Butler baseball turnaround started with a text message – Indianapolis Star
The turnaround of the Butler baseball program started with a text message.
“Practice is canceled today. We’re meeting in the locker room at 5.”
This was a strong message from Butler’s new baseball coach, before he had even coached a game. Especially before what was supposed to be the first practice of the season.
But problems had been bubbling below the surface. Issues off the field that would inevitably carry onto it. A bad culture that would only get worse if not corrected. Dave Schrage decided that the best thing for his team’s longterm success was a meeting on the third Friday of January.
“We said, ‘Look, there’s no need for us to practice because we don’t have the right culture off the field right now,’” said Schrage who spent the previous five seasons with South Dakota State. “If you guys are going to carry yourselves this way off the field, we’re not going to get good results. You guys need to stay in this locker room and figure it out.’”
Schrage and his staff left. The players stayed. For an hour and a half.
“It was huge for us,” junior and Noblesville native Garrett Christman said of the meeting. “The culture needed to change here. We hadn’t had a winning season in a while. We were willing to trust someone that came in and showed us a lot in the fall. It set us up for a lot of success. It showed us we need to focus a little more on baseball and what we do on and off the field.”
With a veteran team and a fresh perspective, the Bulldogs posted their first winning record since 2003. Just one season after winning 14 games, the program finished 31-20, the fourth-most wins in program history.
The team won four of its first five games during an early-season road trip south. That set the tone for what was to come.
“It gave them the feedback they needed,” said Schrage, who took over the program in the fall. “After that, they thought, ‘Hey, we’re a good club.’ When you get to playing confident, you get the kind of season we’ve had.”
The program graduated 10 seniors, a group that didn’t know what to expect coming into the season.
“It’s a new coaching staff and we did so bad last year that the only place we could go is up,” Brownsburg native Michael Hartnagel said. “Our expectation was making sure we were holding each other accountable. We don’t want to be known as the group that was just here to play and didn’t have anything going for us. We wanted to leave a legacy behind and set a bar for teams in the future.”
The team finished fifth in the Big East and missed postseason play. But there were still plenty of milestones achieved. Namely, the team went 7-0 against in-state competition, with wins over Indiana, Purdue, Ball State, DePauw and Fort Wayne. Indiana will make the NCAA tournament.
“We’ve always been the little brother to IU and Purdue,” Hartnagel said. “We want to show that Butler is a great school for baseball and that we’re not just the little brother. We’re up there with the big dogs.”
There’s still room for improvement. The team finished 7-10 in conference play. But while the elite conference poses more challenges than the Horizon League did, the move has been beneficial.
“It’s given exposure and recognition to the university,” Schrage said. “We have a pitcher from Texas coming next year, a pitcher coming in from Florida next year. I can pick up the phone and call a kid down there, and they know about Butler because they saw the basketball team on Fox Sports. That’s helped us from a recruiting standpoint tremendously.”
Next season could be a bit of a rebuilding year, with 12 freshmen entering the program. But the foundation is there for success.
“If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that this group is going to win 30 games, I’d tip my cap to them,” Schrage said. “Now the question will be, can you maintain this level? This is a step in the right direction.”