Artfully, Engle's about to join some elite baseball company

By Marty Maciaszek
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 1/18/2018 3:02 PM

Dave Engle figured he was finished teaching high school pitchers how to paint corners when he came to Barrington in 1979.

The former all-Big Ten pitcher at Illinois planned to focus on being an artist and teaching art after an unsatisfying coaching experience downstate.

But shortly after Engle arrived in Barrington, he got a knock on his classroom door from an unfamiliar face.

Head coach Kirby Smith was looking for an assistant. Engle decided to give it another shot and the rest was history, as Barrington became one of the state's premier baseball programs.

And Engle's work in developing pitching artistry from 1980-98 at Barrington and at Dundee-Crown led to his election into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Engle will be inducted in a Saturday night dinner and ceremony at the Westin Hotel in Lombard.

"To be chosen by your peers, many of whom on the (IHSBCA) committee I competed against, this really is an honor," said Engle, who was the IHSBCA assistant coach of the year in 1989. "I'm humbled beyond description."

Especially since Engle alluded to the fact the honor typically bestowed on head coaching legends such as Oak Park-River Forest's Jack Kaiser or Smith. But it was Smith and Barrington Baseball Booster Club president John Sciaccotta who made the push for a somewhat reluctant Engle to be considered for induction.

It was also Smith who convinced Engle to coach with him nearly 40 years ago. Engle's first teaching job was in Murphysboro, about 8 miles west of Carbondale, and he was frustrated with how the baseball program was run during his two years as a junior varsity coach.

Engle purposely downplayed his baseball experience, which included being a three-year letterman at Illinois, when he came to Barrington. But he suspects someone tipped off the head coach who was three years into an amazing 22-year run with a record of 539-196.

"One day that first fall I was in the middle of class and a guy raps on the window of my classroom door and motions to me to come over here," Engle said with a laugh of Smith. "I'm thinking, 'Hey, I'm in class.' I didn't know who he was.

"He said, 'I understand you've got some baseball background,' and said I'd like you to consider coaching with me. I thought, 'Who the heck are you?'

"I wasn't going to coach anymore. I had no intention."

But Engle thought about it and decided to give it another try. That first year ended up with a trip to the Class AA Elite Eight even though he joked, "I could have bagged groceries at Jewel for more money," when he figured what he was getting paid by the hour for coaching.

While Engle said the hourly wage actually got worse, the time invested with Smith and Barrington baseball was better than he could have ever imagined when he left Murphysboro.

Barrington won a state title in 1986 with future Seattle Mariners all-star catcher Dan Wilson, finished second the next two years and third in their last year together. Their partnership and friendship also resulted in 14 Mid-Suburban North and six MSL titles, an average of 24 wins a season and a lot of kids who experienced baseball success after leaving Barrington.

"Kirby was unquestionably my mentor all the way through," Engle said. "Early on he gave me an opportunity and then he gave me the responsibility to let me coach. The pitchers became mine and the hitters became his ... and it worked out."

Engle also knows he was blessed to work with pitchers such as Wilson and John Trautwein, who pitched in nine games for the 1988 Red Sox. Trautwein's brother Dave, Dave Shotkoski, Darin Schmalz and Dan Pohlman were among those who also pitched professionally and Engle's son Jeremy pitched at Northwestern.

"If you don't have the players it's not going to work," Engle said. "I have a certain confidence I can take a kid who doesn't throw very well and improve him, but that doesn't mean he's going to be dominant. I had some years with really, really good people."

Engle worked with aspiring pitchers on the side after he retired from coaching at Barrington. He retired from teaching in 2006 and was working in his art studio in Algonquin when Jon Anderson, the star shortstop of the 1998 team who went on to play at Illinois and in the minor leagues, came calling in 2013.

Anderson got the job as head coach at Dundee-Crown. Engle answered again and was the pitching coach during Anderson's four years in charge that included a regional title.

"I really enjoyed it," Engle said. "It was a great, great experience."

Yet for all of his experience and success, Engle was still a bit leery about whether he belonged with some of the state's baseball coaching greats. Engle appreciated the nomination by Smith and Sciaccotta but wasn't going to campaign for himself.

"They pushed it through and for a period of time I thought they had given up, but they didn't," Engle said. "All of a sudden Kirby calls me and said, 'What are you doing the third week of January?' When he told me I was elected I was really stunned."

And this weekend will be a big thrill for Engle, who now does his artwork out of a studio in Harvard, spends time with his seven grandchildren and still hits baseball games with Smith.

The only part Engle is not that excited about, which is befitting of someone who liked to work out of the spotlight, is giving an acceptance speech.

"I'll be very efficient," Engle said.

Just as so many of his pitchers were during his career.

Join the club: Along with Kirby Smith and Dave Engle, the other coaches with MSL ties in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame are Schaumburg's Paul Groot and his longtime assistant Tom Mueller, Ron DeBolt (Wheeling), Harvey Foster (Hersey), Terry Gellinger (Palatine and Fremd), Bob Huber (Hersey), Al Otto (Rolling Meadows), Larry Pohlman (Prospect), John Wendell (Buffalo Grove) and Les Callas, who assisted Jim Hawrysko at Barrington. Al Carstens, who won three state titles at Maine and Maine West, and Gary Wolf and Fred Schmidt of Leyden are also in the Hall.

Other IHSBCA Honors: Class 3A state champion St. Viator will be honored with two awards in that class. Cole Kmet is the 3A Player of the Year and Mike Manno is the Coach of the Year.

New Trier's Mike Napoleon is one of four 4A area coaches of the year. The late Cubs scout Stan Zielinski was chosen Tom Hull Scout of the Year.

Also going into the Hall of Fame are coaches Bill Milano (Maine South) and Lee Milano (Nazareth). Morton High School product Luke Gregerson, a relief pitcher who helped the Astros win their first World Series, is the Les Miller Man of the Year.

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