Sometimes, the best coaching means doing less than more.
An easy-handed approach meshed perfectly with a solid senior class this season at Chesterton, producing 20 wins, a 13-1 Duneland Athletic Conference record that earned its first league title since 1985, and Times Coach of the Year honors for Jack Campbell.
"From a coach's standpoint, you'd like to say you develop chemistry, but sometimes it's just there," Campbell said. "Ownership is really important, when you get a group that buys in, especially the older guys. All the seniors knew what had to be done. They were very focused. They wanted to be better and they took everybody else along. The dynamic of the team was there were no superstars. Other teams, man for man, were probably a step or two above us, but collectively, this was a team. There was always a superstar in a particular ball game."
Chesterton returned a handful of veterans, but lost pitchers Jeremy Jaeger and Brandon Roeske to injuries, further clouding the picture. It struggled early on a weekend trip to Lafayette, making Campbell wonder if they'd win six games, let alone 20. Slowly but surely, through the course of a wet April into a busy May, it all took shape.
"He found the perfect order, the perfect combination between speed and power, right and left, putting people in to perform who he knew would perform," catcher Michael Crowley said. "He was the perfect coach for our chemistry. He's a player's coach. He expected the seniors to be leaders, to run practice, to push kids. He played the game. He's been coaching for 43 years. He knows what to do and how to do it."
Aery Pratt and Mitch Kobitz formed a dependable 1-2 combination on a pitching staff that pieced games together, inning by inning, out by out, pitch by pitch. Campbell praised assistant Chris Smith, a former Trojan, for making it work. Smith credited Campbell for putting faith in him and the players.
"It was a team-driven concept," Smith said. "We had some really talented kids and you can't discount how things just clicked. The best thing Jack does is manage people. He's always even keel, very positive. He always trusts them to make the right decisions, to work on the things they need to work on. It's free form and the kids buy into it. They really enjoy playing for him. All my years, I've never heard one say they didn't."
Early in Campbell's career, he was more of a 'cookie cutter' coach. Over the years, he learned there was more than one way to be successful, orthodox or not, and there was no point in messing with it.
"If it ain't broke..." he said. "The biggest change is you're not around your kids in the summer. They're all over the place, getting hitting instruction, pitching instruction. There are certain techniques we teach, but sometimes it goes beyond one way or another and you just leave it alone."
Campbell's also found you don't have to yell to be heard.
"Baseball, you talk about being composed," he said. "Nobody's trying to make errors. Nobody's trying to get picked off. Silly things happen. You see it all the time. I just think it's counter productive. It doesn't accomplish anything. If I have to, I just pull them aside and talk in general terms, (like) we have to do a better job doing this."
Not to say Campbell doesn't get his point across, as he did in the sectional. Unhappy with the strike zone, he slowly trudged to the mound, waiting for the inevitable visit, at which time he made his feelings known. That's when you realize there's no doubt the fire still burns, even if it's under a cool facade.
"He's the same competitive guy as he was when he was 16, 17, playing (baseball and basketball) at IU," Smith said. "It still hadn't faded over the years and I don't see him slowing down any time soon."