Keep calm and Detilli-on
Winning. The process manifests itself in the shiniest of ways inside the Grand Valley State University Fieldhouse foyer as well as any at the NCAA Division II level.
Championship trophies glimmer inside glass chambers on a spring-resembling Friday in Allendale, as the parents of a prospective recruit are informed of GVSU’s commanding lead in the Division II Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings — an annual indicator of the program’s prominence.
Directly below the sparkling lobby — down 19 steps in “GV Country,” past Deanne Scanlon, Ric Wesley and Dawn Plitzuweit on a trio of “Laker Legends” banners, and into a windowless corridor — is the office of the program’s shortest tenured head coach.
It’s 1:58 p.m., and a wide-eyed Jamie Detillion is clicking through five different websites trying to deduce the weekend forecast. The “part-time meteorologist” is wearing a black fleece with white “GVSU” lettering. A matching hat rests on his crossed knee.
He says the trip to Ashland University for a three-game rematch of the 2013 GLIAC Tournament title bout will probably be canceled.
It’s all part of the job description for the 35-year-old, who is 23 games into his second season at the helm of the GVSU baseball team.
“Five inches of snow,” said Detillion, who spent 10 years as an assistant. “It’s frustrating, but it’s a part of northern baseball.”
This isn’t Jerry Baltes or Dave DiIanni — Detillion hasn’t been around long enough to be mentioned alongside national champions yet — but in this tucked-away room beneath the lustrous lobby, the aura of winning is ever-present.
Three black-framed portraits of triumphant summer moments hang on the walls of his office, and they drive this point home better than a hanging fastball turned into a three-run homer.
The winning atmosphere presents itself in this poorly-lit corridor.
It’s expected to.
Trophies are an expectation here, but the forecast seems to be summoning blue skies for Detillion, who is emerging as an up-and-coming coach at GVSU.
“He’s a winner, always has been,” Director of Athletics Tim Selgo said.
Arguing otherwise would be a tall task.
Detillion was a four-time All-GLIAC recipient from 1997-2000 as a pitcher and first baseman at Ashland. He set 17 individual school records as an Eagle and is the all-time conference leader in home runs (46) and RBIs (203). He was inducted into the Ashland University Hall of Fame in October 2010.
After a three-year career in the Cincinnati Reds’ and Detroit Tigers’ organizations, he joined the GVSU coaching staff as an assistant. The hitting coach and recruiting coordinator has been a key contributor to the team’s record-breaking rosters ever since.
However, it wasn’t exactly a sun-drenched walk in the ballpark for the rookie skipper when the Lakers got off to subpar start in 2013.
All eyes were on Detillion.
“We flat out stunk early on,” he said. “We had good players but were 6-7 and below .500 despite being a good team.”
In hindsight, the adversity seemed to guide him toward his identify as a head coach: a relaxed, even-keeled overseer of elite Division II talent. He decided to stay patient, and it worked.
With smart pitching and sound defense, the 2013 Lakers sizzled their way to 32 wins in the next 44 games en route to a GLIAC-best 22-7 record, a Midwest Regional Championship, and a third-place finish at the NCAA Division II College World Series — the second-best finish in school history.
Detillion was named the GLIAC Coach of the Year and Midwest Region Coach of the Year.
“He never panicked, never wavered and stayed the course with what our team was doing,” Selgo said. “We knew we had a good team. They just had to keep playing. By the end of the year, we were as good as anybody in the country.
“You’re going to get challenged when you’re faced with adversity. The first thing you need to do is keep your poise, and Jamie certainly did that. It had been quite a while since Grand Valley had been below .500. He remained poised through it all, and his players sensed that.”
Since handing over the batting coach duties to trusted assistant Del Young, Detillion has worked mostly with pitchers as a head coach.
A fair evaluation of any coach calls for statistical evidence, and if his pitching staff’s performance is indicative of his defensive mind, then this former pitcher knows a thing or two about manufacturing success on the mound.
In 2013, the Lakers racked up 10 shutouts — a school record. Their ERA (2.64), OBA (.235), and walks per nine innings (2.74) all ranked as the second-lowest marks in program history.
Safe to say the staff was stingy.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “It’s been different, and I think looking back, that’s part of the challenge. I hadn’t been a college pitching coach for a full season; it was new to me.”
But was the success due to his guidance? Or the first-rate talent he helped recruit? With GVSU Athletics, it’s hard to know exactly where wins come from, but the questions were certainly at the forefront in the offseason after a mound-savvy crew graduated and left the Lakers in need of quality arms.
Detillion went to work by bringing in a number of arms from nearby junior colleges, including Aaron Jensen from Grand Rapids Community College and Evan Nietfeldt from South Suburban Community College in South Holland, Ill.
In 2013, Jensen threw his way to 2-6 record with a 4.01 ERA at GRCC as a sophomore, while Nietfeldt went 5-3 with a 2.80. What have the junior transfers done since making the jump to Division II?
Jensen (3-2, 2.45 ERA) and Nietfeldt (4-0, 1.16 ERA) seem to be doing just fine under Detillion’s direction.
“He’s very in tune with pitching mechanics and helps you maximize your potential,” Nietfeldt said. “There’s a lot of talent at GVSU, but he pushes us to the next level.
“He’s very big on quick outs. When you think about pitchers, you think of it of the rock star striking everyone out — strikeouts are cool, but they drive up your pitch count. He wants one- or two-pitch outs, because if you strike out 15 guys, you’re out in the sixth.”
Nietfeldt’s ERA is the second lowest in the conference among pitchers with more than two starts.
Jensen, who is tied with the 2013 GLIAC Freshman of the Year Patrick Kelly with a team-high 19 strikeouts, ranks seventh.
“The best evaluators are those that are excellent teachers of the sport, and Jamie certainly is,” Selgo said.
Perhaps Detillion deserves some credit.
GVSU (16-7, 7-2) is firing on all cylinders early in conference play and leads the GLIAC both in the standings and in a number of statistical categories.
The Lakers lead the GLIAC in team ERA (3.31), batting average against (.245), hits (221), runs (159), triples (seven), home runs (16), RBI (145), total bases (307), and slugging percentage (.431) — and GVSU has yet to play a single game in Allendale.
Detillion hasn’t had to right the ship, revamp a roster, or work miracles. He’s had to maintain the winning standard of a program, and he’s done a pretty good job of it so far.
“Winning is an attitude,” he said. “We have to carry ourselves like a team that wins at the end of the day. Like we always say, a .300 hitter fails .700 percent of the time.
“We don’t want to ride the highs — that will result in riding our lows even lower.”
It’s a simplified approach for the most part, but it’s working.
Like any coach, he has some learning to do and some growing pains to experience, but an objective forecast of his GVSU career appears to call for blue skies — Laker blue skies — and a whole lot of wins.
The trophy collection upstairs may have to make room in the coming years if Detillion continues to trust the ability of his talented squad while remembering that the GVSU tradition — like Rome — wasn’t built in a day.
“I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on tomorrow with this weather,” he said.