The Keilitz Factor: Dave Keilitz’s immeasurable impact on baseball

keilitzDave Keilitz has served with distinction for 51 years as a coach, athletic director or ABCA president. Set to retire this year, Keilitz has seen firsthand the remarkable growth of amateur baseball over the last 5+ decades, and will leave a legacy of first-class service and dedication to the game we all love. Named by Baseball America as one of the ten most influential people in baseball outside of the major leagues, Keilitz is a member of multiple Halls of Fame (ABCA, Midland County Sports, Central Michigan University, NAIA and Mid-American Conference) and was a 2002 recipient of the Lefty Gomez Award. While it’s impossible to capture with mere words, Inside Pitch attempted to round the bases on his remarkable run.

On changes to the bat and the ball at the college level…

When I started coaching we used the wood bat. We went to aluminum bat in 1974 and they were not a lot different than the wood bat, performance-wise. As technology improved and time went on, we seemed to have greater performance, hitting the high point in the 1990s when there was a significant number of homeruns and a lot of coaches recruited to that; a good example was Coach Bertman at LSU. Finally with the urging of the ABCA- we had sent a letter to the NCAA expressing concerns with the integrity of the game- bat standards went into effect, which calmed it down a little bit and when the BBCOR was implemented three years ago, now we’re back very close to the wood standard again.

I think it’s put the stolen base, the hit and run, the bunt for a hit, and the sacrifice bunt back into the game. More emphasis is placed now on pitching and defense- UCLA was a great example of that last year, winning the national championship. It’s more of a pure game now than it was. Now, some have thought it’s gone too far in the other direction and Division I has now adopted the flat-seam ball. We’re taking a survey from the Division II and III coaches to see what they want to do. The flat-seam ball will produce more home runs, but it doesn’t affect the safety aspect at all because the ball comes off the bat the same speed, the drag effect does not take effect until the ball have traveled a significant distance. That has changed, evolved over the last many years. 84% of our coaches stated that they either liked the bat or found it acceptable so we’ve settled in on that, now we’ve got to iron out what everybody wants to do with the ball.

On the growth of the ABCA convention and its membership…

There isn’t any doubt that over the last 20 years, baseball has grown in importance on high school and college campuses. Our whole idea is that when a coach comes to a convention, he’s going to leave a better coach, and hopefully a better person as well. Hopefully he’s saying, “That was tremendous, I can’t ever miss this again.” Coaches get to see how valuable it is, network with others, see their friends, and become a part of it- that grows the convention.

As far as the membership goes, I think we’ve done a good job proving that [membership] is a valuable part of [a coach’s] profession and even though they might not be able to attend the convention, the fact that they’re a member is going to benefit them and the sport of baseball. Another part of it has been the legislation. We’ve really worked hard with our coaches on legislative items, everything from bracket expansion, start of season, bat and ball decisions. We’ve really tried to instill in coaches that they make a difference by being part of it and voicing thoughts, concerns and suggestions, they help make the change, and will continue to do so. I think that most coaches now believe that. I just feel that if a coach isn’t attending a convention, he’s really missing out on something, really missing out on improving himself.

On the growth of college baseball as a whole…

Practice time in terms of offseason for conditioning and skill development is significant. We have much more flexibility in the fall and a greater period of time to get your practices in, with a 45-day window. Without a doubt, one of the most significant things that ever happened for college baseball was when ESPN started televising the College World Series, because it exposed college baseball to all parts of the country and all different types of interest levels. Now that has been expanded to Super Regionals and Regionals, and several conferences have TV packages for the regular season. That’s all great exposure.

The development of facilities on campus is also significant; there are some great facilities that have been built. And when one school in the conference does something, the other schools have to keep up.

Not taking away from any of the old coaches, but we have more good coaches than we’ve ever had. We’ve got more good players that we’ve ever had, and we’ve got more great programs than we’ve ever had. I’m extremely proud of our coaches and the job that they’ve done on their campuses, to build their programs, and I don’t see it getting anything but better. Now I’m not saying that our top programs today are better than the top programs of 30 or 40 years ago, but what I’m saying is that there are so many more of them. We have so many more schools now that are capable of getting to their respective championships and winning the national championship than we’ve ever had.
On “building a winning program” and 20 consecutive winning seasons as a coach at Central Michigan…

Work hard at it, learn as you go along, instill the best things you can into your players, recruit hard, do the best you can with coaching and hope everything turns out! I was very fortunate, I had a great program, facilities, operating budget, conference, assistant coach- I had the same assistant coach Dean Kreiner for 14 years, all of those are part of it.

On involvement with changing the current NCAA postseason format…

I think we started at 42 teams, got up to 48 and then eventually 64. One thing is the popularity of the sport. As it got stronger and stronger, people realized that there were more schools that deserved to be a part of the postseason. What we had to convince the NCAA- and by “we” I mean the ABCA as well as Dennis Poppe and the NCAA Baseball Committee- was that we could do it and not lose money doing it. Our initial thought was that we had to find a way to do it without losing money, now we’re making over 8 million dollars a year. That was what we had to sell- a quality product, enough good teams that deserve to be in the tournament, and that we could make money.

It really gave hope to other programs; there was once a time where you could win your conference championship and not make the NCAA Tournament. Currently, we have 31 conferences and teams know that if they win their conference tournament championship, they’re going to get into the NCAA Tournament. When we expanded the bracket it gave us 16 regionals, 16 outstanding exposures- it’s a big deal to host. When you can host and have that opportunity, that enhances your program and the programs in the area. We have 64 outstanding teams that get in, and that’s really helped the growth of college baseball. In my 20 years, it’s certainly one of the most significant things we’ve been able to do- expand the brackets in Division I, II, III and NAIA.

On the challenges of maintaining a 56-game regular season schedule…

An extremely large majority of our coaches favor the 56-game schedule. I would guess that of the 20 years I’ve been Director, 16 of those years we’ve had to fight a reduction proposal coming from somewhere. I’m very pleased we’ve been able to fight that and hold on to that. This year, we don’t have to fight that, and that’s a huge relief. The reason it came about was because of the low APR scores of baseball, and there were many justifiable reasons for that, but to save our games, we had to come up with an APR system to show academic improvements, which our coaches have done an outstanding job of doing. Our graduation rates and APR scores are up significantly. We’ve had to fight that back many times, but I think most feel 56 is fair, a good representation of the number of games needed to compete, and hopefully we can maintain that for many years to come.

On setting a definitive start date for the college baseball season…

I remember coaches leaving our convention early because they had a game in a week! It’s hard to understand that in some places in the country that still have snow on the ground. Having everyone start on the same date at least puts everybody on the same footing. At least they’re starting out at 0-0 and not playing somebody that’s 14-2. It also put the public more in tune with what’s happening; they know now when baseball season starts. We also were successful in moving the season back a week. That came the same year we increased bracket expansion. There’s no doubt that when we play our season, there’s going to be a significant number of programs that are at a disadvantage weather-wise. The only way you’d ever create true equality was if we played from May to August.

Best story “from the road”…

I had an opportunity to room with Ted Williams at a clinic. I’m not sure the year, but I was speaking in Philadelphia at Cherry Hill. I checked in and the registration gave the key to the bell captain and said, “Mr. Keilitz is in the Williams Suite.” I didn’t think anything of it, but going up to the room, I’m thinking “well, Ted Williams is speaking here too, but that couldn’t be…”

So I got into the room and opened up the door from my bedroom into the suite area, and the master bedroom door on the other side was open. I stuck my head in there and on the bed was a duffel bag that said “T.W.” on it, and I said “oh my goodness, I’m rooming with Ted Williams.” One of my favorite experiences of all-time was a reception that evening in the suite and when everybody was gone it was just Ted Williams and myself sitting there and I said, “Ted, can I ask you some questions about hitting?” And he said ‘absolutely,’ and we sat there until way after midnight, I’d ask him a question and he’d go for 20, 25 minutes.

When I came back I called my mother and dad (whose all-time favorite player was Ted Williams) and I said “Dad, guess what? I roomed with Ted Williams this weekend!” I remember this long silence, like he was thinking, “my son finally made it.” He was one of my favorite players [that I didn’t coach] probably because of that one night that we talked hitting for three hours.”


 

“Thanks, Dave!”

“Dave Keilitz utilized his experience as a college baseball player, coach and athletic director to prepare him as Executive Director for the ABCA. I can’t think of anyone who could have represented our organization with more integrity, class and dignity. As an organization, we will continue to draw from his vast experience and knowledge as the ABCA continues to be a driving force in helping our game become even better.”

Keith Madison

“Dave is a very special leader. He has performed miracles with the ABCA. I have had the privilege of working with him for over 40 years and I treasure his friendship. Thanks Dave for your leadership and for being my friend.”

Bob Bennett

“Dave Keilitz’s tenure as ABCA Executive Director… priceless. My best description of Dave Keilitz’s personality or leadership skills: the John Wooden of Administrators.”

Joe Roberts

Retired Baseball Coach, Armstrong Atlantic

ABCA President 2010

ABCA Hall of Fame 2013

“Dave Keilitz’s middle name must be “Leadership.” Without question he is a gifted leader. The progress that the ABCA has made under his guidance and leadership has been nothing short of phenomenal. His people skills are off the chart!! In my nearly 50 years in the sports world, I have met very few people with his level of leadership expertise. I’m just glad he will still be an important part of our ABCA Board.”

Dave Altopp

ABCA Past-President and current Board member

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