Inside Pitch Magazine, Summer 2015

Cover Interview: Dan Heefner, Dallas Baptist University

Inside Pitch Magazine CoverInside Pitch: Your team finished the 2015 regular season with the No.1-ranked RPI in the country. Other than winning baseball games, what are some factors you look into to keep your RPI strong?

Dan Heefner: 
That's one of our goals as a program, to have a high RPI, to get an at-large bid. The next step for us was to host a regional, so that is something that we take into consideration with scheduling. We don't have a magic formula or anything; just like everybody else, we try to play quality opponents on a year-in, year-out basis. A lot of it also has to do with the area we're in and the teams we're surrounded by; it's almost impossible not to schedule well.

Maybe the one difference is that we've always gone on the road a lot as a program. At first it was out of necessity; when we first became a Division I program, nobody would come to our place. We’re able to get other teams to come to our place now, but we're still pretty well split between home and away. I think that's a good thing for your program as well, to get your team on the road and play quality opponents. That's what it's going to take to be successful in the conference and in the postseason too.

IP: What is your philosophy on recruiting?

DH: The vast majority of our team is from Texas and most of those guys are from the Metroplex. We want to know those guys really well, we've got great relationships with coaches in the area and we want to get to know guys 'in our backyard,' so to speak.

For us it's all about fit, it's not just finding the most talented players we can. We feel like DBU is a unique place and that our baseball program is pretty unique too, not just what we're doing baseball-wise but from a character and faith standpoint. When we hear about those guys from other places, we go after them pretty hard. We've gotten a couple from elsewhere that have a faith background and when you look into them as players, you find out that they're really good, so they were a fit for us.

IP: What was your impression of Dallas Baptist University before you were there? How would you describe DBU to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

DH: I was familiar with the program prior to becoming an assistant [in 2005] because I had a brother-in-law who played here. People outside the baseball circles may not be familiar with us because we're a Division II athletic department; baseball is our only Division I sport.

It's a small Christian school and it's just a great environment for development. We really try to develop our guys on the field but off the field as well with character and faith. It's just about finding kids that are a good fit. I think that's one of the best things we've done for our program, finding guys that fit [our culture], and then they love it—they love showing up to the park every day and they buy into the philosophy of development by being around other people. Kind of the idea that 'iron sharpens iron,' on the field and off.

IP: What is your advice to young players and coaches?

DH: On the player’s side, it’s about development, it’s about not getting too caught up in the results. Obviously results are important, but they just show you what you are and aren’t doing well, what you need to continue doing and what need to work on.

Have a ‘growth mindset’ that every day is an opportunity to get better. If you keep stacking day after day of getting a little bit better, then you look up at the end of it and you’re probably going to be pretty close to accomplishing your goal. Keep your focus on a day-in and day-out basis.

For a coach, it’s almost the exact same thing; it’s about getting your players better and pouring yourself into them. I think one thing we’ve learned is to have a really high standard excellence for your guys and to get there by being positive, not by tearing them down. That’s kind of a tough balance—when you have high standards, you want the best out of your guys and you want them to develop, but you don’t want to hammer on the things they’re not doing well.

IP: How would you explain ‘the power of positive coaching?’

DH: Everybody’s going to mess up— baseball is a game of failure. You have to teach your players how to deal with that. At times, we as coaches don’t deal with failure very well; we get frustrated and sarcastic and those types of things. It’s how you approach when they mess up and to me, it’s something you have to learn from. What can we do better? What did we do well? We try to make a point of the little things that are ‘between the lines’ of the scoreboard, the things that most people don’t see, the approach, the mindset, times when guys are being great teammates. “If [players] don’t do something well and you’re going to make a point of it, then you for sure have to make a point of it when they do that thing well, instead of assuming ‘that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.’ If a guy hits a ball to the shortstop and runs a great 90 [feet to first base] and it’s a bang-bang play and he’s out, instead of just ignoring it you have to make a point of it; when he comes in the dugout, “hey, great 90,” and after the game, “hey, this guy had a great at-bat with two strikes and ran a great 90 there.” For him it just reinforces that hustle, and there’s no doubt now that next time he’s going to get after it. Then all of his teammates hear and see the same thing and it becomes the culture. I think the things you encourage and the things you promote are going to happen more often.

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