Breath of fresh air


First-year manager Steve Gillispie (left) talks baseball with a coach during practice on Wednesday. The Penguins began practice on Jan. 28 in preparation for the 2013 season. Photos by Joe Catullo Jr./The Jambar.

For the past 25 years, Steve Gillispie, Youngstown State University’s head baseball coach, has found employment in the sport he loves.

His first gig was in 1988 at Fort Hays State University, where he was the Tigers’ head coach. From there, Gillispie assisted at multiple schools — like the University of Nebraska and the University of Utah — before becoming a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1998 to 2001.

He then jumped back into the college ranks, where he was an assistant coach at Jacksonville State University for the past 11 years.

“It’s all I’ve ever done,” Gillispie said. “I’ve been lucky and blessed enough that I never had to put on a coat and tie unless I wanted to.”

Now, in his first year as the Penguins’ leading man, Gillispie said he’s still thankful for all that baseball has given him — even though he is now faced with a program that has struggled mightily in recent years.

“I see potential in the [YSU baseball program],” he said.

Since 2008, the Penguins have held an overall record of 86-187. In 2011, YSU went 14-41, and last season was even worse, as the Penguins finished 11-44.

Yet, Gillispie remains strangely optimistic.

“From a facility standpoint, [YSU’s] in the upper echelon of college baseball,” he said. “And the campus itself, we felt it would be a good place to recruit to, an easy place to recruit. With that being in place, we felt like we’d be able to build something here that, year in and year out, we can challenge for a Horizon League conference championship.”

But Gillispie and his new staff must first change the losing culture that surrounds YSU’s program before championships are won. Junior third baseman Drew Dosch said that process began as soon as Gillispie was hired on July 1.

“Everyone just has a fresh mindset, I think, with the fresh start of the new coaching staff,” Dosch said. “The past couple years haven’t been the best for the people that have been here. We’re just looking to get out and kind of get that new start and show people that we can play a little bit.”

Gillispie held more live-action practices in the fall and has instituted a diverse practice routine, something former head baseball coach Rich Pasquale did not do.

“That has been a big change,” Dosch said. “We got to see a lot more live arms and feel a lot better prepared at the end of the fall than what we maybe didn’t in the past.”

Another noticeable difference is the day-to-day energy, said pitcher Nic Manuppelli.

“It’s brought to the field every day,” Manuppelli said. “Just everybody’s tempo is better. Everybody’s excited to get to practice and excited to work with the new coaching staff, which has come with a ton to give to the players.”

Upon arriving, Gillispie was faced with the challenge of meshing his coaching style with the positive building blocks established under Pasquale.

“I believe that there’s depth in the pitching staff [and] athleticism in the position players, and we’re able to defend a little bit behind the plate and in the outfield, which is always a plus,” Gillispie said. “We wanted to be flexible enough to go with what was here, so we’re not trying to do something that we’re not capable of.”

While the Penguins’ capabilities under Gillispie are unknown, the YSU baseball program is undoubtedly embracing a fresh start.

“The past is the past,” Manuppelli said. “What is happening now and what we’re able to do as a team and move on from here is what Youngstown State University baseball is going to be about.”