By Jordan J. Michael
BERNE –– Matt Goebel is the fourth different baseball coach Berne-Knox-Westerlo has had in the past three years. He’s hoping to stick around for a while.
Before retiring after the 2011 season, Jeff Teats coached the Bulldogs for 22 years. Bobby Patrick, a 2007 BKW graduate, replaced Teats for 2012, but left his position in the middle of the season. Athletic Director Tom Galvin relieved Patrick for the rest of 2012, paving the way for Goebel, a first-year English teacher at the school.
Goebel, 27, is obsessed with baseball, and wants to bring stability to BKW’s coaching. His goal was to be both a teacher and a baseball coach, but he never anticipated that both would happen within the same year.
The athletic director “wanted someone with enthusiasm and passion,” said Goebel, who played baseball for South Colonie High School. “I think the relationship is good so far. I’m trying to build a program, set a foundation. Hopefully, I’m still here in five years.”
Senior Kyle Gibbs, who played under Teats as a sophomore, said that the coaching rotation has made things interesting. “It’s a good way to find out who you get along with, and you learn a lot,” he said. “They’re all great coaches, but Matt is like a kid sometimes, which is cool.”
At Tuesday’s practice, Goebel had the players’ undivided attention. He demonstrated the proper way to bunt the baseball, holding the bat at a 45-degree angle, saying, “Bunting will be huge for us. Pretend a glove is on the bat, receive the pitch.”
Goebel wants every swing to count for BKW this season, but the hitters don’t have much power, so the team has to stress fundamentals and the mental aspect of the game.
“Let’s say we have runners on first and second base, no one out,” Goebel said. “We have to move them over and get them in, whatever we have to do. Focusing on the small aspect of the game is important.”
The Bulldogs erected a batting cage in the gym at practice on Tuesday, and then the players alternated through five different batting drills. Meanwhile, Goebel closely analyzed the pitching deliveries of Gibbs, Jack Hurst, and Maclin Norray. It was BKW’s seventh practice, but the first time for the pitchers throwing off of a mound.
“I’m looking at their lower half, so I can see if they have proper form when they pitch,” said Goebel, who once pitched himself. “Their shoulders should be tucked; I’m watching from all angles.”
Goebel has never coached at the varsity level before, but he’s very expressive and knowledgeable. Gibbs said his coach knows all the little details of baseball.
A self-proclaimed “baseball geek,” Goebel is constantly watching and following the sport. His father grew up in Cincinnati, becoming a huge Reds fan, and almost played in the minor leagues.
“Baseball is in my blood,” said Goebel, who won’t wear his New York Mets cap to practice for fear of getting sweat on it. “I know everything from advanced stats to fantasy baseball to video games. It’s literally non-stop.”
Towards the end of Tuesday’s practice, Goebel had all the players line up for a drill that simulated taking a lead off of a base. Goebel went into a pitching stance, and the players had to decide if Goebel was going to throw home or throw back to the base.
Then, Goebel ran with the players, saying, “Don’t let me beat you.” At one point, he was faster than half of the Bulldogs. The players who were faster than Goebel were allowed to stop running.
“They despise running, but I like it,” said Goebel. “We get three miles into a run and they’re like, ‘We hate you,’ but they don’t hate me; they hate running. It’s a growing relationship.”
The Bulldogs finished with a 9-8 record in 2012. Goebel has set a team goal of beating that record, but he wants the players to have fun while appreciating the game and each other.
Goebel recently went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He studied the lifetime batting average of Ted Williams, which was “ridiculous,” he said, and found out that New York Yankees’ closer Marino Rivera has given up fewer postseason runs than the number of people who have walked on the moon.
“This game blows my mind,” Goebel said, “and I’m glad to be giving these kids a piece of it.”