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When Erik Bakich or Nick Schnabel sits down with a Michigan baseball
recruit, there is one conversation they always have with the young man.
They tell him about their college coach at East Carolina, Keith LeClair,
and about his enduring impact on them as men and as coaches.
They tell the teenage baseball player sitting across the table that
Coach LeClair had high expectations for his teams – a unified group of
athletes working toward Omaha – and they expect the same within the
The two coaches are in their second year in Ann Arbor – Bakich was hired
as the head coach in June 2012 and he quickly hired Schnabel as his
assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
They have every reason to believe that they can build a national
powerhouse there, Bakich said. Athletic director David Brandon is committed
to excellence across the board, and the baseball staff has the resources and
support they need to forge a path to Omaha in the next few years.
“The future is going to be very bright,” said Bakich, who finished at
East Carolina in 2000 and went on to assistant coaching stops at Clemson and
Vanderbilt and the head coaching job at Maryland before taking the Michigan
The transition from Maryland to Michigan, besides just testing the
ability of a California native to withstand some brutal winters, has been
encouraging because of the university’s attitude toward the baseball
Brandon’s goal for the athletic department is ambitious and simple – to
be in the running for the Director’s Cup every year. To that end, coaches
like Bakich and his players are creating a climate where a national
championship is a very real goal.
“One of the great opportunities here is going from a powerhouse
conference where you really just struggle to finish in the top eight (in
Maryland) to going to a conference with the resources and support that with
a couple of good recruiting classes we can be in a position to win the
conference year after year,” he said.
With an overall record of 18-22-1 and 8-7 in the Big Ten, Michigan is
fourth in the conference and poised to make a run, he said. Twelve of the
Wolverines' first 24 games were against top 25 teams, and with a young
roster the early part of the season forged the team's toughness and identity
quickly, Bakich said.
Michigan's immediate goal is a Big Ten title, he said, but like LeClair
he and Schnabel never let Omaha be too far from the team’s consciousness.
“We have taken the ability to motivate a team and reach team members
individually the way Coach LeClair did,” Bakich said. “I think back to the
team that we had, California kids and North Carolina kids, players of
different backgrounds coming together to unite around a common goal.
“What he did to get everybody to buy into his beliefs and his
philosophies, to get us to gel into a group that not only really cared for
each other but worked hard together and truly believed that we could get to
Omaha. That’s what made Coach LeClair so great, was his ability to inspire.”
Though they are pouring themselves into building something special for
the maize and blue every day, Bakich said that he and Schabel still bleed
purple and gold. They are already looking forward to the first weekend of
March in 2015, when they will bring their ball club into Clark-LeClair
Stadium to compete against their old team in the Keith LeClair Classic.
When the homecoming takes place, the two
former Pirate stars will no doubt be striving for a different outcome for
Michigan than occurred in the March 4, 2005, dedication game of Clark-LeClair
Stadium. The Wolverines lost that contest in a 2-1 thriller. [View
Woody Peele's column from that game.] [View
the box score from that game.]