It’s a rainy day in Oxford. The first pitch of game two between Miami University and Western Michigan has been moved back again, now slated for 9 p.m.
Tyler Kotila, a junior sports leadership and management major, just drank his third energy drink of the day. He’s been at McKie Field for 16 hours today.
For Kotila, along with the rest of Miami’s team of student baseball managers, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday.
The managers, led for the most part by juniors Zorian Schiffman, Rory Tekulve and Kotila, is a group of student volunteers that help with nearly every aspect of the baseball team’s operation.
Schiffman believes Miami has the largest program of student managers in the country.
“[We work on] things from game planning and video scouting, to player development, to some of the more in depth research projects,” Schiffman said.
The scouting department works extensively to learn about upcoming opponents, and how to be successful against their hitters and pitchers. The research and development team works on projects — from new metrics to complex computer programs — to solve problems and find out new ways to gain an edge. Analytics tries to make sense of it all.
The group makes use of resources like Synergy, a video scouting program, Hittrax, a sensor that tracks hitting metrics like exit velocity and launch angle, and Rapsodo, which tracks the movement profile of pitches.
Head Coach Danny Hayden said that all of these resources are helpful, but without the student managers to help make sense of the information, it would be much less valuable.
“All of these things are amazing to have, but each of them takes a ton of work to make sense of all the information,” Hayden said. “In addition to many other roles our student managers play, sifting through and prioritizing all of this data is a huge benefit to our staff.”
When Pitching Coach Matt Passauer was looking for a way to measure how well certain hitters adjusted, Schiffman and fellow manager Graham Solomos, a junior finance major, immediately started working on a new metric for Passauer. Eventually, the pair created the “donkey rating,” a statistic that measures how stubborn hitters are.
To Schiffman, that type of innovation and problem solving is what makes the program great.
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“I think the idea of the donkey rating is basically the epitome of what this program is.”
The baseball managers program wasn’t always such a robust operation.
When Schiffman and Kotila joined, there were four people doing scouting reports — data entry and spreadsheet work.
Last summer, Tekulve wanted to start recruiting. The coaches approved, and Schiffman and Kotila, along with the rest of the small crew of managers began the process.
“We were just really trying to design this as close to an MLB front office as possible,” Tekulve said.
During the first recruiting cycle last summer, they received more than forty applications and took about twenty five students. They recruited again this spring, and the program is now up to 61 volunteer student managers.
“I’ve had a lot of dreams about what the program could become, but I can tell you that not even in those fantasies would I imagine the program and the type of culture we’ve created.”
Coaches are thrilled with what the managers have been able to accomplish as well.
“It is really neat to work with these young men and women who have this passion for Miami Baseball,” Hayden said. “In every way imaginable our managers are a crucial part of our program.”
Recently the managers started the process of creating a conference for student baseball managers around the country. The event is planned to take place virtually later this year.
“When I saw how many people just at Miami who are so passionate about baseball and helping our team win,” Schiffman said, “it got me to thinking how many there are all around the country.”
The managers are expecting a good turnout for the inaugural conference, and have already heard from schools including Vanderbilt, Iowa, Eastern Illinois and Stetson.
The student managers program is also a stepping stone to careers in baseball.
“We’ve actually had a lot of organizations reach out to us specifically to ask if any of our managers are interested in interning with them,” Schiffman said.
Schiffman is spending the summer in New England, interning for the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod Baseball League, one of the premier collegiate summer leagues in the country. Kotila is headed to Florida to scout for Perfect Game — one of the largest baseball scouting services in the country — and Tekulve is working for a pitching lab in Vermont.
“Freshmen now are going to have three or four years with us,” Kotila said, “and by the time they’re juniors or seniors, they’re going to have the experiences, and be able to go into an interview and talk about them.”
If you’re at McKie field anytime soon, and see someone looking frazzled, wearing red, and maybe carrying around an energy drink, you just might be looking at one of baseball’s next great minds.