Walking by the ballfield on an afternoon, it wasn’t unlikely that you’d hear Coach Doug Wellenreiter before you saw him.“Get behind the ball,” he’d yell to outfielders, in an effort to bolster their defense.
Wellenreiter served as the assistant coach for GC’s baseball team for six years and passed away on Tuesday.
Wellenreiter and his wife, Kelly, first moved to Goshen in 2014 to be closer to his two children and his three grandchildren.
“I moved here to be by my grandchildren, and my other daughter moved to Goshen after her husband retired from the Air Force, so I have my whole family here now,” he said.
Wellenreiter said he was inspired to be a teacher by some of the important figures in his life.
“My mom was a teacher, and I had several aunts who were teachers, and I wanted to be a coach,” Wellenreiter said.
There are many parallels that connect coaching on the field to teaching in the classroom, according to Wellenreiter.
“You want your kids to succeed in baseball just like you want your kids to succeed in the classroom,” he said.
Being a teacher, Wellenreiter always wanted to pass on the value of education.
“There is going to be a day where you can’t eat the baseball, so you better have some education to fall back on so you can support yourself,” he would say.
Wellenreiter’s coaching experience was vast.
He served in the Frontier League, when he was the pitching coach for the Cook Country Cheetahs (now the Windy City Thunderbolts) from the fall of 1999 to the spring of 2001.
Wellenreiter claimed he was “probably the only man in America who coached a junior high baseball team in the morning, and a professional team by night.”
But his coaching experience even went beyond the baseball field.
He spent three years as an assistant basketball coach for Olivet Nazarene University, working under coach Ralph Hodge, who was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) Hall of Fame. The team went to the National Tournament in Kansas City twice.
Wellenreiter gave his former head coach credit, saying, “I thought I knew how to coach defense until I coached with him. He broke everything step by step. Literally.”
A lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, Wellenreiter told a story about future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols’s commitment to the game.
Wellenreiter went to a game late in the season that did not mean anything because the Cardinals had already clinched a playoff spot. Still, he showed up early for batting practice to observe the players pregame routine.
Pujols was sitting in the first group with some Triple A guys, and they ran out of baseballs.
Pujols was the only person out retrieving the baseballs, while the rookies sat and watched him.
“The best player in baseball is doing the most mundane task in baseball,” Wellenreiter said.
The game went into extra innings, and Pujols played all 11 innings. That is the kind of attitude that Wellenreiter said he looked to build in his players.
“Doug taught me that having the I.Q. and talent does not mean you’re a good player,” said Brighton Schofield, senior outfielder. “The hustle and effort is what can majorly affect how a play will be remembered.”
Peyton Smith, a sophomore pitcher on the baseball team, notes the camaraderie that Wellenreiter encouraged.
“Coach Doug taught me that baseball is more than the numbers on a stat sheet,” he said. “It’s more about the connection and brotherhood you build along the way.”
Wellenreiter aimed to teach his athletes both skills for a lifetime and an appreciation for the game of baseball.
“Kids walk in young and unsure as first-years, and they walk out changed by their four years, and can stand on their own two feet, and go out and get jobs and be successful,” he said.
“In high school success was sending your kids off to college,” he said. “At the collegiate level it’s seeing them walk out the door with their degree and education and be contributing members of society.”