Jake Waddle played in the Class 1A state tournament in 2001 as an eighth grader when he got into a first-round game against Lansing Kee as a courtesy runner for his father's team at Coon Rapids-Bayard High School.
Coon Rapids lost that game and Waddle never made it back to the state tournament as a player during his varsity career, but he'll make his third straight trip to the state tournament this week as an assistant coach at Kennedy.
Waddle, 25, works primarily with the catchers and hitters at Kennedy and calls the pitches for Kennedy catcher Chico Lizarraga. The Cougars have compiled a gaudy 95-25 record the last three years with Waddle on the staff and captured the Class 4A state title in 2010.
"It's just been awesome," he said of his experiences with Coach Bret Hoyer and the Cougars.
Waddle was an all-conference catcher at Luther College and worked as a traveling salesman for a dental lab after getting his business degree, but decided to change direction.
"I got a job right out of college and eventually realized that's not what I want to do," he said Monday. "I wanted to go back to grad school and get my master's degree. I knew I wanted to get into coaching at some point."
His father, John Waddle, is active with the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association and served as president of the organization. Waddle knew his father was going to an IHSBCA convention three years ago and asked him to keep his ears open about possible jobs.
"I said, 'Hey, ask around and see if anybody needs an assistant coach,' " Waddle said. "And Coach Hoyer was one of the people he talked to. I called him and it went from there."
John Waddle has won 561 games as a high school baseball coach and is a member of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Hoyer, who has won exactly 600 games, knew Coach Waddle and was happy to interview his son about a possible job.
Waddle joined the Cougars in 2010 and called the pitches from the bench when Kennedy won the state title that year in his first season as an assistant coach. He was 23 years old at the time.
Waddle has been calling pitches ever since he was a freshman in high school and enjoys that part of the game, analyzing hitters and making adjustments. He grew up with the game.
"My dad and I would sit and watch baseball games and see what pitch they were going to throw next," he said.
Kennedy's pitchers and catchers have the freedom to shake him off, but it rarely happens. They usually stick with his calls.
Hoyer said Waddle has made a tremendous contribution the last three years.
"He's got tremendous rapport with the kids, number one," Hoyer remarked. "He's a quality individual that any parent would want their kid to be around. He has a passion for the game and a tremendous knowledge of the game."
Waddle has been working on his master's degree in business at the University of Dubuque and expects to finish the program next year. He's also been working as an assistant baseball coach at Loras College in Dubuque, prior to the start of the high school season.
"I want to coach college baseball. That's the goal right now," he said. "Where and what level, I don't really care. I just want to get in somewhere."
He said he enjoys working with high school players, but he doesn't have a high school teaching degree and thinks college baseball might be his eventual home.
Waddle said he enjoyed playing for his father in high school and sees similarities between his father's coaching style and Hoyer, especially in terms of organization and practices, although he said there's a big difference between Class 1A and Class 4A.
He said he's greatly enjoyed his three years with Hoyer at Kennedy.
"The 'Kennedy Way,' you kind of hear about that, but obviously I didn't know anything about it growing up in western Iowa," he said.
Waddle said he quickly became familiar with the 'Kennedy Way' in 2010, with morning weightlifting sessions, followed by morning practices and games that night.
"The first year especially I noticed it right away, how hard he pushes the guys," he said.
At first, Waddle wondered if Hoyer was pushing too hard.
"They're tired and sometimes they don't want to be here," he remembers thinking during the early part of 2010, "but then once July came it was like a switch came on. It was crazy how it happened. Ever since then it's been exactly like that.
"July comes around and it's crazy how well he has them playing. I've learned so much from him as far as organization and pre-game stuff. It's been a lot of fun."
Hoyer hopes to keep Waddle on his staff for as long as possible, but predicts his young assistant will be a successful head coach on his own some day.
"His body of work speaks for itself," Hoyer said. "He's tremendous working with our catchers and hitters and calling pitches and adjusting the scouting reports.
"He's going to be outstanding. He's got the knowledge. He's got the rapport. I think he'll be fantastic."
Kennedy (32-6) will play Linn-Mar (29-11) in the opening round of the state tournament Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Principal Park in Des Moines.
Waddle will be in the corner of the dugout when Kennedy is on defense, calling pitches, and then he'll take his spot in the first-base coaching box when the Cougars are hitting.
He's looking forward to his third straight year at the state tournament.
"It's kind of nerve-wracking, but at the same time it's exciting. It's fun," he said. "It's just fun to be a part of it."
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