From player to head coach

How Jake Sabol’s CMU baseball career came full circle

Senior pitcher Jake Sabol takes the mound Sunday afternoon against the NIU Huskies in Mount Pleasant. Sabol pitched seven innings giving up one run and striking out seven batters during the Chippewas 13-1 win over the Huskies. (Andrew Kuhn/Staff Photographer)

After five years that featured three NCAA tournament appearances, Central Michigan baseball found itself without a coach when Jordan Bischel left CMU for Cincinnati. Less than two weeks later, the Chippewas found their guy — new coach and former CMU starting pitcher Jake Sabol.

“It’s pretty surreal, to be honest,” Sabol said on getting the job. “You get into the thick of practice and being around the guys and just realizing that you’re doing what you’ve been doing for the last 10 years, but now you’re doing it in a place that kind of gave you your start in college baseball.”

Sabol, who is a graduate of De La Salle Collegiate High School in Warren, attended Central Michigan in 2007 as a part of the baseball team. But in his first two years, he only totaled 30 innings.

“My path ... as a player was not the most ordinary path,” Sabol said. “When I came in here, I was probably a little overlooked. I didn’t get many chances right away, but you had to go about your business in a certain way in order to achieve those chances later, and that’s just in life too.”

He became a big part of the rotation in his final two years, when he found himself a weekend starter for the Chippewas. He was especially good in his senior season, going 4-2 in Mid-American Conference play and posting a 3.18 ERA (earned runs average) and 53 strikeouts. 

Following his senior year, Sabol was drafted in the 36th round by the Detroit Tigers.

“Hopefully that allows me to be able to reach a handful of different guys in our program a little bit differently,” Sabol said. “These guys are here for a couple of different reasons. One, they want to compete at a high level — they want to play college baseball — but they also love something about Central Michigan, and that’s really important to me.”

In the 2011 season, the Chippewas finished 31-27 overall and 17-9 in MAC play, which led them to the top of the MAC West division. The team would eventually fall in the semifinals of the MAC tournament to Miami (OH).

As a former player who experienced winning at CMU, Sabol understands the relationships needed in the clubhouse in order to be a successful team.

“When I first got the job, it was so important for me to call these guys one by one and get their opinions of what Central Michigan baseball meant to them. … What, from that last tenure, did we really enjoy that we feel like we could maybe continue forward with, and what was something that was missing that they wanted to get out of their experience,” Sabol said.

This isn’t the first coaching stop for Sabol. He had three successful tenures prior to this opportunity. Those were at Alma (16-18) where he compiled a record of 67-59.

His second stop was at Northwood University, where he took over the reins from Bischel. In five years at Northwood, Sabol was able to compile a record of 140-90-1.

“That was the place where I was at the longest as the head coach,” Sabol said. “That was where I could build the program essentially the way that I wanted to do it.

“I’m very great thankful for my experience there. There were not really any other places I’d ever looked to leave for, outside of this. So that should probably tell you what I think about that place,” Sabol now plans to bring the best players to Central Michigan Univeristy.

“If you’re not too familiar with the history of the program, or Central Michigan in general, and you come on campus, you’ll learn a ton about what this university can offer from an academic standpoint, and the Mount Pleasant community,” Sabol said.

“I think we’re the only school in the MAC that has a one-stop-shop of an indoor facility, a clubhouse, an athletic training room, a meeting space, a practice field, all essentially attached to your dugout,” Sabol said. “There are some other great facilities in the conference ... but to have you walk in one door and you can do all those things, I think our guys are super lucky to have that.”

As a former player and coach, Sabol has strong opinions on the CMU community and what it means to be a Chippewa.

“I think it’s a great question,” Sabol said. “When I talk to former players now, and they recommend a player that they’re coaching or that they saw on the road, they usually always end with, ‘this kid he’s really good but he’s not (a) Chippewa.’

“Tougher kids who had their back against the wall and they were written off a little bit,” “They ... want to be around a group of guys who cares about being really good and competing at a high level.”

When it’s all said and done, Sabol said he wants not just to be remembered for the product on the field, but he wants his team to embrace what it means to be a Chippewa.

“We’re going to talk about it often, but if we’re so obsessed with ‘We have to win a championship,’ we lose out on all the really cool things that happened leading up to that,” Sabol said. “(I) want them to enjoy it day-by-day ... being a Chippewa and what that all entails.”