By: Danny Mooers, Assistant Sports Information Director
(Monday, February 10; Sioux Center, Iowa) Expectations are high for any coach who inherits a collegiate program. As the new face of the team, they’re expected to grow the program in a way that it wasn’t before; regardless of how successful it had been. Nathan Bacon, the new Dordt baseball coach, was handed the program in the summer of 2019 with hopes of it being revamped.
The team has only reached the GPAC Tournament once in over a decade. The program’s history doesn’t affect Bacon and his mindset.
“The rearview mirror is for me to look at,” he says. “I’m driving the car. My staff and players are in the back seat helping move us ahead. I use the rearview mirror to see where we’ve been and maybe make some different turns than were made before to get us to our destination.”
The past gives Bacon a chance to learn not only about Dordt programs, but other programs across the GPAC. Competing for a GPAC title is something that will always be a goal for Bacon.
“I tell this to recruits all the time: whether it’s three years or five years, we’re going to find a way to get it done,” he says. “I obviously hope it doesn’t take that long and we’re doing everything we can to find success right away.”
Bacon saw the head coaching job open this past summer, but hadn’t ever heard of Dordt and didn’t know what to expect from the institution. He applied while working at Albergue Olímpico, the Olympic Baseball training facility in Puerto Rico. He was working in his role as head coach, vice president of operations and general manager of the Puerto Rico Collegiate Summer League. One of the athletes participating was a current Dordt player.
After a long discussion about the school and the team, Bacon was optimistic. He received an interview request while in Puerto Rico so he packed his bags, flew out of San Juan, and made the two hour drive to Sioux Center from the Omaha airport.
“I was blown away by (Ross) Douma’s vision for athletics outlined in the Defender Way,” Bacon said. “The way Dordt wants athletics and academics to be handled is unique. It’s clear to me we can be competitive on the field without compromising how we represent Christ. I walked away from the interview knowing that if I was offered the position, I would accept it. What especially resonated with me was using baseball at Dordt as part of the Great Commission. I knew it would be a great place for my family as well as my professional career. I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”
Bacon was hired on July 17 and moved to Sioux Center on August 1. Bacon spent the first three months on the job away from his wife and daughter while they were preparing to fully move to Northwest Iowa. He had been the assistant coach at the University of the Ozarks in Arkansas since 2015. He helped turn the program around and lead the 2018 team to its first American Southwest Conference tournament appearance in a decade.
Bacon also had a prolific playing career. He was a standout pitcher at Avila University in Missouri and graduated in 2012. Bacon finished his career with a 20-6 pitching record while taking home two all-conference honors as well as an induction to the Avila University Sports Hall of Fame.
Throughout his years as a player and a young coach, Bacon has learned the importance of forming relationships with the athletes.
“I try to have a conversation with a different guy everyday,” he says. “Every coach has their own way of getting to know athletes, but I tend to take the approach that value is worth more than amount. If I’m going to talk to guys, I’m going to talk to them for 5-10 minutes before practice instead of going around and asking everybody how their day was.”
Once Bacon took over, getting to know the athletes at the deeper level he wanted wasn’t easy. Hitting the ground running with practice and training allowed for some conversations, but not as many as he would have liked. Bacon didn’t recruit any of the players currently in the program and as a relational coach, it was difficult to create the camaraderie as early as he would’ve liked.
It’s required him to rely on assistant coaches Trent Roose and Ian Eshelmen to bridge the gap.
“It finally feels like I’m at a place where I know each guy in the program,” Bacon says. “Have I done it perfectly? No. But I’m thankful for Trent and Esh and their help in all of this. It finally feels like we’re at a place where the guys are comfortable. I constantly remind them that my door is always open and my phone is always on.”
For existing team members building trust with a new staff didn’t come overnight. Bacon understood this and encouraged the athletes to fully commit or explore other opportunities.
“The guys that want to be on board are probably going to help you and the ones that aren’t are probably ready to turn the page and focus their energy elsewhere,” Bacon says.
Being intentional is something Bacon is striving to be both on and off the field. Whether it’s being open about Dordt’s mission with a recruit or planning for practice, Bacon realizes his platform. One of the first things Bacon did this fall was increase the speed at which the team practices. It took some adjusting, but the athletes quickly embraced it.
“I challenge any baseball program in the country to practice as fast as us,” Bacon says. “We practice faster than game speed so in the game things slow down.”
This strategy leads to both a more fit and composed team.
Along with the changes in the practices, Coach Bacon has embraced the technology that the world of baseball has to offer. Dordt is the only NAIA school in the country with FlightScope, a data collection software for everything ranging from release height for pitching to ball flight time for batting. Dordt is also the only school outside of the Division 1 Power Five conferences with Baseball Cloud, a program that helps analyze the data they gather from FlightScope.
“The technology paints a clearer picture and affirms some of the things we’re telling our players,” Bacon said. “Each player has their own login that they can use to look at their data and see how their day went on the mound or at the plate. ”
By combining the traditions of baseball and meshing it with the current technology, Dordt Baseball becomes much more appealing to recruits. Major League teams focus heavily on the data from these softwares and since Dordt is the only NAIA school with it, Bacon has an easier sell.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to be relatable so athletes can grow and the technology has provided a great avenue for that,” Bacon said.
The team has been training since Labor Day and all are optimistic about the upcoming season. Bacon understands that it’s all new for the athletes and winning isn’t the only priority.
“We’re excited about Defender Baseball and the impact we can have on the lives of these Christian men. Hopefully we can have some success while we’re doing it,” Bacon said.