By Adam Biggers/@AdamBiggers81
In some instances, a coaching change can have a negative impact on recruiting. In others, it can work in the new guy’s favor—which was clearly the case Sunday for first-year Mott College baseball coach Roger Christensen.
Despite being just 23 years old and four years removed from starring in the Bears’ infield, Christensen’s professionalism and natural way of interacting with today’s players helped seal the deal for his four-man 2015 class—Jay Thelen of Pewamo-Westphalia, CJ Brubaker of Archbold (Ohio), Ryan Bartkowiak of Grand Blanc and Austin Tangney of Goodrich.
“First thing I noticed, when I walked up [to him]—he didn’t have any facial hair or anything, so I kind of thought he was on the team, honestly,” laughed Thelen, one of four versatile infielders in the class. “Figuring out he was the coach, I really liked that. I feel like I can relate to him better than having a 50-year-old trying to coach me.”
Thelen recalled his first meeting with Christensen this past fall, which was when his travel team played the Bears in a scrimmage. Moments into the conversation, Christensen made an immediate impression—and so did Mott’s reputation of advancement.
“When he said he was only three days in [to coaching job], it was kind of interesting,” Thelen said. “I like how he was already trying to coach the team then. We talked, and I met him, and I was like, ‘Wow, this guy can really relate to us.’ He’s only been out of the game for a couple of years, so I guess that was a big thing.
We had our visit and went to a basketball game and felt like, ‘Yeah, this is where it can start.’ I made my choice to come here over Delta Community College and LCC [Lansing Community College]. Academics are big here, and that’s the main thing—but my dream is to play college baseball, so I can have both of those.”
The allure of having young coach struck Brubaker as well. The Ohioan looked at Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and several DII/DIII programs, but after speaking with Christensen, Mott stood out as the obvious choice.
“Definitely Coach Christensen—I never had a young coach,” said Brubaker. “I’ve always had guys who were older, so I’ve never had anyone who could relate to me, and relate to the game, actually. So, he basically was my biggest influence. Then easily my family, they really enjoyed the campus and so did I…”
During his visit to Flint, Brubaker formed an instant connection with members of the 2015 Mott team/staff. The sense of togetherness was present from start to finish.
“The coaching staff was really good to me,” he said. “Coach Christensen was just really easy to talk to and easy to get friendly with. The rest of the coaches seemed kind of uptight, kind of like I was just another kid they were recruiting—[Christensen] really seemed to care about me, so that’s why I picked him, and because the other players were so easy to know. They met me for the first time and acted like they’ve known me for years.”
Bartkowiak, who had DII/DIII options, liked the idea of playing for a younger guy. In fact, he’d rather play for someone who is “fresh”—he’s done so for years in Grand Blanc. That said, it’ll be an easy transition from Bobcats to Bears, and he’s eager to suit up for Christensen this fall.
“I’ve always had a younger coach, and I’ve always like how they’re just fresh out of the game and they know how to relate you," Bartkowiak said." They do the new stuff—they like the new stuff. They like the new styles, everything with baseball. They’re not old-fashioned, so that’s what I like.
Like Bartkowiak, Tangney comes from a local program that boasts a longstanding relationship with Mott baseball. Former coach Shawn Brown recruited some of Coach Bob Foreback’s best Martians. So, naturally, seeing friends and classmates play for the Bears sparked Tangney’s curiosity.
“I feel like there had to be something interesting about it since a bunch of people from Goodrich have gone to Mott,” said Tangney, one of the Flint area’s top talents. “I felt like I had to figure it out for myself. I like a smaller school that has smaller class sizes. To the teacher, you’re not just another person. I like to be known and get myself out there [in class].
He liked Oakland, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, but getting a head start at Mott proved to be the best option on both fronts.
“Mott was definitely my No. 1 choice when it comes to baseball and schooling. I’m happy to be here,” he said.
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