Although his coaching career is not marked by longevity, Stillwater’s Ricky Michel packed plenty into his 17 years as Ponies baseball coach and on Saturday he is schedule to be inducted into the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Minneapolis.
Before stepping down after the 2008 season to become Stillwater Area High School’s Activities Director, Michel compiled a 262-146 record with five conference titles and two state tourney appearances.
“Honestly, surprised,” Michel said of his reaction when informed he was going to be inducted. “When I think of the people that are in the hall of fame, statistically, I probably don’t measure up as far as wins and losses go, but it should be a fun night and I’m looking forward to it.”
Michel will be joined in this year’s eight-person class by Jerry Coe of Coon Rapids, Dick “the Polish Eagle” Jonckowski of Shakopee, Don Sauter of Sibley East, Joe Szublewski of Albert Lea, Chuck Tabor of Robbinsdale, Bob Wasko of South St. Paul and Dave Wendlandt of McLeod West.
It’s not a decision he spent any time contemplating, but the 1981 Stillwater graduate will have no trouble choosing which hat to wear on induction day as he is a Pony through and through. Michel starred soccer and baseball for the Ponies before returning to teach in the district and join the coaching staff led by his former coach Don Campbell, who guided Stillwater to its only baseball state championship in 1991.
Michel was an all-conference and all-state goalkeeper in soccer, which he said was probably his batter sport, and he was also named the Most Valuable Player after batting .345 and posting a 3-0 record with a 1.16 ERA on a conference championship baseball team his senior year. He later played soccer and baseball at St. Mary’s College.
“I got to go back to my high school and back to the community that gave me a lot,” said Michel, who is quick to credit Campbell for much of his and the program’s success. “Between (current coach Mike) Parker, Campbell and I, that’s 34 years of baseball and we did it Don Campbell’s way. Everything I learned about the game of baseball was from him, how to respect the game, play the game and mechanics. Ninety percent of my baseball knowledge came from Don and he, of course, was my mentor and the most influential person in my life, there’s no doubt about it. If I could, I would share it with him — he’s at least as, if not more, deserving than I am.”
In addition to his on-field duties, Michel was active in the state baseball coaches association, serving as its president in 2001-02 and was the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Dick Siebert Award for his outstanding contributions to baseball and promotion of the sport. A strong advocate on many issues during his time as an MHSBCA officer, Michel was a driving force behind the creation of the group’s website in his term as president.
“Ricky has been a great ambassador to the sport of high school baseball in Minnesota,” Campbell said. “He has represented Stillwater High School in an exemplary manner and he is very worthy of being inducted into the Minnesota Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.”
Michel also supervised the popular Day Ball summer program for fifth- and sixth-graders, coached the Lake Elmo VFW baseball team for 24 years and was the conference statistician for 12 years.
Although he still plays in an over-48 league, Michel said he misses coaching and anticipates returning to the dugout in some capacity down the road.
“You won’t outwork Ricky, you won’t out-coach him on the field and you won’t prepare your players any better than he does,” Campbell said. “Add to that the way he treats his players with respect and dignity, the lasting bond he establishes with his players, the optimistic outlook on life in general, and you have a hall of fame coach.”
In less than two decades, Michel coached four players that were selected in the MLB Draft and three of those players signed professional contracts, including current Twins closer Glen Perkins, Mike Strong and Andrew Schmiesing. Ryan Lindgren was drafted twice before an injury curtailed his baseball career. Two additional players, Ryan Eskierka and Aaron Runk played professionally in the Northern League.
“In 17 years of being the head coach, I was blessed with a lot of good players and a lot of great pitchers — and good pitchers make you look good,” Michel said.
Despite the many obvious highlights, including state tournament trips in 2001 and 2008, Michel said the 1998 conference championship season remains one of his proudest.
“The year we had our best coaching job was when we won conference in 1998,” Michel said. “That was a team that just kept getting better and better and they were a big surprise to win the conference. That’s a season I will remember the most and the last season of my career was obviously a high point (getting to state).
“I really enjoyed coaching and, professionally, I met some wonderful baseball people and colleagues I’ll never forget. We’ve gone to some places and laughed many times over, just talking baseball stories and one of the most important parts is the friendships you create.”