This week’s guest is Chad Baum, assistant coach for Cal State Fullerton Baseball. Regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in all of college baseball, Baum has been to Omaha five times before the age of forty.
In this podcast he breaks down his coaching career path and lifts the lid on Titan Baseball to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the greatest programs in college athletics.
Cain: Hey how are you doing? This is Brian Cain, your Peak Performance Coach, with another episode of the Peak Performance Podcast. Today our guest is assistant baseball coach at Cal State Fullerton, one of the premier programs in all of college athletics – it’s Chad Baum.
Chad, thank you for sitting down with us and taking time out of your hectic schedule here on a Sunday in the middle of the season to join us on the podcast.
Baum: Thanks Brian. I’m glad to be here.
Cain: Chad, if you would could you give our listeners kind of the quick snapshot of your career from playing in high school then going on to junior college at Cal State Fullerton as a player, going to the College World Series where you have been five times already in your young career, and then kind of your path and how you made your way back to Cal State Fullerton.
Baum: Well I grew up here locally in Orange County. I kind of didn’t know what I was going to do after high school ended. I ended up going to Golden West Junior College and then my sophomore year I transferred to Santa Ana Junior College. I got fortunate enough to find my way on the team here. I got to play here at Cal State Fullerton in 1998-1999. I was a total role player, limited action guy. I had a great experience. Then I went out to play independent ball.
Coach Horton (who was the head coach at the time) called me and said “hey Wallach is not coming back, would you like to be interested in the volunteer position?” I said “absolutely.” He said “give me a couple weeks.” I said “no problem.” Ten minutes later he called back and said “it’s yours.” That kind of ended my professional career and started the coaching career.
I was a volunteer for five years here at Cal State Fullerton. Then after the 2004 National Championship team I got to move to Irvine with Dave Serrano. I spent two years there then took a job at Santa Clara University. I was there for five years. It was a good experience. I got to branch out myself away from the Fullerton tree which was a good experience for my career.
Then when Coach Vanderhook got the job here at Cal State Fullerton I came back down as the volunteer and a few years later I became the fulltime assistant coach. I think I’m going on my twelfth year coaching at Cal State Fullerton.
Cain: So, Chad, you got a chance to go to Omaha five times now. Once as a player, four times as a coach, and one time in 2004 coming home with a National Championship trophy. If you would can you talk a little bit about that 2004 National Championship team? Was there anything that was different between those guys and the other four times you went to Omaha?
Baum: Not a lot different. I would say about the 2004 team something special happened in the middle of the year. Everything clicked. We got a lot of bounces going out way. We got a lot of good performances. A lot of clutch hits. There are eight big leaguers on that team. People ask all the time about that team and how can we replicate that. Again, having eight big leaguers on that team is a pretty big number. Luckily (like I said) we got a lot of bounces our way and the baseball gods took care of us.
Cain: If you would let’s go back to that 2004 season. I think what everyone looks at and sees is the end result of the National Championship. What they don’t see is that midway through the season – let’s even go back further. The 2003 team that went to Omaha (that I had the privilege of being here with on your staff as a student manager/grad assistant/do whatever I can do to help the program and stay out of the way) was maybe one of the best Titan teams of all time.
2003 were pretty much going wire-to-wire with the number one team in the county, go to Omaha, beat LSU, beat Stanford, then lose twice to Stanford, and I think had 13 guys drafted off of that team. Then come back in 2004 and you’re looking at okay is this kind of a rebuilding team, they’ve got some new faces, and you’re 15-16 at the midpoint in the season. You go down to Austin, Texas and get swept by the Longhorns. Come back here, Titans aren’t ranked. Titans are under 500 for the first time at this point in the season – maybe ever. What did you guys do to turn that thing around and go 36-4 (whatever it was) the rest of the way to win it all?
Baum: I remember that day we sat in the soccer stadium and we just talked about we are going to be good teammates, we are going to think positively, and we are going to live on the next pitch.
Ken Ravizza (who was working with us) made it simple. We’ve got to stop bitching at the umpire’s call or what we don’t have and start thinking about what we do have. The snowball built from there. We opened up that conference at Pacific and we had the best weekend of the year offensively and it was contagious. We just swung the bats. I thought we always pitched pretty well. Our defense was not the greatest at that time. It finally did what it was supposed to do.
Cain: Talk about the leadership on that team. As a guy who was a captain here at Cal State Fullerton (you talked about your role when you were here in 1998-1999 kind of as a role player and you were elected captain by your teammates and by your staff) talk about the leadership of the teams that you’ve been around here at Cal State Fullerton and what makes a great leader in college baseball as a player.
Baum: There have been a lot of great ones here that I have been fortunate enough to coach or play with. I think the big thing as a leader is you’ve got to be able to speak your mind and not be afraid of what your teammates will say or think. The fact that you need to be selfless and put the team first (I think) is a big deal.
Sometimes they are role players. Sometimes they are your best player. Sometimes your best player is a quiet guy that just goes out and does his thing every day. But the big thing is that they put the team first and they are able to speak up and hold each other accountable. That is a hard thing (I think) in today’s world for young adults to keep each other accountable by telling them “hey that’s not right, we do things this way.”
I think that is one quality that we have always been able to instill in our players – the fact of hold each other accountable because at some point in life (whether it’s your professional career, your life as a father or business person) you’re going to have to manage someone or be responsible. This is taking charge of your company, your team, or what have you.
Cain: You talk a lot about being selfless and putting the team first. I think when people on the outside look at Cal State Fullerton they see a team that doesn’t have a football program. They see a team that is in the area of UCLA and USC and all the other great college baseball programs in this area, but is always at the top. There is an aura about Cal State Fullerton and there is a persona about this program. Having been here now with all of your experience, what makes the Titan program so elite and so special?
Baum: I think it’s the system that Coach Garrido started and Coach Horton passed on, Dave Serrano and now Coach Vanderhook. We haven’t changed much. We are going to do three simple things – we are going to throw strikes, put the ball in play, and play catch. It all stems from Bullock/Kincaid philosophy.
I think that is one of the things that we are just able to get players that want to be Titans and that is the most important. We want guys that want to be here, want to wear the pinstripes, want to wear blue and orange, who want to not have the football team and not have all the amenities and still be able to play baseball at a high level and compete nationally with the big five or whoever. Anywhere. Anytime.
The attitude is a big thing – that we are going to play the game right and at the end of the day hopefully we get rewarded and we are going to really work hard on the practice days and let game days go. That has been a pretty simple philosophy since (as I can remember) watching games as a kid here on Sundays. We used to come on Sundays so it really hasn’t changed.
I think if you look at the Titans you talk about a program that is about putting the team first and being selfless and having that intensity and that focus of going pitch to pitch and the toughness to embrace adversity that is in this game. Being accountable and following through and doing the work, the work rate with which guys operate in this program and that ability to get to the next pitch, but also continue to learn.
If you would, talk about the mindset of being a teacher as a coach and why that is so important.
Baum: It is the most important thing. We’re fortunate enough to get everybody’s 3-4 hitter, their best pitcher or best player on the team. But they come in and the game is so fast so sometimes they get lost. We have to really teach them how to slow the game down, how to see the play happen, the pre-pitch or what have you. Understanding what they are going to do with the ball before. Guys are faster, they are stronger.
But the student part is a big thing in our program because we don’t have to coach them. They are being accountable for themselves because they’ve learned. That is the big thing. That is why the professional players are so successful and so good is because they’ve gone many years of doing the grind and being a student and now they know how to play once they get to the big leagues for a lot of them. That is what we try to instill in our guys is the ability to make decisions, the ability to be ahead of the game.
The student part is huge not just for their baseball career but for their life in general. A lot of things that I learned just from being a Titan baseball player has helped me be a better son, brother, husband, and now a father. So it’s just beyond baseball.
Cain: You talk about being a student. My life changed when I came here in 2002-2003 and got to be a student under Dr. Ken Ravizza in the sports psychology program and also be a student over here with you and Coach Vanderhook, Coach Serrano, and Coach Horton in the baseball program and got to see for me what was the best of both worlds. I got to learn baseball at the highest level. I haven’t played Division 1 college baseball but there are different levels in Division 1 college baseball which I found out real fast. Then getting the degree in sports psychology with Ken.
If we can let’s turn this conversation now to the mental game because I believe that the mental game was invented at Cal State Fullerton. I believe that with Cal State Fullerton baseball and Ken Ravizza it’s where it was created. Now almost everybody does something with the mental game. What is the mental game to you, Chad?
Baum: The mental game for me is the ability to slow the game down, to be able to recognize your body or your mind is getting out of control and spiraling. That is a big thing. I think a lot of kids lack that. Ultimately the mental game is the ability to stay under control and do what you practiced in the game environment.
Cain: What are some things that you guys will do maybe in practice to work on the mental game? I know you’ve got to coordinate the offense and work with catchers. What are the things that you guys do (let’s say) in batting practice or drills or anything where you might work on the mental game in practice.
Baum: We’ll work on the way we get in the box, the way we take a green light breath, the way we come out of the cage. We will work the process of coming out of getting into what we call a “red light” and being able to get back to green light again. If you’re going to be able to do this in the game you’ve got to practice it to some extent. In the cage we’ll practice getting in the box and taking that breath just so every time we go into a box we know we are going to have a clear mind and a clear head so we can do the task at hand.
Our pitchers work a ton of taking a breath and staying with their routine so it’s very consistent whether they are at the line of the stretch. Even trying to put them in situations where they’ve failed or there is a tough situation. So when they are in the game and their base is loaded down by one or two or the base has loaded nobody out, they understand the principle behind staying under control and breathing in a tough situation rather than a practice situation. They’ve got to have their motor running a little bit more.
Cain: I think for a lot of coaches – and you kind of started in the Cal State Fullerton system where the mental game is just a part of what you guys do every day. I think for a lot of coaches they maybe aren’t totally invested in the mental game, don’t know what it is, aren’t bought in, are confused by it. What would be your message to the younger coaches out there just getting going in their career about the importance of the mental game?
Baum: I think the importance of it is obviously we don’t have a cookie cutter kid that you are going to get 10-20 kids that are exactly the same that think the same. The mental game can really help the fact that you are going to have 15-20 different personalities and the ability to reach them and get them to play under control. Each player has a different niche. That is where I think the mental game really helps. One guy might really be into his routine where another guy is just so wrapped. So everybody has a little something different.
The mental game (I think) will help lessen the time between the negative to the now positive. I think it will help if you’re a coach and your team plays out of control or can’t finish games. I think that is a lack of mental toughness and the mental game helps build that. Whether it’s reading books on it, whether it’s listening to podcasts like this or what have you, it’s about being able to have a foundation. The mental game gives your team a great foundation to when things go wrong this is what we do – or this is what I do – and this is what helps the team.
Cain: You could say the mental game is what I call the “basement raiser.” We say that the mental game doesn’t allow you to all of a sudden go out there and play at a level that is better than what you have inside of you. If you’re a Level 5 player it’s not going to make you a Level 10 but what it does is it raises your basement. Meaning we don’t rise to the occasion. We sink to our levels of training and habits.
What the mental game does is it gives you better training, better habits, and better able to withstand the adversity so that when you are not at your best you are at a level higher than you would be so that the valleys are higher. It doesn’t necessarily mean the peaks are higher. The peaks are going to come from your physical game. You are just going to consistently peak more often. If that makes sense.
Cain: Baumer, let’s ask the million dollar question. What do you know now you wish you knew when you were just getting started back in 1999-2000 here at Cal State Fullerton?
Baum: That is a good question. I wish I knew how to probably reach out to the players a little bit more and let them figure things out. As a young coach you want to dig right in and be super involved. I think that now as I’ve gone I like to try to ask them more questions rather than me give them the answer. I think that is a big thing where I want to see what they are thinking rather than what I think for them. I think that has allowed me to kind of reach them deeper and be able to help them. Just because I’ve seen it they may not have experienced it. I think that would be my thing. When I started my career I was always trying to help them in a positive way. Now looking back I think it kind of hindered their performance. It slowed it down at least.
Cain: Baum, I’m going to put you on the hot seat here. I’m going to ask you to when I say one word (like for example I’ll say the word “Omaha”) and you just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Are you ready to be in the hot seat?
Cain: Here we go. Omaha.
Cain: You can give more than a one word answer. You can dig a little bit deeper. Garrido.
Baum: Gosh that is going to go long. Greatest ever.
Baum: There are a lot of them. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good mentors from Coach Warren who I got to play for and work for to Dave Serrano to Rick Vanderhook to Mark O’Brien. All the guys I’ve worked for are just unbelievable guys. They’ve had a lot of different attributes that have helped me be a better coach.
Baum: Part of the Titan game.
Baum: Don’t get caught with your pants down.
Cain: Fire eating.
Baum: Brian Cain.
Baum: I think you already asked that one.
Cain: We might have.
Cain: You are off the hot seat.
Cain: Chad Baum, thank you for being a guest here on the Peak Performance Podcast. I appreciate all you do. I appreciate your time, your wisdom. Dominate the Day.