Dr. John GreenDec 31, 2020 11:32AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
With nearly three decades of coaching experience, it is fairly safe to say that Dr. John Green knows baseball. His resume includes serving as the head baseball coach at Salem Community College, St. Georges Technical High School, Howard High School of Technology and at Middletown High School, where he was an assistant for his father Richard, a member of the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame.
Recently, Middletown Life caught up with Green to talk about his work as the Director of Baseball at Next Generation Sports Training in Middletown, as well as the state of the game, some of his favorite coaching moments and his childhood hero.
Who first taught you the game of baseball, and describe those first valuable lessons you received about the game.
I was very fortunate to have had many great coaches right from the beginning of my playing days, but it was my father who was my first teacher of the game. He was the head coach at Middletown High School for 18 years while I was growing up, and I attended many of his practices and games during that time. By the time I reached the sixth grade, I was charting pitches, keeping score of the game and going on scouting trips with him. I was learning to become a coach without even knowing it.
My father always had time to practice with me no matter how tired he would be. We lived on a dairy farm and my father would milk cows in the morning, teach school all day, milk cows at night and still have time for batting practice, fielding work or pitching. We built a mound in our side yard that saw a lot of use as I pitched many simulated games on that mound.
With nearly three decades of coaching experience, it is safe to say that while you may have learned the game of baseball through old school techniques, you have seen the modernization of baseball incorporate science and analytics. As the Director of Baseball at Next Generation Sports Training in Middletown, how do you incorporate the advancements in teaching with good old-fashioned, hard-nosed baseball wisdom?
The game of baseball has remained the same, but the training has certainly evolved. If you coach the same way you were coached 20 years ago, you are very far behind the times. The fundamentals of throwing and hitting have not changed, but how we measure and look at them has. The use of slow motion video has allowed coaches to actually breakdown the skills of throwing and hitting, and science has led us to know what exit speed you need to achieve and what the proper launch angle of hit balls should be.
There are drills to promote these skills in order to enhance player development. Arm care protocols and strength training now must be incorporated into all programs for the player to achieve their genetic potential.
Describe how you first approach your teaching methods at Next Generation Sports Training. Before the player takes the mound or steps into the batter’s box, what do you discuss with him or her?
The first thing we find out is why they have come to Next Generation Sports. Are they here because their parents are making them come in, or are they here because they want to become a better baseball player? I see both types of players all the time. Once you get to the point that the player wants to achieve, we have to erase the notion that they can be perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect baseball player, or one that cannot improve.
We at Next Generation Sports give the players the permission to fail. It is very difficult to learn to become a better baseball player without achieving failure, but once they fail, then it is our responsibility to build back that confidence in the player.
Player development occurs after failure, and while this is a tough step for both the player and parents, once a player starts to learn from the failure, improvement happens dramatically. It is a major lesson that I have to get through to parents, as their natural reaction is to protect their children from failure. I also tell them to support their player but allow their kid to play the game.
At any youth baseball game, there seems to be ten parents who think they are Major League hitting coaches. The best coaches actually have the players work hard enough where they are figuring out the process themselves through repetition and failure.
As an evaluator of baseball talent, what intangibles do you look for in a baseball player, that don’t necessarily transcend into statistics or linescores?
The mental game is so important, as the brain tells us what we can and cannot do. We spend time on becoming better mentally every day, and sometimes, it involves breathing techniques, self-talk such as “Next Pitch,” and competing on every pitch instead of worrying about the scoreboard. The scoreboard is the enemy of player development, and too often, players concentrate more on the outcome of the game instead of the play that needs to be made in the present.
Instead of thinking about winning and losing, I want players to learn how to compete. Life is a competition and it needs to be taught. I tell them, ‘Take care of all the little details of the game, and the big picture outcome will be a by product.’ I also look to see how players react to failure, because it tells me who is mentally strong and able to overcome mistakes. The players who can overcome mistakes will be winners. All great players have this ability.
If there is a criticism levied against today’s crop of Major League baseball players, it is that while they are faster and stronger than those that came before them, they lack the basic fundamentals of the game. Who is at fault here?
I believe the fault is with the professional organizations. It is not that the players do not have the ability to do those things, but doing those things does not get the players to the next level. Big salaries are paid to guys who hit home runs, and the game is changing towards power.
The fans also want to see home runs, and they are the ones who ultimately pay the salaries. If a Major League player gets 600 at-bats in a professional season, he may see as many as 2,400 pitches, and if he averages 40 home runs a season from those 2,400 pitches, he will make enough money to last a lifetime.
Very often, a coach or parent will point to a major league player and tell a son or daughter who is just beginning to play baseball, ‘Watch him. Pattern your game after him.’ Which player would you point to as a proper example of playing the game the right way?
My guy has always been Cal Ripken, Jr. I grew up a fan of his and loved his work ethic. He always showed up to play and played the game hard. He was not a flashy player, but more of a blue collar player who grinded out games. I admired that style of play.
While it is safe to say that you have coached hundreds of baseball players over the course of your career, a few of them have stood above the pack, in terms of talent and potential. When you think about that roster, are certain players that come to mind?
There are certainly many players that I remember for many reasons, but it has been the special performances of a few that I will never forget. Bob Kunz played for me at Howard, and he pitched a no-hitter in the state tournament, which was made even more special because Howard was the 15th-seeded team in that tournament, and we beat the second-seeded school. Not only did he throw a no-hitter, but he did it on three days rest. I smile every time I think about it.
Another great performance I will never forget happened when I coached at St. Georges. Stan Zulkowski hit three home runs for us in a state tournament game, which still stands as the all-time state record. I have a great of picture of him rounding third and giving me a high five after his third home run. It still seems like it was yesterday.
Another of my other most cherished memories happened when I was coaching at Salem Community College. KT Thomas came on in relief on one day’s rest against the top- ranked team in the country. He never thought he would pitch that day and once we got the lead in the seventh inning, I went to bullpen to ask how his arm felt. He told me that his arm felt okay, and I told him to get loose. He later came into the game and shut that team down. I will never forget how he competed that day. There was never a doubt once he took the mound.
What is your favorite spot in Middletown?
I love all the local baseball fields, but the one spot that is my favorite is Noxontown Lake, that overlooks the beautiful campus of St. Andrew’s. To me, there is nothing better than watching the sun shine on a Bald Eagle as it soars around the lake.
If you were to host a dinner party, who would you have sitting around that table?
My favorite dinner party guests would be a group from college. I attended Lynchburg College in Virginia and left with a great group of friends. We still send text messages on a daily basis and get together on a yearly basis. We share great memories together and always find a way to have a good time.
What food or beverage can always be found in your refrigerator?
I would have to say Pinot Grigio wine. My wife needs it in order to put up with me. It is her favorite, so I try to keep it stocked.
Next Generation Sports Training is located at 110 Patriot Drive, Middletown, Del. 19709. To learn more, call 302-396-9988 or visit https://ngsportstraining.com.
-- Richard L. Gaw