Each baseball game begins with a pitch. The action of firing a ball from the mound dictates everything, and with games relying on such an imperative action, such a chief position, the men who train, guide and coach that position are as important as the position itself.
"Our kids that come here at UNC are thirsty for knowledge," head baseball coach Carl Iwasaki said.
The University of Northern Colorado baseball team has an opportunity to quench that thirst, learning from two relatively new additions to the coaching staff, both of whom have been around the block once or twice.
The first welcomed was Randall Dale Spiehs, who was added to the coaching staff in August. Spiehs - better known as R.D. by players and coaches - spent seven years playing for various teams at the minor league level. Spiehs, who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2001, has been working with the Bears' pitchers after deciding to leave Grayson County College in Sherman,Texas, where he led the Vikings to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in 2011.
"Pitching and defense, whether its 12-year-old Little Leaguers, D-I athletes or guys in the big leagues, pitching and defense are the cornerstone to making the engine run," Spiehs said.
Alongside Spiehs is Patrick Perry, who returned to his alma mater in 2010, where he still holds records in doubles, total bases and RBIs. Along with his school records, Perry was also a Division I Baseball All-American and D-I Independent Player of the Year in 2004. Perry was drafted after his junior season by the Boston Red Sox as a catcher in the seventh round of the MLB Amateur Draft and spent five years playing in the minor leagues.
Both coaches bring the experience and mentality of the minors to UNC.
"Both of those guys have been there at the D-I level but also played at the professional level," Iwasaki said. "That's Pat Perry and R.D. Spiehs; teachers first, coaches second. (Our players) can ask all the questions they want."
With professionals to look up to, the Bears look to improve and continue to grow and improve.
"We really work on taking our time, taking it one pitch at a time," senior pitcher Nate Steinmetz said. "We're not worrying about anything else going on, not worrying about distractions or whatever happened before."
Thinking a pitch at a time has translated to wins for UNC (14-18) this season. The Bears swept the New York Institute of Technology this past weekend by holding NYIT to two runs or less in three games of the four-game set as seven pitchers combined to allow just seven walks while striking out 27 batters in the series. Perry said, the team needs to be able to feel the joy of victory at any moment during a game.
"It's something they have to bottle up and call on," Perry said. "This game is easy to play when you're ahead and easy to play when you're far, far behind. They have to bottle it up and remember that good feeling and call on that any time."
The Bears are excited to have Spiehs and Perry, who bring experience to a key position in baseball. With experience and credibility, the coaches said they believe they have a lot of wisdom to spread from their experiences after college.
"I think the fact that R.D. and I both played pro ball gives us a certain amount of credibility with the kids," Perry said. "Us (sic) having been there - and more importantly failed - we can call on the failures we had in our careers and hopefully give these kids a better opportunity to succeed."
Spiehs and Perry might not be with the Bears forever, but Iwasaki said the two teachers look to continue to develop players, giving them the chance to achieve as much as they can.
"This is a great stepping stone for them," Iwasaki said. "I don't feel this will be a stop for them, for 10 to 15 years. I'd love it to be, but coaches like Spiehs and Perry - my job is to get them to the big jobs. To get them to be head coaches, and that's my mission. I want these guys to be head coaches."