Plainfield South vs Minooka: Baseball & The Art of War

A baseball game’s ultimate outcome is a win or a loss. In no way is baseball like war; any more than the book, The Art of War, is about killing. Mastering The Art of War makes your “way” so convincing that you absorb an enemy. You win by not fighting.

Head Coaches Phil Bodine of Plainfield South and Jeff Petrovic from Minooka know that neither coach is willing to be absorbed by anything but their game today at 3:30. interviewed both coaches on Tuesday and both men talked about their mutual respect for each other’s way. That solves nothing as we head into their Sectional game; but it was a fascinating baseball discussion with two excellent strategists.

Bodine and Petrovic have squared off for years in the Southwest Suburban Prairie conference which boasts five entries in this year’s 4A Sectional competition. The four Plainfield schools – South, North, Central and East; and Minooka. There will be no surprises. Yet surprise, or unorthodoxy, is a strategy Bodine trains his players to execute; and Petrovic trains his players to be prepared for that surprise.

Listen to a snippet of our conversations. Coach Bodine speaks first followed by Coach Petrovic: 

ncc_zimmermanThe Terrain

Zimmerman Field North Central College – Naperville

“The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose.” – Master Sun Coach Bodine, I know you and Coach Petrovic both know each other very well by now. I’m sure you both have established identities for your teams. This season how did you try to impose your will on Minooka? I don’t mean that as a provocative question in the sense of us versus them. I mean what do you know about your identity that makes you think you can beat Minooka or any other team?

Coach Phil Bodine: “We’ve had some great battles over the years number one. And Jeff is a tremendous coach and has been highly successful. This year I’ve gotten a great perspective on what people think of our teams by having Danny Fezzuoglio on my staff, who was a fifteen year head coach at Waubonsie Valley.

“I guess what we do as a program, or what I’ve done with our program. We throw behind. Defensively you have to be ready for everything when we’re playing defense because we pick the bases, we throw behind, we’ll do the hidden ball trick. We’ll do anything to get an out on the bases as opposed to throwing the ball out of play. And I think offensively we do a lot of little things too. We like to hit and run. We like to butcher boy hit and run. We like to squeeze from second base.

“These are things that Danny said, ‘God, we had to be prepared for, Phil, when we played you.’”

“I think we do a lot of little things. Now, to impose that will on Minooka we have to make routine plays. We cannot give them any runners. They like to run. Their lead-off guy can swing. We actually, in one series this year, threw him the eephus pitch to get him out. Because we couldn’t throw to him. So Jordan Michael just flipped it up there. And that’s how we got him out. And that’s kind of a compliment to that young man.

“We have to play perfect baseball to beat and compete with them. And I think they’d say the same thing. It’s a testament to Jeff, his kids, his coaches, and his program.” So you would say that you like to take it to the opponent rather than sitting back and worrying about doing everything perfectly? Take some risks, and go at them a little bit.

Bodine: “Absolutely, and I think with the way bats are nowadays you better be able to manufacture. You better be able to do the little things because it’s no longer the long ball. I had a team at Mendota that had 57 home runs in one year. You’ll never see that again. Because these bats are so forgiving that I think the sweet spot on these bats is probably smaller than a wood bat. So, yeah we better be able to do the little things.” How do you think Minooka plans to counteract this attack?

Bodine: “I think number one they’re going to throw VanAsdlen who no-hit us earlier in the year. That’s a good counter. I think Jeff plays us kind of the same way. In the 3-0 game that VanAsdlen beat us I want to say they had two or three hits at the most; but they got a bunt down at an opportune time, we made a mistake on a bunt. I think they’re kind of a mirror team of us. He bunts, he runs, he certainly gets good pitching. And they’re putting it together at the right time like they always do.” Finally, what are your thoughts about 9 out of 32 remaining 4A teams coming from Will County? Does Plainfield South take pride in that, or are you just concerned about doing the right thing at South?

Bodine: “I think it’s a great thing. When I was in the West Suburban Conference, coming from a small school in Mendota, all I heard about was this (Southwest Prairie Conference) was probably one of the best conferences in the state, and it is. No doubt about it. It’s a great conference. But I think that having four teams from Plainfield, that’s great in itself.

“And then you add Minooka, and the other teams in Will County that are still playing the great baseball in the South Suburbs. I think it’s been good for a long time; but I think with media and the way things get out there I think you’re hearing about it a little more.

“I’m really proud of the four Plainfields. That’s a neat thing. It’s never happened before, and it could be a while before that kind of stuff happens again. People don’t realize how tough it is just to win a region. There’s some great games. And one pitcher can beat you. It might not be the best team, but one pitcher can beat you.”

Strategic Assessments

“Strike at their gaps, attack when they are lax, don’t let the enemy figure out how to prepare. This is why it is said that in military operations formlessness is the most effective. One of the great warrior-leaders said, ‘The most efficient of movements is the one that is unexpected; the best of plans is the one that is unknown.’” – Meng Shi

Jeff Petrovic – Minooka What do you know about your identity that makes you think you can beat Plainfield South or any other team?

Coach Petrovic: “Well we have a ton of respect for Plainfield South. They play the game the right way. Coach Bodine is a great coach. They are a very tough, fundamentally sound baseball team that will be ready to play. I think that the series with them was a tough one. They beat us two times, we beat them once. We were missing some players at the time. We had three starters out. Our starting third basemen, shortstop, and second basemen were all three terrific players. So, we’re very thankful to have them back for this month’s game.

“You mentioned that we’ve seen them three times a year in conference play every year. We always seem to run into them in a regional championship game or somewhere in the postseason. So, it’s going to be a great game. Our kids are really excited to play.

“The way I look at it right now is they know what we do. We know what they do. And it just comes down to execution. We need to take care of the things that we can take care of. We need to be smart.

“We know they are very aggressive on the bases. We need to get the ball in quickly. We know that they throw behind runners. We need to be alert on the bases. We know that they have a couple of plays here and there they’re going to try and run; and we need to be ready for them. So, when you get to this time of year it’s just about executing what you know you need to take care of.” So, how do you think Plainfield South is going to counterattack your plans for execution?

Petrovic: “I think their coach will be telling them that they can only control what they can control. They have to go out there and they have to throw strikes. They need to hit spots. They need to pick the ball up. They need to get a timely hit.

“We’re not the type of a team or a program that is going to throw in trick plays or things that are unique to this particular game. I think we see things like that more in other sports. In football we’re going to defend a thing this way, so we’re going to run this defensive play. In basketball where there’s tons of scouting. There’s tons of plays developed for a certain team.

“Baseball is a little bit of a different game. Certainly you can scout things to give yourself an advantage. Maybe tendencies with pitchers, or tendencies with what counts they run out of, or bunting situations, or whatever the case may be. But we’re not putting in anything different for this game than we do for any other game. And I would have a feeling that they’re going to do things the same way.

“And I like that because when you change things for one particular game your kids are not great at those things. We do certain things as a program and we run them throughout the course of the entire season. So, when we get to this point in time our kids have done these things.

“It isn’t something that’s a onetime deal because we’re playing Plainfield South, or just because we’re playing O’Fallon, or just because we’re playing Moline, or Providence, or whoever the case may be. We do these things because it’s the way that we play the game. And our kids are accustomed to that; and they will know what to expect on game day. So, no changes really.” Finally, what are your thoughts about 9 out of 32 remaining 4A teams coming from Will County? Does Minooka take pride in that, or are you just concerned about doing the right thing at Minooka?

Petrovic: “It’s really amazing, right. We talk about the quality of baseball players in this area. When you look at our conference alone having five from the Southwest Prairie Conference. Five from our conference. It’s really terrific. Again, we talk all the time about how good the baseball is in this area. And this is another great example.

“I think that since a lot of our postseason stuff is after school is already out we don’t get the same notoriety in our sport as a lot of the other sports. Obviously, Friday night football and how big that is to start the school year. And basketball being indoors with big crowds and being really loud. It’s really neat.

“And here you have baseball. We roll it out after everybody’s out of school. Our kids come out every day in the postseason. There’s nobody at school. We were in school today, and there’s nobody there. And our kids come in, they work hard, we do our thing. I think that our sport certainly is under appreciated a little bit; but I think it has a lot do with us just not being in the postseason when school is in.”


“Sun and moon travel through the sky, they set and rise again. The four seasons succeed one another, flourishing and then fading again. This is a metaphor for the interchange of surprise unorthodox movements, and orthodox direct confrontation, mixing together into a whole, ending and beginning infinitely.” – Zhang Yu

Coach Bodine and Coach Petrovic know each other well; and surprise will not be surprise for either team – only a matter of execution. Neither coach is willing to be unprepared. Like Master Sun says, “In battle, confrontation is done directly, victory is gained by surprise.”

bodine_philpicPhil Bodine has been Head Coach at Plainfield South since 2009. He pitched  at The University of Illinois-Chicago. Bodine was inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in 2013.


Jeff Petrovic has been Head Coach at Minooka for the past 12 years with the same  superb coaching staff.


Main Photo

Cover art from, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, Translated by Thomas Cleary.

Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA. 1988.

Ceremonial Ax, Chinese Bronze, Shang period (c. 12-11th century B.C.E.)

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