The Northwest baseball team suffered a recent string of losses as it has fallen in seven of its last eight games. Regardless of the outcomes, coach Darin Loe knows this team is special and can prove something with just a little positivity.
Entering Loe’s 26th year of coaching, he has many accolades, including Northwest’s all-time wins leader for a baseball coach. But, it’s his history that built his resume and it’s his positive approach that executed it.
For Loe, this game isn’t about straining his voice or breaking things in the dugout. Instead, Loe takes an optimistic vision, as his coaching style promotes growth to players through helpful discussions rather than fiery meltdowns. This style is generated by his experience as a skipper, but Loe wasn’t always been this level headed manager; he had to learn the rules of the trade through success and failure, time and time again.
Loe’s climb began early through various jobs within different athletic departments. As he bounced around from various colleges to finally get to Northwest.
“A friend of mine was coaching at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri, and he called and said they had a job down there, so I took that position as a pitching coach,” Loe said. “A year later, I became the head coach, so I was the head coach and assistant football coach for two years. Then went to Baker University in the same position and then this job opened up and I had always heard great things about Northwest.”
Before anything happened on the coaching side of things, Loe was a fastball-first pitcher that had dreams of doing something more.
Growing up on a farm in Minnesota, Loe knew the idea of blue-collar living, but baseball was a different skill to pick up. He gained power in his throw through time as he would always play catch with his dad when there was nothing else to do.
That farm in Minnesota is where his passion grew, but his drive came from those before him. Loe was a hard thrower that loved to idolize flamethrowers like Nolan Ryan, and Loe wanted to someday join him in the ranks of pitchers to dominate their opponents.
“I felt like growing up I was a hard-throwing right-hander, so just growing up watching Nolan Ryan, you know some of those guys pitch,” Loe said. “Then once you get into the coaching world, Sparky Lyle and some of the older coaches that had done the coaching job right, I felt like those were guys I liked to watch and emulate.”
Loe started the pursuit of his dreams when he enrolled in Valley City State University, where he majored in business and physical education with a coaching minor. There he played part-time on the football team and the baseball team.
There he set records for all types of pitching stats as he still remains the leader in career wins and strikeouts as well as having the most strikeouts in a season with 121 in 1987. These accolades pushed him to the next level as he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 26th round of the 1989 MLB June Amateur Draft.
His route to the majors started in the Mariners short Class-A season with the Bellingham Mariners. There he struggled a bit with a 5.98 ERA in 40.2 innings pitched, but nevertheless, he moved on to the next stage with the Peninsula Pilots in 1990. The Pilots were the Mariner Class A Advanced ball team, and there, Loe excelled with a 3.25 ERA in 88.2 innings pitched and accumulated 76 strikeouts.
He continued to push his way up the ranks as he made it to Class High-A ball in his third year in the minors and even got an invitation to spring training.
He was on pace with his development and was still hoping one day that he would get a shot at the bigs, but before that, he suffered a back injury that called for surgery that took speed off of his fastball and led to his release in October 1992.
Just like that, his playing career was over, but his dreams of being a coach were just in the setting stages. From there, he decided to get his masters from North Dakota State to help jumpstart his pursuit to his coaching dreams. Loe loved the game of baseball and knew his time pitching was minimal so his focus was to someday become a coach and quickly those cogs moved him to Northwest.
“Even when I was a player, I knew that I would go into coaching in some capacity, I was always really close with our managers and pitching coaches,” Loe said. “Even in spring training, I asked for the coach’s field manual to see if I could get a copy of that, just for my archives. Obviously, that is higher than high school and college, but coaching is coaching and getting players better is the same at every level.”
From the minors to a journey around small-town America, Loe landed the Northwest gig in 2000 with a hope of breaking the loss heavy history for Bearcat baseball. Around that time, Northwest culture was changing with the creation of a football dynasty from Mel Tjeerdsma and a basketball revitalization from Steve Tappmeyer. Loe wanted to be part of the movement, but couldn’t help change the atmosphere immediately.
Through his years, Loe found fault in his own style of coaching and learned with experience to change his philosophies in order to garner respect and success. In the beginning, Loe was a skipper fueled by emotion and didn’t take disrespect from anyone. But as he grew in years, he learned that philosophy was flawed and didn’t equal success.
“After 26 years of coaching, I think I am a lot more of a calmer coach, I used to get thrown out of games and yell at our players and throw fits, thinking that’s the way to get your message across,” Loe said. “I think now I’ve learned that maybe that makes me feel better, but that doesn’t do anything for the quality of the program.”
He especially learned this through tough MIAA play.
“In the MIAA, the key to having success is to minimize losing streaks, you know,” Loe said. “How do you do that? When I was young and dumb, I would yell and scream to try and get them motivated that way, and now 26 years later, I know that to beat a player down that is already down isn’t going to help us.”
During his first three years as a manager, Loe struggled with his old ideas of coaching as he tallied a record of 73-87. After his beginning hiccups, he did something no Northwest manager had done before by having a winning season for seven straight years (2002-2008). From 2009 to 2015, it was another slump as he put together multiple losing seasons in a row.
Before long, he was back on the winning side of the board with two 30-win seasons, including the first MIAA Championship trophy last year. This was the first conference championship since 1983.
For players like Jay Hrdlicka, who have been on the team for four years now, Loe has had a deep influence on the person that he has become.
“Coach Loe has helped me get better physically as a player, of course, but I think the main way he has helped me grow as a player and person is the mental game,” Hrdlicka said. “I came in as somewhat of a hot-headed freshman who was very hard on myself, and he has always preached to keep looking forward to the next at-bat or the next play and to control what you can control. That's something I have learned to use on and off the field from him.”
Loe’s new adaptive style of coaching has given his players something more as they have gained a mental edge and focus that allots for success.
“Coach is always looking forward regardless of the situation the team is in, and that helps the team a lot as a whole,” Hrdlicka said. “I have learned a lot in college in that regard from him and that is to just keep going no matter the circumstances during a baseball game or in life.”
On any given day, it would be no surprise if Loe were to mention the phrase, “trust the process.” This is one of the key components that helped Loe’s growth as a coach.
This phrase comes from the idea that he talks about taking each problem at a time. Instead of getting worked up about things, he understands it’s a mental game and to get frustrated or mad at a player doesn’t help any situations.
“We focus on the process, we don’t get caught up in winning or losing, we want to minimize the amount of garbage going through our heads and focus on one pitch at a time,” Loe said. “It sounds cliché, but that’s what makes teams successful is only focusing on a small thing, not winning a series or winning a championship.”
Many of his players are thankful for his attitude and what he gives to them and the rest of the team. He teaches, he coaches and he learns with the team, and that’s what makes him a great leader to the squad.
“I think the biggest thing I have learned from coach Loe is there are no shortcuts to success,” Hrdlicka said. “He preaches to focus on the process every day and the results you want will come. That mentality has paid dividends for the teams I have been on in my years here and for me individually.”