Butler coaches have been there, done that
Todd Erdos and Matt Clement were promising pitching prospects with the Idaho Falls Braves, a former Rookie League affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
That was in 1995, and they were far-flung from their Pennsylvania hometowns of Meadville and Butler.
Sixteen years and two commendable professional careers later, the duo is united again as coaches employed by the Butler athletic department. But only Erdos is coaching baseball — and his Golden Tornado are 11-3 overall and 7-3 and in second place in highly competitive Section 1-AAAA.
Clement, a nine-year major leaguer and former All-Star who last pitched in 2006, has given Erdos a hand, but his focus is basketball.
When Clement took the job two years ago, local coaching great Dave Florie was still leading and resurrecting Butler's once-floundering baseball program. Even when Florie retired after last season, Clement's basketball responsibilities came first — as did his family, which includes his wife, three sons, a daughter and another baby due at the end of May.
"I did think about it for a week and realized it wasn't a possibility as far as doing it full-time," said Clement, who guided the basketball team to the WPIAL semifinals and state quarterfinals last season. "I love doing the basketball — the relationships I've had with these kids has been a really gratifying experience."
It's a decision that has worked out for the best. Erdos is in his first season as baseball coach, and he hopes his stay will be lengthy.
After a five-year MLB career as a reliever from 1997 to 2001 — including World Series rings with the New York Yankees in '98 and '00 — Erdos is succeeding in introducing major league concepts without tearing down the strong foundation built by Florie.
"I enjoy coaching, and it's nice to give back to the kids and some of the stuff that I've learned I can pass on to them," said Erdos, who was North Allegheny's pitching coach in 2008. "I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel or try to do anything different — just trying to continue what they were doing with their winning ways."
He's trying to impart to his players what he learned in his pro career and aiming to get them "to excel, whether it's at this level or the next level."
Not surprisingly, much of Erdos' expertise comes from his pitching knowledge. He has been able to help his staff — led by Mickey Fennell (4-0) — learn and refine more pitches, as well as improve their mental approach in dicey situations.
"With Coach Florie, we did a lot of older things, like small ball," said senior shortstop Cody Herald, who through Thursday led Butler with 11 RBI and also pitches in relief. "With (Erdos), he's helping us back into the new era of baseball, where he knows all the tricks and knows how to win games. Our pitching has definitely been helped."
Not one to shy away from using all available resources, Erdos also welcomes Clement's advice when he has time to spare it.
Although he said he hasn't been as involved with the team as he would like, Clement has spent some time in the Golden Tornado's dugout this year.
"This is Todd's team," Clement said. "We always had a good relationship when he got into this. We've talked, but he's done this on his own. ... I try to be that guy in that dugout that we always had in the big league ... that team psychologist, just trying to keep people positive."
Whatever formula Butler is using, it's working. Senior first baseman Bobby Swartwout, who leads the team with a .400 batting average, can see a day in the near future when the Golden Tornado can win their first section title since 1991 — and more.
"With hard work and the knowledge of our coaches, we can be like a North Allegheny, we can be a Pine-Richland," said Swartwout, like Herald a basketball player under Clement. "We're not there yet, but we're having a good year. It's basically if we put the effort into it."