Ave Maria University
Ave Maria baseball, an NAIA program near Fort Myers, was in need of an overhaul when Mike McCormick got the head coach job ahead of the 2022 season.
In the four years leading up to his hiring, the Gyrenes had amassed a 58-119 record overall, and hadn’t had a winning record since 2013.
Believe it or not, that’s why McCormick wanted the job.
“One of the appeals to this job for me was going to a place that really hadn’t had much success in recent years and trying to build some,” he said. “We knew that if we had success it would be because of the work we put into it.”
His plan? Rebuild the program in the image of Driveline.
McCormick has plenty of experience in the Driveline environment, training at the Seattle facility as both a college and professional pitcher from 2016 through 2018, and as a pitching coordinator after his playing career was over in 2019.
His first two hires as head coach at Ave Maria were his brother, Nick, and Kyle Houts, both of whom were also Driveline trainers before moving to Southwest Florida.
That applies to both coaches and players. McCormick is open about the way the team trains when he’s chatting to recruits – there’s a lot of talk about training blocks, bat speed, PlyoCare Balls, and Blast sensors.
If you’re hanging around the shell during batting practice, you’ll see hitters looking at an iPad after each round to check exit velo and launch angle. They’re using overload and underload bats to work on swinging faster.
Head out to the bullpen, and guys are warming up with Plyos and Driveline wrist weights and working on fastball spin efficiency.
“We use everything that we learned out at Driveline and are applying it to Ave Maria,” McCormick explained.
The results? Ave Maria has been winning. A lot.
In McCormick’s first season at the helm, the Gyrenes went 27-25-1, their first winning season since 2013. The momentum continued into this season, with Ave Maria finishing the regular season with a 33-14 record, earning a trip to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round for the first time in 10 years.
The Gyrenes climbed all the way up to No. 17 in the national NAIA rankings this year, with a win over No. 1 Southeastern and a sweep of No. 18 St. Thomas sprinkled in there.
Along the way, the team has broken school records in runs scored, triples, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, total bases, saves, and pitcher strikeouts.
The success of the program these past two years is based largely on the development of the existing roster, McCormick pointed out. This is not primarily a story about recruiting improvement. McCormick’s number one goal was to develop the players he had while supplementing with the right new additions. He said he feels like he’s done that.
Daniel Caylor led the team with 173 at-bats back in 2021, OPS’ing .665 with six extra-base hits. It jumped to .769 last year. This season, his OPS is .929 with 23 extra-base hits. David Leonardi is another holdover from 2021. His OPS went from .627 in 70 at-bats that year all the way up to 1.108 in 2022 and is currently at .857 this season.
Jimmy Coffey was a freshman on the 2022 team, hitting .229 with a .575 OPS in his first year on campus. Now with a year of development in McCormick’s new training environment under his belt, he’s hitting .342 with a .843 OPS.
McCormick and his staff are trying to pass on as much knowledge as they can to their players and put them in a position to succeed. For them, that’s training them in an environment that mimics what he experienced at Driveline. It was a winning formula for McCormick as a player, and is turning out to be just as fruitful as a coach.