casual conversations were what shifted JT’s focus and propelled him toward a coaching career.
JT’s coaching journey began at The Park School of Baltimore, a private high school in Maryland. Two years and one state championship later, he took an assistant coaching position at his alma mater, North Harford High School, about 30 miles up the road. From there, he landed at Harford Community College, working on the side as a personal trainer to make ends meet.
JT left HCC for a volunteer assistant job at Wofford College, a Division I school in Spartanburg, SC. He stayed at Wofford for two years, then followed Wofford’s pitching coach to Lander University in Greenwood, SC. JT became the recruiting coordinator and worked there another two years until he was hired by the Cleveland Indians.
Along the way, JT admits he’s had his share of coaching disasters, mostly stemming from making adjustments based on what he thought he knew, rather than figuring out the why behind what was happening. Baseball is a game of constant learning and listening and watching, and assimilating qualities of those you most admire.
Todd Interdonato is one of those coaches JT most admires. While working under him at Wofford College, JT realized Todd was the kind of person he most wanted to emulate. The kind of coach who doesn’t have one single thing that stands out as the “it” factor, but rather a million little things that make him someone everyone wants to be around. The kind of coach who builds a team every player wants to be part of.
The Cleveland Indians’ team culture, from the big leagues all the way down through the minors, falls under the acronym, G.R.I.T., which stands Growth Mindset, Routines, Individual Plans, and Team First Approach. Its “we’re all in this together” culture generates a positive player-coach relationship better than any other JT has seen.
But, as far as specific coach qualities, JT believes there is nothing more important than trust. If a player doesn’t trust you, you’ll never form a true bond. When a coach is in the game for himself, players smell it immediately and are turned off. When a player knows that you are in it for them, and their career, that trust builds a strong and lasting relationship.
When those relationships go beyond the diamond, that’s when JT knows he’s made a significant impact on a player. A text announcing the birth of a baby, a player getting drafted or promoted to the next level, a request or a reference letter, or a call from a former player just wanting to catch up.
That’s when JT Maguire knows he’s done his job.
Head Baseball Coach
Cookeville High School
For most nine year-olds, Little League means cracking jokes in the dugout, eating hot dogs at the concession stand, and dreaming of becoming the next Cody Bellinger. But, Butch Chaffin had a different game plan. He was so fascinated by his coaches, their practice plans, and their game strategies that as a nine year-old Little Leaguer, he knew, unequivocally, that one day he’d grow up to be a baseball coach.
And, that he did.
Currently, Butch Chaffin is Head Baseball Coach at Cookeville High School in Cookeville, TN. He is entering his 32ndyear in baseball which includes a four-year stint as a Division I assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, three years as a Special Assignment Scout for the Kansas City Royals, and 13 years with USA Baseball.
In his 25 years of high school coaching, Butch boasts 13 District titles, 6 Region title and one State Championship appearance. He has led 19 All-State and five High School All-Americans and coached 126 players who went on to play college baseball.
Maybe it has something to do with the team culture Butch has created. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing with kids and parents sometimes pushing back, derailing the headway he’s made in building a solid, stable culture. And, while he freely acknowledges that it’s a work in progress and takes forever to get it going in the right direction, once it’s there, it’s there.
Butch believes in challenging his team every day. In treating boys like men. In pushing to the breaking point, and then going beyond. In giving his kids an experience they will remember forever. In creating a culture based on trust, honesty, and love.
Though he’ll never forget the post-game dog pile when his team made it to the Tennessee State Tournament for the first time, or winning a Gold Medal in Taiwan, perhaps his most rewarding moment was when a player asked him to be best man at his wedding.
It’s not always easy being a coach. But, when the game plan works, it works.
Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
United States Air Force Academy
The guy C.J. Gillman most respects is his boss, Mike Kazlausky. The dude who’s been the biggest influence in life is his dad. And the best part of his journey has been getting to coach his little brother, Tommy.
Sometimes, the important people in our lives motivate us. Sometimes, they mentor us. Sometimes they change us. And, sometimes they do all three.
If we take even the quickest of looks at these MVPs, we get a pretty good idea of who C.J. has become as a coach and a man.
Mike Kazlausky, who was a walk-on to the Air Force Falcons’ baseball team back in 1988, ended up as a four-year starter who graduated with eight career records. With a couple of assistant coaching stints back at his alma mater between active service and deployments, he became full-time head coach of the Air Force Falcons baseball team in 2012. That’s following 20 years of service to our country.
Chuck Gillman, who served 40 years on the diamond, is a long-time Colorado high school baseball coach. He coached both of his sons at Columbine High School, winning the 5A title in 2006 when C.J. was a junior. When his younger son, Tommy, graduated in 2016, he retired as head coach to free himself up to watch Tommy play in college.
Tommy Gillman, with stints at Texas A&M and Midland College under his glove, decided it was time to fly higher. After he was accepted at the Air Force Academy, he found he had to start over academically and though a junior on the field was only a freshman in the classroom. But, all that basic training and hard work has been worth it, because he’s getting coached by his big brother.
And, of course, Papa Gillman couldn’t be happier. With his two sons together right up the road, he can continue to be a daily presence in the lives of the kids he coached from the time they could first hold a bat.
C.J. graduated from the University of Dayton in 2012 with a degree in Leadership. He lead the Flyers to their first conference tournament championship and NCAA Regional appearance in school history He is the season record holder in hits (91) and ranks among the top five for single season RBI, doubles and stolen bases.
After college, C.J. played two years of professional ball with stints in the Colorado Rockies minor league system and the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League before returning to Dayton to help coach for a year.
From there, he headed to the United States Air Force Academy where he is entering his sixth year as Assistant Baseball Coach. C.J. works with the catchers, base running, and running the offense as well as heading up the recruiting efforts.
C.J. Gillman’s coaching philosophy is Do Damage.
Head Coach Mike Kazlausky’s motto is Take Care of Your People.
And, that just about sums it all up.