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Griffin comes back to his roots, takes over Jesuit baseball

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit second baseman Donovan Baldocchi and the Crusaders will have a new leader at the helm in Colin Griffin who took Lakeridge back to prominence over the past seven seasons and is a Jesuit alum.

Hanging from the Jesuit High Knight Center rafters is an impressive amount of uniform green and yellow state championship banners, each commemorating a distinctive season in the school’s prolific athletic history.

From football to basketball to ice hockey, the pennants go two and even three deep around the gymnasium, every one a reminder of which school flexes its muscles most in the postseason and tends to wear the crown when championships hang in the balance. Name a sport, pick a year and there’s likely a Crusader flag with the words “State Champions” in all capital letters dangling high above the Knight Center floor.

Yet, for it’s all rich sporting tradition there’s one noticeable absentee, one banner that’s unaccounted for.

Since its inception in 1956, despite fielding teams crowded with future college players, the Crusaders have never won a state title in baseball. Be it bad luck, injuries, or underachieving squads, Jesuit’s been left on the outside looking in when it came to seizing that evasive blue trophy.

It’s the missing link in Jesuit’s robust lineage, and one new head coach Colin Griffin can’t wait to begin chasing when the former Lakeridge manager fully takes over at the helm in the spring.

A 2000 Jesuit graduate who played football, basketball and baseball and took Lakeridge to the state playoffs every year since 2011, Griffin is well-aware of the baseball banner omission in Knight Center. And, it’s safe to say the Crusader skipper isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“There’s no reason why we can’t put a state title up there,” said Griffin. “In order to win a state title, it takes more than talent, it takes the right kids. Everyone has to come together and believe in the ultimate goal and not just their own riches. That puts a lot of responsibility on the coaching staff to make sure the kids are on task and team-oriented.”

The 33-year-old Griffin coached at Lakeridge for seven seasons, taking a sagging Pacer program back to contender status in the truculent Three Rivers League. Griffin rebuilt Lakeridge into upstarts, even knocking out Westview — Jesuit’s archrival — in 2013.

However, the chance to put down roots on the campus he once darted around as a youngster following his dad, Bill, who coached the Crusader football team from 1978-1984 was too much to turn down. Crusader Nation has embraced their native son, his wife Rachel and two children Ben (2 years old) and Ellie (3 months) with open arms.

“The support from the Jesuit community has been pretty impressive to say the least,” said Griffin. “The opportunity to come back and create that atmosphere that I was taught, the same type of expectations that were put on me as a student-athlete at Jesuit, I’m very excited to be that next coach to bring that to these kids.”

Griffin said he’s the type of manager who teaches the basics and fundamentals, but when it comes down to the game, the former Willamette University shortstop wants his players to trust their inclinations and athleticism. He said Jesuit will be disciplined and players will understand the game and what the team is trying to accomplish. That way, when it’s game time, Griffin said baseball becomes “second nature and they’re able to play free and excited”.

“My job is to make them better off what their natural instincts are, and when it comes to playing games, that’s when it should take over,” said Griffin. “Hopefully, the work we put in during practice refines their abilities.”

The opportunity to return to his alma mater became even more enticing when Jesuit athletic director and former head coach Tim Massey laid out the job’s parameters. Rather than tending to shabby fields, spending time in ongoing board meetings, or raising funds for the Crusader program, Griffin can focus solely on coaching and see to it Jesuit stays in the state’s elite.

For example, during his time at Lakeridge, Griffin said he had to fundraise $80,000 a year to operate his spring and summer programs. At Jesuit, the budget is handled for him. As a program, the Pacers had to maintain both of its baseball fields because the school district would only mow each once a month. Not only did they have to trim the grass themselves, but the program had to pay for the gasoline and the mowers’ maintenance.

At Jesuit, the baseball field is synthetic turf and, other than the dirt mound requires very little upkeep. The same off-the-field headaches like fixing irrigation pumps and fertilizing fields that once plagued Griffin are gone as the Crusaders’ skipper.

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit senior shortstop Tommy Kaempf is part of a strong returning core for new head coach Colin Griffin next spring when the Crusaders retake the diamond.

“The chance to just coach is pretty exciting for me,” said Griffin. “The Jesuit administration told me their goal was to do the back work so I could coach. That’s one thing I missed doing. I made comments all the time to my Lakeridge kids that I missed coaching. At Jesuit we have a full field, so the practices are going to be efficient. We won’t have to squeeze anything in to do other things away from the game.”

Massey — ­who resigned after last season and called Griffin afterwards to inform him of the vacancy — certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare. Scheduled to return next season are a core of talented starters such as outfielder Chris Arpan, infielders Donovan Baldocchi, Tanner Ueland and Tommy Kaempf, catcher Tommy Vickers and pitcher Colton French who all have extensive varsity experience and the ability to vie for a Metro title.

“Jesuit has a very powerful tradition of bringing in strong student athletes, not only on the field, but in the classroom as well,” said Griffin. “There’s going to be years when you have the talent, and some you don’t, so you coach the kids you have. I’ll say this, I’m extremely excited to coach the kids walking the hallways now.”

Griffin and Massey are splitting coaching duties this summer of Jesuit’s OIBA team, and though Griffin hasn’t seen them all because they’re playing on travel teams or going on mission trips, the new skipper said he’s stoked to get in and work with this crew.

“They’re very coachable and already know the game really well because of how Massey ran the program,” said Griffin. “I’m looking forward to building off what they already know.”

Griffin said the toughest job of any baseball coach is getting players to accept and then take ownership of their roles on the team to better the program.

“Kids want to belong and be a part of something special,” said Griffin. “It’s the coach’s job to create that and facilitate that.”

In Metro, as well as the state, Griffin’s found the best teams have an additional quality arm that complements the ace workhorse on the pitching staff. And, Griffin said the squads that are strong at the bottom of the lineup in the seven, eight and nine holes tend to thrive in 6A.

“You really need those guys to turn the lineup over,” said Griffin. “That’s where you have to have the complete program. All the way down the lineup, everyone is serving a role and serving a purpose.”




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