By Adam Biggers/@AdamBiggers81
Mott Community College baseball’s immediate future now rests in the hands of a 23-year-old who’s never coached a collegiate game in his life.
But that doesn’t matter right now, nor will it matter three years down the road, because Roger Christensen, the new head coach of the Bears, carries himself like a calculated veteran.
He learned that from someone.
Since accepting the job in December, Christensen, a former star Bears infielder and Clio graduate, has calmly approached every step of the process.
First, he settled into his role.
Second, he scoured the area for the best available talent, which he found with Goodrich’s Austin Tangney, Grand Blanc’s Ryan Bartkowiak, Pewamo-Westphalia’s Jay Thelen and Archbold, Ohio’s CJ Brubaker—the heralded foursome signed their national letter of intent Sunday during a well-produced affair at Mott’s Regional Technical Center.
It felt like much more than some junior-college shindig. The new guys had name plates sat in front of their spots at the table. They had new hats, too. Well, players always received new hats. But this year, Christensen put a twist on a classic design. It's a subtle yet recognizable change in direction for the program.
Back to the conference: Roughly 30 people, including family members, coaches, team members and Mott assistant AD Al Perry, gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of Tangney, Bartkowiak, Thelen and Brubaker.
In the past, recruits would have handled their business in the hospitality room adjacent to the Steve Schmidt Gymnasium at Ballenger Fieldhouse. It’s a nice room. It has framed jerseys and Mott memorabilia strewn about tables and walls. It's essentially a giant trophy case that comfortably seats a dozen or so.
Former coach Shawn Brown always made sure to take photos in an effort to capture each kid’s special moment. Signing an NLI, regardless if it’s to a Division I or JUCO, is always an exciting time in an athlete’s life. It was special for Brown as well.
As a matter of fact, he held a signing day event for Christensen back in 2009. My how time flies—and with that said, it also changes. Brown was present during Sunday’s signing, but only as an assistant/athletic department member.
Christensen commanded the room's attention. He addressed the recruits’ families. It was also Christensen who promised to look after the four players for two years.
A 23-year-old said that to men and women roughly twice his age, or, in other words, people closer to his parents' age than his. However, kids don’t make such promises. Christensen is no kid. The Bears are his, and rightfully so. He didn't inherit a spot, he earned it. He has the youth, energy, love for the game and support system that can only produce grand success.
He may not win an MCCAA East title this season. But he has parts in place to make runs like his teams did under Brown, whom he credited for “making me the man I am today” while thanking the recruits for “joining the Mott family.”
I’ve been around the Bears for years, and I’ve talked to just about every guy who’s played for the program since bent brims were the norm. In fact, I remain in touch with several former players—even some of the guys who played with Christensen.
Some of them got into coaching as well, and they’ve all said the same thing, in one way or another, about the swap at Mott: There is no better guy to succeed Brown than Christensen, who embodied a Bears student-athlete for two years before finishing his four-year collegiate career at Tiffin University in Ohio.
Today, Christensen is part of the Mott financial aid department and asset to the athletic department. He's the right guy for the job.
Mott already sits on a solid foundation. Anyone who knows Brown, who's sent dozens of kids to the next level, is aware of the tireless efforts he puts into Kearsley Park, an absolute gem in the community, team trips, uniforms and team workouts—the Bears will always be Brown’s in a sense. He’s more than a coach. He’s evolved into part of the ship.
That won’t change, either.
Today, the only real difference—other than new-look hats and a new approach to signing day—is that Christensen now steers the wheel.
It’s still Mott baseball—just a slightly updated version, that’s all.
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