Head Coach Paul Babcock is in his 13th year at Lincoln-Way East. His Griffins won the 2008 IHSA summer state championship. He’s seen a lot of things change over a decade+ of high school baseball; and he knows that the more things change the more they need to stay the same. Winning baseball is about consistency and painstaking attention to the details – everyday.
Babcock is a disciple of the late Gordie Gillespie. He was a captain for Gillespie’s 1993 NAIA national championship team at St. Francis. Babcock is not alone in Will County. Gillespie’s record of achievement and influence hovers over every conversation about the quality of Will County baseball. In late April Coach Babcock was kind enough to spend some time with WillCountyBaseball.org to talk about his baseball philosophy, his community outreach in Frankfort, and the effects of travel baseball on high school programs.
WCB.org: Coach, what are some of the things you do differently here at Lincoln-Way East, or what sets your baseball philosophy apart from other programs in the area?
Coach Babcock: “I would kind of focus on some ways we’re similar. Two of my friends in the area – Dave DeHaan at Andrew and Todd Sippel at Homewood-Flossmoor – we’re kind of disciples of Gordie Gillespie who was our coach at the College of St. Francis. Brian Hurry is another one. He’s at Mt. Carmel.
“We just teach the game the way we believe it should be played. Hard-nosed baseball where you focus on the fundamentals. You do the little things right. You work hard. You focus on what you can control, and give it everything you got and then you’re not going to have any regrets. That’s really the main areas we focus on.
“You have to attack the strike zone, force contact, and then you have to play good defense. You have to be able to pick it up and throw it. And with hitting – you’ve got to be able to put the ball in play and run the bases aggressively and intelligently. I know that’s a lot, but that’s kind of what Coach Gillespie preached.
“We have to focus on the players as human beings as well. It’s a psychological game. When you fail 70% of the time that’s not always easy. So, we try to do all those things as well – focusing on the psychological part of the game.”
WCB.org: Every coach in the area has different ways to reach out to their communities. What are some things you do at LWE to keep parents and players interested in your program?
Coach Babcock: “Each summer we have a camp for first and second graders in one group. We have third, fourth, and fifth graders in another. We have a group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. And we have a group of incoming freshman as well. We have current players that actually work our baseball camps.
“Within the community we try to be influential. Each year we also do a food drive. It’s kind of a competition against our softball team. We try to see which program raises the most food for our local food pantry. Those are some things. I don’t how much that encourages people to come into our program. As far as providing a summer camp – seeing little kids taking instruction from players in our program. I would think that would inspire them to want to come and play at Lincoln-Way East.
“Every year I put on a coaches clinic that’s free of charge for anybody who coaches in the area. Whether they’re a parent or a coach they can come in and we put on a three or four hour clinic. It’s a way to get them to understand what Lincoln-Way East baseball is about. We also extend invitations for parents and kids to come out to a game or swing by a practice.”
WCB.org: Coaches around Will County are dealing with phenomenon of travel baseball during the summer in different ways. How are you able to manage your players’ time during the summer?
Coach Babcock: “I would say that most high school programs in the area have done the same thing I have done. We try to limit the amount of games, or at least the days of the week that we play. We realize that we’re losing a lot of kids to weekend tournaments, where Thursday through Sunday are no good. And, in fact, a lot of times Mondays are no good because you’re not going to have enough arms for pitching. So, a lot of us have gone to just playing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This year I think I only have games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and I have double headers each day. That’s one thing to kind of encourage them to stick with their high school team, and not just stay with their travel teams during the summer.
“I try to encourage them by telling them they’re going to pay a lot less to play for us, and they’re going to get a better idea of where they stand in the springtime. But it’s not always effective. We still have a lot of guys that are not completely going that way. They will tell me they can’t be here and it’s for this reason.”
WCB.org: Do you think that high school players are convinced that they will only get the attention of pro scouts and college coaches if they play travel baseball?
Coach Babcock: “I’m afraid that players do think they’ll get a lot more exposure. If you look at it, college coaches will have more time to see these kids play in summer tournaments. That does make sense that they’re going to see them in the summer.
“But I’m afraid what the kids don’t understand that it’s too much about me-ball. There’s not enough practice going on. There’s not enough playing the game the correct way. So, if you have a good game well maybe you get a little attention. But you’re not going to survive in a college environment with their expectations unless you’re successful on a daily basis. And I think the only way you’re going to be successful on a daily basis is if you’re playing the right way every game.
“That’s one of my problems with these exposure camps and things that pop up all over the place. People are charging an inordinate amount of money and these kids are going to them. And they’re not competing. They’re just throwing balls or they’re hitting balls or they’re fielding ground balls. But it’s not under any pressure. There’s not a runner running. There’s not somebody that they have to throw out. They’re just measuring how hard they throw. They’re not seeing if the batter is making contact. There’s so many different variables that I just disagree with, and I don’t think people are getting an accurate picture of how these athletes really perform during the games.
“What we’re seeing more than anything else is a lack of baseball IQ. And it seems to take a little bit longer to get that out of them – to show them this is the proper way to do it. And I think there’s more resistance than there ever has been before. Before they used to get it right away. They’d go hard for you right away. Now it seems like it takes a little bit longer for it to seep in, and for them to understand that this is the right way.”
Lincoln-Way East has had an up and down season and they are 10-15 overall and 5-7 in the tough Southwest Suburban Blue Conference. Sandburg and Bolingbrook sit atop the conference with Lockport and Stagg making late pushes. The Griffins will play Stagg in the Sandburg Regional on May 26th at 4:30. Babcock knows he is in for a tough first-round match-up. The Griffins have split with Stagg this year and Babcock notes that, “Stagg is extremely well-coached.”