By Nate Sanchez
So far the ‘Runners have impressed fans and opponents alike, having improved their record exponentially from last year and solidifying their place in the race to win the WAC. Players have come and gone from the team, but one man remains constant; the skipper, Head Coach Bill Kernen.
“He’s definitely one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” junior outfielder Kris Cayton said.
His players have nothing but good things to say about their captain at the helm, and their praise is warranted. Kernen’s experience and knowledge have brought to pass an up and coming baseball program as well as nine players now playing professionally, seven of which were taken in the MLB First Year Player Draft.
“I think we’ve got some good things going,” junior catcher Cael Brockmeyer said. “We’ve all got that warrior mentality and once we get into a good rhythm, there won’t be many teams that’ll be able to stop us. When everything starts to click, it’ll be scary.”
The warrior mentality comes standard with Kernen’s coaching philosophy. The 65-year-old coach is determined to instill a bulletproof mentality in his players.
“I think that everybody gives lip service to the mental aspect of the game,” Kernen said. “A lot of coaches will tell you that it’s 70 to 90 percent of the game, when they don’t spend 70 to 90 percent of the time working on it. I don’t know what the number is, but I know it’s a huge factor. It’s the determining factor in being a champion. You can balance talent with the mental game.”
Kernen’s philosophy was shaped over more than 50 years of playing and coaching the game he loves. A graduate of University of the Redlands, the former pitcher and psychology major was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, for whom he played for three seasons before beginning his coaching career. As a minor leaguer, Kernen realized that living the dream meant some sacrifice.
“It’s a grind, a lot of long trips,” Kernen said. “It’s fun for the games, but there’s a lot of down time. The travel and the down time is what gets to some of them. It’s not as glamourous as people think. It’s very competitive and you’ve got to work your way through the systems. It’s a very tough life.”
Kernen’s time in the minor leagues gave him an insight into the game that he took with him into his coaching career. Holding positions as both assistant and head coaches for Cal State Fullerton, Illinois, Cal State Northridge and North Carolina State, Kernen brought 35 years of coaching experience to CSUB.
Being a pitcher has given Kernen the ability to lend a veteran’s word of advice to his pitchers. The pitcher’s mound can be a cruel and lonely place. But with Kernen at the helm, ‘Runner pitchers never pitch alone.
“I’m with these guys every pitch of every game,” Kernen said. ” I put myself out there with them from the dugout. I’m thinking through every pitch, watching their body language and how they’re competing. Having been there does help you know what might be going on in their mind.”
Kernen had to be convinced to come to CSUB, seeing as he had left coaching in 1995 to enroll in Columbia University’s esteemed dramatic writing graduate program. It was here that he produced four full-length plays, being named a finalist in the Oglebay Institute National Playwriting Competition.
After turning down the first offer to return to coaching, Kernen was persuaded by former women’s basketball coach John Price to come out for a visit. The visit proved to be the deciding factor in Kernen’s decision.
Kernen was named CSUB’s first head coach in May of 2007. Since then, the ‘Runners have gone 128-137. This is quite impressive considering the baseball program is only five years old. Kernen not only advocates for a crowd simply for the support, but for the benefit of the fans themselves.
“I think people that come out and begin to learn the names and something about the players, it becomes more personal,” Kernen said. “They’re no longer watching a game with a bunch of guys running around. They know who Oscar is. They know who Tyler is. The more you know about them, the more involved your own ego gets, and I think that’s when it becomes really fun for the fans, when they become almost a part of the team.”
The ‘Runners are in sole possession of first place in the WAC standings, no doubt due to the incredible talent playing for the Blue and Gold. The force on the field is undoubtedly a strong one, but it’s important to recognize the quiet confidence of the austere captain at the helm, steering his team to victory.