Before Wednesday night I had never spoken with new Purdue baseball coach Mark Wasikowski, but when I placed the call with him the sounds in the background were probably quite common if you were to give him a call at almost any time of day.
He was at the ballpark.
He has only been on the job for a couple of weeks, but he is already hard at work recruiting the next round of Boilermakers. The summer travel ball season is a big one for college baseball recruiting, and in his own words Wasikowski wants to be at the ballpark later than anyone else in order to establish relationships.
"The way you turn things around is simple: You have a solid plan, a solid system, and bring in great players to develop with that system. When you recruit players to fit into your system that is when you get results."
It is that system that stood out the most during our 25 minute conversation. You readers all know the story by now: Purdue had a great run in 2012, then fell off a cliff to a nadir of 10 wins this past season. Doug Schreiber, the winningest coach in program history, resigned, and Purdue went outside to bring in Wasikowski, a very impressive and promising recruiter that is in charge of a program for the first time. He was reluctant to talk about wins and losses even in year one because it is more important to establish a new culture.
"The first thing we want to do is establish a culture where everyone involved understands what we can do. Once we get moving forward from there we want to having positive momentum going forward in everything we do, whether it is on the field or even in the hotels we stay in with the staff knowing that we are gentlemen with good attitudes. We want to do a great job off the field as well as on it. We want to understand that we have to win little things every day in every area. Finally, we want to be the best prepared team on the field every day, and that lies with the coaches. If we focus on the results we're going to struggle. We want to win every little thing on and off the field and the results will take care of themselves."
Even though this is Wasikowski's first job, he doesn't feel like it is a lot different than his previous positions. He cited the biggest difference is going through the hiring process for a pitching coach, which he hopes to hire by the end of July. For the past several years he was an assistant at Oregon, a rising west coast program. He likened Purdue, however, to his job before Oregon.
"This job reminds me of Arizona. When I first got there with Andy Lopez they had three national championships, but had only made the postseason once in the previous nine years. We had a lot of people trying to give us second tier guys and we were trying to sell ourselves rather than the history of the program. This generation of players has everything instant. Tradition for them is what happened an hour ago. They don't reflect on what happened 3-4 years ago. They move on so fast from success or failure. They are most impressed with what you are doing now. We want to build on that by being there and establishing a regular presence."
Wasikowski definitely left his impression at Arizona. While 2012 was his first year at Oregon, many of the players he recruited to Arizona were still with the Wildcats that year, and they went on to win the College World Series and return program to the top of college baseball. That program was the national runner-up again just last week, too. Our friends at Arizona Desert Storm are definitely fans of his:
@HammerAndRails he was the main recruiter for the guys on that team. Great guy, awesome coach. You guys got a good one— AZ Desert Swarm (@azdesertswarm) June 23, 2016
There are a variety of things that Wasikowski sees as highly beneficial to Purdue going forward. He cited academics, facilities and, yes, even financial commitment to the program as definite positives.
"It is definitely a huge step having the facilities that Purdue has. It is a "wow" facility because kids say it is sweet and they want to play here. I think the administration has definitely committed itself to the program and you will see the results. We want to sell that Purdue is not only a great place to play baseball, but we have a great coaching staff, academics, and it is a place to develop as a person. We want to sell that not only to players, but develop that relationship with high school coaches, travel coaches, parents, and more."
Wasikowski has also seen the growth of baseball in the Midwest. He cited the Perfect Game Tournament and other summer events as ways to get players in front of coaches. He stated that college baseball players were no longer just from California, Florida, and Texas. There are players from all over the Midwest on teams across the country and with things like Big Ten Network you can get exposure everywhere.
As far as a coaching staff, things are coming together:
"We already have Wally Crancer on staff and he is staying. Jack Marder is coming with me from Oregon and he is going to be our volunteer coach running our camps and such. We are going to greatly increase out camp loads with team camps, nightly camps, and coach's clinics. Jack will be in charge of that. We're also hoping to have our pitching coaching sometime in the next two weeks or at least by the end of July."
For now though, it is mostly recruiting and looking to the future. Wasikowski doesn't want to be "wowed" just once before making an offer. He wants to be impressed several times, and be there in person to be impressed, before he offers. He knows that the scholarship limits of baseball (each team only has 11.7 scholarships to spread around) means that everyone is going to have to partially pay their way, but things such as academic scholarships help. That's just part of the process though.
"Summer means I am on the road and making critical decisions in recruiting. The only way I am comfortable is if I am at the ballpark and not taking a day off."
Thanks again to mark for taking the time to speak with me. The 2017 season begins February 17.