To climb baseball’s coaching ladder, you need experience, a mind for the strategies and nuances of the game, and a love for the sport.
But like many professions, it can be more about who you know, not what you know.
Zach Bayreuther hopes the connections he made this past summer as a hitting coach for the Madison Mallards will open up new opportunities in the future.
“This was just taking another step up the ladder,” Bayreuther said. “For me, my goal is to be a DI coach someday.”
The 2009 Janesville Craig graduate has always been around baseball. He grew up playing catch and fielding grounders in his backyard, was a key starter for the 2009 Craig team that went to state and went on to win three Midwest Conference championships while playing for Ripon College. He hit .288 at Ripon and graduated as the school’s all-time leader in walks (94) while ranking second in games played (150).
Bayreuther is working on his master’s degree at Wayne State College in Nebraska and served as a graduate assistant for the school’s baseball team in the spring.
He knew several people working in the Mallards’ front office, and, looking for a way to continue coaching during the summer, took a chance.
“I was just looking for a summer job and sent out emails. It’s better to know people and to know things,” Bayreuther said.
Mallards manager Donnie Scott called Bayreuther and the two talked for several hours before Bayreuther was offered the hitting coach position.
The chance to spend a summer working with some of the top college hitters in the country, while coaching under the guidance of Scott, a former MLB player and minor league manager with the Rangers, Mariners and Reds, was one Bayreuther eagerly accepted.
“It was kinda perfect how it worked,” Bayreuther said.
The Mallards were among the best offensive teams in the Northwoods League this season. They averaged 6.4 runs per game, second only to the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (6.6), and hit .262 overall.
“I’m not gonna take much credit for that,” Bayreuther said with a laugh. “That’s just the guys going out and playing every day.”
Bayreuther said the biggest change was adjusting to the packed summer schedule. The Mallards played 72 games in 77 days. College teams might play two or three games a week.
“When you’re playing every day it’s totally different from the college grind. You’re on the road, you’re on the bus for two to six hours every day,” Bayreuther said. “More of the coaching you do is on the mental side, and how to keep them motivated to do the extra work.”
He picked up plenty of lessons watching Scott.
“I knew he had a lot of knowledge,” Bayreuther said. “That was the biggest reason I wanted to go.
“He let guys just play their game. It was fun for me, because he always made everybody relax. No matter how big the situation, there was always a way.”
Baseball is the sport that brings Bayreuther and his family together. His father, Dan, is the head softball coach at Craig. His sister, Haley, starred at Craig before playing collegiately for UW-Oshkosh.
“Growing up, we hit millions and millions of balls in my backyard. That’s kinda where the love of the game came from. Some dads go fishing, but with him it was always baseball or softball,” Bayreuther said.
Bayreuther plans on coaching at Wayne State again in the spring. After that? He’ll be on the hunt for the next opportunity to climb the coaching ladder.
“It’s going to be up in the air for a little bit. Obviously, I want to stay at the DI or DII level,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. It‘s more about making connections right now and someday down the road they’ll help me out.”
Based on his first-hand experience and years of coaching, Bayreuther has some tips for aspiring sluggers.
“Just go play, don’t over-stress it,” he said. “Every at-bat’s a new at-bat, you have to learn from the past. But when you get up there it’s a new at-bat, you can’t go up there with negative thoughts.
“It’s the hardest game, because if you fail seven of out 10 times you’re still a successful player. You’ve gotta learn from those failures and move on.”