Strankman’s team has West Coast flavor, and is built with focus on speed, defense
The makeup of the Green Bay Bullfrogs’ roster does more to expose manager Elliott Strankman’s West Coast roots than his habitual use of “man” and “dude” as punctuation.
Seventeen of the 26 Bullfrogs hail from schools in California, Oregon or Washington â€” by far the largest group on any team in a Northwoods League that draws much of its talent from the Midwest. Yet it’s an appropriate mix for Strankman, a Washington native who recently completed his third season as baseball coach at NCAA Division III Occidental College in Los Angeles.
His challenge – which starts Thursday when the Bullfrogs play at Waterloo in the first game in franchise history – will be producing baseball that can entertain a less-experienced fan base than he and most of his players are accustomed to.
“Kids, when they first get wood bats in their hands, they struggle,” Strankman said last week. “So, I wanted to build our team around speed, defense, guys (who can) steal bases, and then we’ll have some guys in the middle of the order that can drive some balls into the gaps.
“But, I think we’re going to pitch well, and I think we’re going to play defense, and I think that we’re going to score enough runs to be competitive.”
Strankman, 30, played on two NAIA championship teams at Idaho’s Lewis-Clark State College under longtime coach Ed Cheff. He spent three seasons in the minor leagues before being released, then followed through on a pact he’d made with himself by getting his masters degree in education and entering coaching.
After stops at Moscow (Idaho) High School and as an assistant under Cheff in the Alaskan League, Strankman landed at Occidental in 2005. The Tigers were 3-36 the year before he arrived. They’ve improved each season, and finished 17-23 this spring.
“I wanted to find a coach that was very in tune, very connected in the collegiate ranks,” Bullfrogs owner Jeff Royle said. “That’s really where Elliott rose to the top. I knew the minute I interviewed him on the telephone that he was our guy.”
Strankman promptly added Aaron Swick (Willamette University in Salem, Ore.) and Roberto Saenz (Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa.) as assistants, and had much of his team together by January.
“They have so many good credentials,” said outfielder Boe Baitinger, comparing Strankman to his Carthage College coach, Augie Schmidt IV. “It’s kind of cool to learn things from (coaches) like that.”
Unlike many college coaches, who keep tabs on their NWL players through the Internet, Strankman’s location allowed him to see many future Bullfrogs on the field this spring.
Pulling double duty has proven taxing – “Dude, I don’t sleep, man,” he said with a yawn during a recent interview – but it has perks. His first trip to Green Bay was on Royle’s dime in December, when the owner flew him in for the Packers-Jets game.
“The neat thing about it is, I like being a part of something new, although there are a bunch of unknowns,” Strankman said, noting the “sports energy” he felt in the city.
“It’s a Catch-22. But I’m excited. It’s a challenge.”
Royle, a former college baseball player, might become more involved with personnel decisions when his off-the-field workload decreases in future seasons. But, his willingness to turn over the baseball operation entirely to Strankman in Year 1 indicates confidence in his manager’s ability to use experience â€” and location â€” to his advantage.
“He knows how to put a team together,” Royle said. “It’s up to the coach, the city (or) the combination of both to sell the kid on why he should come to Green Bay versus going to the Alaskan League, the Cape Cod, or maybe the (Wisconsin) Woodchucks, and (Strankman) has done a great job of that.”