Tom Brettell’s first major hire as Robbinsville High athletic director was to bring aboard the new Tom Brettell, but he wanted someone not exactly like the old Brettell.
He thinks he may have nailed it by hiring Mike Kinsella as the Ravens head baseball coach.
“I think he’s exactly what they need,” said Brettell, who stepped down last summer after 11 years at the helm. “I think they’re going to see some success this year just because of the way he’s going to approach things, and then go from there.”
And just why is he what they need?
“First off, he gets right in there with them,” Brettell said. “Every practice I’ve popped in on, he’s right in there, throwing with them, fielding with them. He’s doing everything with them. He’s got a fresh kind of new way with things. It’s different from what we used to do in the past. It’s that breath of fresh air. I think that’s a good thing. I told him, ‘They’re ready for a change, and you’re that change.’ He lets them be them a little more, which I think is what they want, and I think that will translate.”
Kinsella is in his first year of teaching at RHS and brought a solid coaching resume with him. He served as assistant baseball coach at Raritan High School the past three years, and at his alma mater, Freehold Township, three years before that. He has also coached football and, this past winter, served as Joe Washington’s assistant for girls’ basketball.
“I’ve gotten a good perspective from different programs, and I understand the things I like to use and things I don’t necessarily agree with,” Kinsella said. “I’d like to think I have a wide range of experience that kind of molded me into the head coach I am trying to be.”
One of his main goals is to instill character, which is something that jumped out at Brettell during the interview process.
“He was a kid-first guy,” the AD said. “When he talked about things he had previously been a part of, he would talk about the charity things he would do with Raritan, the fundraisers they would do. It was more about the kids and developing the kids than even baseball. To me that was important. We want people to take care of our athletes first.”
Kinsella feels that is the foundation for everything else.
“I’m a big character guy, I get that from also being a football coach and seeing programs over the years,” he said. “Football is a different animal in that there’s a real bonding experience that usually takes place in the locker room. That’s what I’m trying to build here with the team. We do a lot character building activities, a lot of team building stuff. I encourage them to be leaders and I really force their hand in making them embrace the role of being a senior. I have eight seniors, and they’re doing a fantastic job right now. They are more than anything I could have asked for. I give them a lot of responsibility. They have yet to show me they are incapable of handling it.”
Robbinsville returns an entire senior infield, featuring Danny Frascella on first, Nick Matt at second, Jack Gillmer at short and Tyler Lehmann on third. Frascella, Lehmann and junior Chris Au are all returning pitchers.
“I also have a couple of young guys with experience,” Kinsella said. “We are extremely experienced.”
Unfortunately, they experienced a ton of tough losses last year as Robbinsville dropped seven one-run games en route to a 7-16 record.
“They found ways to lose last year, which has been a direct motivation of mine to correct,” Kinsella said. “I’ve preached to these guys that last season could have gone the exact opposite way for them and that I expect it to go the exact opposite way this year. They really embrace that role. We’ve had the experience, it’s our time.
“We just need to learn how to finish, that’s something we work on in practice every single day. I put them into tough situations, late-game scenarios at the end of every practice. If we win the scenario we win, if we lose, we walk off, we rake the field and we lost. By the middle of this year they are going to have simulated many late game situations where they failed last year.”
The enthusiasm in Kinsella’s voice was apparent the more he talked about it. Asked if he has ever been more excited for a baseball season to start, Kinsella shot back, “No, never.”
“It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing on my mind when I go to bed,” he said. “I’m constantly doing things for the program. It’s an adjustment period. As a first-year head coach, it is a lot. But I’m really excited to be able to go to practice every day. The kids are excited. We had a fundraiser with all the parents, the parents were talking about how excited the seniors were this year.”
One thing that excites Kinsella is the fact he can go to Brettell whenever he needs help. He noted that he is in the AD’s office two or three times a day, but added that his predecessor will never force advice on him.
“He’s already gone above and beyond in trying to help me; he said, ‘I’ll give my opinion if you ask for it but I’m not going to just give it to you,’” Kinsella said. “Tom has been an awesome mentor for me. He loves Robbinsville High School. He wants the same thing I want. He knew it was his time, and this is the best case scenario for everybody. He’s in a role to help us without having to invest everything in it, and he can then kind of sit back and watch.”
After being hired, one of Kinsella’s first moves was to have one-on-one conversations with every player. He asked them how things had been going for them up to this point, and where they would like to see the program go. He then gave his philosophy, which is to emphasize pitchers throwing strikes and fielders making the plays.
“Those talks went well,” he said. “They took ownership of last season, and they all stressed the idea they’re embracing a fresh start. They’re taking it as this year is a new year. Last year doesn’t matter, the years before don’t matter. They’re absorbing everything I’m teaching. Everything is new. Baseball’s not new but my verbiage and my way of doing things is brand new. They’re doing a great job of being a sponge and soaking it in.
“Baseball is baseball, it’s really up to them. People teach and coach pretty much the same stuff. It’s all about what the kids put into it and what they demand of themselves. I’m a big character guy. I’m not a screamer, I’m not a yeller, I don’t make them run if they disappoint me. I’m more like, ‘What’s the lesson here?’ and ‘This is why we’re doing what we do.’”
Kinsella’s assistants are Jeff Fisher and Jerry Chmielewski, while Washington joins the staff. The coaches and players all have the same goal in mind.
“Our motto is ‘One of six,’” Kinsella said. “We want to be one of the six group state champions at the end of the year.”