Kaltenbach’s stellar career comes to a close

Doug Kaltenbach, right, is retiring after 30 years of coaching the Westfield Wolverines.
Submitted Photo. Doug Kaltenbach, right, is retiring after 30 years of coaching the Westfield Wolverines. Pictured with Kaltenbach are assistant coaches Dan Martin, left and Don Mansfield, center.

When Doug Kaltenbach was being interviewed to be the middle school principal at Westfield Elementary School, he was asked if he had any interest in coaching high school baseball.

Though he played Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball as a teenager, Kaltenbach admittedly was over his head coaching varsity baseball.

Thirty years later, some 460-plus wins to his resume, 11 league Coach of the Year honors, seven out of the last eight league titles and seven straight trips to the Sectional title game, Kaltenbach has decided to retire from teaching and coaching.

He has only had three teams with a record below .500 in 30 years and had 500 wins in sight.

Kaltenbach matter of factly says, “I could care less about that. It means nothing.”

To Kaltenbach, it is the relationships he has formed with past players he will remember the most.

“Nothing grounds you like hanging out for hours or months at a time with 17-18 year olds,” Kaltenbach said. “That’s the thing that scares me. Not retirement, but not being around young guys, not teaching. But I think it’s time.”

From the Beginning

In Kaltenbach’s first year as a coach, the Wolverines won five games. The following two years, Westfield went undefeated.

“I didn’t know what the heck I was doing,” Kaltenbach laughed. “I knew baseball.”I started reading anything I could find. I read constantly. When school paid for us to go to conferences and clinics, I would take in what I could.”

It was a conference in Cherry Creek, Pennsylvania where Kaltenbach learned one piece of advice he never forgot.

“LSU baseball coach Skip Berman and Mississippi State coach Ron Polk were there,” Kaltenbach tells the story. “I was fascinated to hear them talk about baseball. It became not just baseball. It was a chess game trying to figure things out and that’s how they approached baseball. Berman had won two national titles. We are sitting in a room and they had 1-on-1 sessions. I am new and want to write everything down. I can remember he asked, ‘You know what your No. 1 job is as a baseball coach?’ Everyone said win. He said, “No. Your No. 1 job is to recruit kids in your school — especially small schools.”

After one year of coaching, Kaltenbach wasn’t sure if coaching was the right fit for him, but decided to give it another year.

“Once I got to know the kids, I found myself getting into it,” Kaltenbach said. “It’s not just a baseball thing. People ask me what I will miss the most; it’s not baseball. The games will be the last thing I miss. I love practicing and hanging out with these guys. They hang out with me all year round. It’s not just baseball. I still keep in touch with a ton of guys I coached over 30 years.”

Memorable games

In 2010, Westfield traveled to Cassadaga Valley to take on the Cougars, coached by Jim Bunge.

Though they were having a good season, the Wolverines found themselves trailing, 16-0 in the third inning.

“I was beyond my breaking point,” Kaltenbach said. “I wasn’t yelling.”

Slowly, but surely, Westfield chipped away and made the game competitive, losing 17-16, and had a chance to win if not for a great catch by the Cougars centerfielder.

Kaltenbach also remembers a game in 1989 against Brocton, where the Bulldogs prevailed, 3-2.

“You lose some of these games and you take it to your grave,” Kaltenbach said.

Westfield finished the regular season undefeated and defeated the Bulldogs twice during the regular season. But in the Sectional semifinals, Brocton got its revenge.

“They won on a little bloop single in the seventh inning,” Kaltenbach said. “I didn’t pitch my No. 1. I pitched another kid. I vowed I would never ever do that in sectional game. That really sticks out.”

Relationship with players

With a limited budget, the baseball team needed dirt for the infield. It was going to cost $2,000. With that exceeding the $400 the school gave the team at the time, Kaltenbach reached out to former players.

“The school was giving me $400 a year and hats cost $500,” Kaltenbach said. “We raised our own money for stuff. Former players always said if I needed anything, give them a call. A few are successful. I hit them up and asked if they would buy our program dirt. The old players raised $2,000 for dirt. Stuff like that goes unrecognized.”

Seven years ago, Kaltenbach suffered a serious injury when a miter saw cut through 3/4 of his arm. Kaltenbach ignored doctors when they suggested he stop teaching and coaching. Kaltenbach knew he had players who could help him.

“That incident changed the way I approached things,” he said. “I came so close to checking out. I’m still not sure how I was able to go back and coach baseball a month later. The guys were great. I couldn’t do it without great guys. They would do anything for me. They would tie my shoes. It was not easy to do little things.

“There have been so many good guys,” Kaltenbach reflected. “I haven’t had bad guys or parents. I had to throw maybe eight guys off our team for not fitting into our program. I had great, classy guys.”

2015 Season

After eight failed attempts at a Sectional title, Kaltenbach finally got over the hump in 2015.

Defeating North Collins in the Section VI title game, and breezing to a 10-1 victory over Webster Christian in the Far West Regionals, the Wolverines made a trip to Binghamton as a Final 4 team. After winning the semifinal game, 3-0, over Oriskany, Kaltenbach had the opportunity to coach for a state title. Unfortunately, the ending was not what he had hoped, as his Wolverines fell to Smithtown Christian, 8-4.

After the game, Kaltenbach said, “This is the proudest I have ever been of a group of guys. When we sit back and look at this, we finished second in the state and that’s something to be damn proud of.”

Two years later, Kaltenbach still speaks fondly of the experience.

“We talk about it all the time,” Kaltenbach told the OBSERVER recently. “There are six guys who were there and are graduating this year. It was the greatest experience of our lives. We got to the Section eight times and couldn’t win. Then we get to the finals. The whole thing was one of greatest things in my life. It was great. The boys said it, too.”

End of an era

When Westfield Little League held its parade to start the season last month, Kaltenbach was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

It was there he realized what he has done for Westfield and baseball.

“It was a great thing,” he continued. “I didn’t realize it until then when so many parents told me how little guys look up to the varsity guys as heroes. My guys were there and were loving life. I am successful because of good feeder programs.”

And with his announcement he is stepping down, Kaltenbach has received many letters from former players, thanking him for his contributions to the sport.

“It means more to me than anything,” he said. “I got a letter on Facebook. I took this kid to Florida a long time ago. I hadn’t heard from him in a long time and maybe seen him once in 15-20 years. I got a real nice letter. Those things are awesome.

“I don’t know what else I can do,” Kaltenbach added. “Obviously, we didn’t win a state title. That’s small peanuts compared to what we have done here at Westfield. I think it’s in a real good spot. Interest in baseball is huge in our school.”

A new era begins

The school board recently approved the appointment of new head coach Dan Martin, who has been an assistant to Kaltenbach for six years.

Coming from a football background, Martin learned a new coaching style from Kaltenbach.

“I came in at the right time,” Martin said. “Just learning from a coaching standpoint, it was a different style. It’s not as intense as football, but in practice and the season leading up, there is competition. The first day of practice was more relaxed. Everybody knew what they had to do. There wasn’t ever a time where you felt you were making kids to do anything. Whatever we wanted them to do, we just asked and they were willing to do it. Doug definitely has that gift to be able to encourage kids and make them want to work that hard without having to yell or beg them, or threaten them with running.”

Part of Kaltenbach’s success is his ability to treat the players as adults. He respected his players, and they respected him.

“He is approachable and willing to talk to kids at an adult level,” Martin said. “He doesn’t talk down. He has a conversation and once the kids realize he is there to listen and help, that’s when they will go the extra mile. Lots of coaches are Xs and Os, or do this and that. With Doug, he is more approachable. If you’re having a bad day, he takes the time to take the kid aside and talk to them and see what’s going on.”

Kaltenbach said not being around the students and athletes in those times are what he will miss the most. When talking about his teams in the past, he thanks the athletes and parents for taking him on a 30-year ride of his life.

But it is the athletes and community members who express their gratitude for all Kaltenbach has done.

Thank you, Doug.

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