By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- Willamette University Assistant Baseball Coach Mikey Nantze is now in his fifth year with the Bearcats. He also is the recruiting coordinator for the baseball team. After graduating from high school, Nantze attended a community college in California where he also played baseball. He moved to a small town in Tennessee to finish his college degree and continue to compete as a student-athlete. Those decisions have influenced his coaching career.
"I went to a community college because of the allure of being able to develop and transfer out to a Power 5 (major NCAA Division I) school," Nantze recalled. "It turns out that I wasn't as good at baseball as I thought. But, the two most important things I learned when I was at Sierra College in Rocklin, California, was the passion to learn and the ability/excitement of teaching."
Three individuals made a big impact on Nantze while he was at Sierra College.
"First was a pair, Head Coach Rob Wilson and Assistant Coach Ryan Evangello," Nantze explained. "They both were great teachers of the game of baseball and were able to take the complex and make it simple and verbalize it into ways that were easy to spit back out. A lot of the things they taught me on the field are principles that have stuck with me since leaving Sierra. The third person is Debbie Eastman, she was my first early childhood education professor. This woman, outside of my mother, has had one of the biggest impacts on my life. Debbie set me on an academic path that I did not foresee.
"She brought this infectious energy to every class that was palpable and just fun to be around. A mix of her energy and her knowledge of early childhood education (ECE) drew me in. From the word 'go' in her class I couldn't get enough of ECE," Nantze continued. "It brought a completely new way of me looking out on the world. Without Debbie, I do not go down the path God had set before me. God brought these three people into my life at exactly the right time to teach me lessons and knowledge that are going to last the rest of my life. They taught me how to properly assess how different types of people learn, and they taught me how to properly communicate. Without these three people, I do not think I would be as good at my job or in the position I am now."
After attending Sierra College and earning an Associate of Arts degree, Nantze moved on to the University of Tennessee at Martin.
"Martin, Tennessee, is a very quaint little town in the corner of Northwest Tennessee," Nantze said. "When school is in session the town's population is about 16,000 and when school is out of session its about 8,000. So, I am from Sacramento, California, a city of 1.5 million people if you go by the 916 area code. So, this was a very big change in my life.
"To name some of the best things about moving to a small town like Martin: People are way, way nicer, prices on everyday expenses are much lower, and you find out what you really like," Nantze continued. "In Sacramento, you have too many options for 'things', but in Martin there was a finite amount of 'things' such as restaurants, places to go, grocery stores, etc. You learn to appreciate what you have and, for me, I loved those little things that you do have. Also, you learn to love the little town. As a transplant to the area, there were many more things I appreciated in Martin than in Sacramento. For instance, I loved that I never had to deal with traffic in Martin. The whole town has about 10 stoplights. I mean this place is small. Every day I was asked 'Wow, was this a big transition for you to come from California to Martin?'. The answer was always yes. But, I'd take the people and the way of life in a heart beat."
Thanks in part to his classes with Debbie Eastman at Sierra College, Nantze decided to major in Early Childhood Education after initially having an interest in History or Sports Psychology. He planned to become a teacher after completing his degree. Instead, While completing his Bachelor of Arts degree in ECE from Tennessee-Martin, Nantze became a coach. His coaching career started at Union City High School in Union City, Tennessee, about five miles from the UT-Martin campus.
"I was hired by Ben Glasgow who is an amazing coach," Nantze said about joining the baseball coaching staff at UCHS. "I coached the catchers and called pitches for the team.
"Possibly the most important moment of my life happened when I was coaching in Union City, as I met my fiance and future wife," Nantze said. "The coaches were at a convention in Cool Springs, Tennessee, and the other assistant coach and I were planning on going to downtown Nashville that night. The other assistant and my eventual fiance, Karly, went to high school together, and she lived in the area. He invited her out. She met us at the hotel we were staying at and we hopped in an Uber to head downtown, and there was something about her that led me to just keep talking to her. It turns out that we have a lot in common. That was late January of 2016 and we have been together pretty much since that night. We are getting married on August 8, 2021."
Nantze's experiences at Union City High School were a solid beginning to his coaching career. Soon he was hired at Willamette as an assistant coach.
"I knew I wanted to coach and really pursue it," Nantze said. "So, I started looking for jobs all over the country. I looked on numerous websites, but the internet connection that landed me in Salem was actually Twitter. There is a job seeking account and they posted this job for Willamette University with Head Coach Aaron Swick's email address. I emailed him and it was very clear and to the point 'Are you still looking for a coach.' That was it, I didn't introduce myself, didn't say a word about my career, just 'Are you still looking for a coach.' From there, we emailed back and forth, I sent Coach Swick my resume and references, and about four days after seeing the job posting, Coach Swick reached out and hired me. I have been here ever since."
"Hiring Coach Nantze was certainly unconventional, that's for sure," Swick commented. "Since he has been on campus, our program has only gotten better. He is a dedicated, thoughtful, and energizing addition. I am grateful he is on our staff."
Looking back on his playing and coaching experiences, Nantze can see the impact each stop has had on his growth as a coach.
"I think that at every stop ... I have been incredibly lucky to be around some of the best coaches and have been able to have a great in-depth look at their personal methodologies behind what they were teaching me," Nantze said. "At all three spots (Sierra College, UT-Martin, Union City High School prior to Willamette) I've learned things that I love and use, but also I've tried to improve on a few things and come around to see the ideas I disagree with. Each stop has taught me so much. I'm just trying to take a fraction of what I learned and bless others how I have been blessed. I am incredibly thankful to have had the mentors in my life who still influence me to this day and my hope is that I can do half as good a job as they did for me. I just want to be my best for my players day in and day out."
With the Bearcats, Nantze is proud of the way the baseball players mature during their years at Willamette. He is able to work with 30 to 40 student-athletes each season, and he finds the job very rewarding.
"I enjoy watching the players grow and develop from young dudes into men," Nantze said. "I think it's an incredible gift to be a part of that journey for so many and to have any influence on that maturation journey is an honor. They come in as teenagers and they leave with the tutoring and mentorship from Coach Swick that turns them into men with the ability to overcome anything. How our program is structured is to help them face adversity, overcome, and develop. And all that starts at the top. I am incredibly grateful to be a part of that program."
"Mikey has really grown as a coach," Swick noted. "He is constantly looking for ways to get better at his craft and to translate that information to the players."
On the field, as Willamette's third base coach, Nantze relies on his aggressiveness to help the Bearcats succeed on the base paths. In recruiting, he relies on being able to recruit the players he is hoping to bring to Willamette.
"I believe that being close in age to them and having very similar interests allows me to start and develop a personal relationship with them and their families," Nantze affirmed. "Another thing is my willingness to listen and just have a conversation. I'm not trying to sell them anything, I just want to have a conversation about baseball and school. Ideally, I just want to answer questions, fill in some gaps, and have a total conversation that gets them hyped about becoming a Bearcat."