Hopkins County Central alum Ethan Utley was named the new baseball coach for the Union College Bulldogs in Barbourville this weekend. This is Utley’s first head coach job.
“I’m really excited to get started with Union,” Utley said. “It comes at a strange time with the transition to the middle of the year, and it does not even take COVID into account. The guy I replace is a kind of legend that the coaching staff won 595 games. ”
Utley will take over for Bart Osbourne, who retired to pursue another position outside of baseball. Osbourne has been the head coach of the Bulldogs since 2004.
Before Utley started training, he took the field for the Hopkins County Central Storm. He comes from a baseball family that said parents Perry and Shannon Utley were a big part of where he is today, and his brother Nick, played professional baseball in independent leagues from 2007-2009 with Macon Music from the now defunct South Coast League and with Evansville Otters in the Frontier League.
After graduating from Central in 2008, Utley was a pitcher with Lindsey Wilson.
“I started some conference games and got injured in the second year,” Utley said. “I did not really strike back, and that was when I started thinking about coaching. I still wanted to help people and help my teammates. I grew up watching a lot of baseball and felt that was what I was meant to do. ”
After Utley’s playing days ended, he began as a student assistant to Lindsey Wilson before beginning his coaching career as an assistant coach at the University of the Cumberlands and Pikeville before returning to Lindsey Wilson.
“My knowledge of the many schools in Kentucky showed them that I had experience in that category,” Utley said. “The old head coach of Union was interested in taking me as an assistant I did not take, but I already had that relationship with them. The head coach job opened up, and I applied as you would for any other job. ”
Utley was officially named the new head coach at Union College on Thursday, giving him a tight turn before the season starts in February. 5.
“The biggest challenge is getting along with 50 kids who were under someone else and moving on to that role for them,” Utley said. “I had to earn that trust while I was trying to create that relationship and understand that we have the same goal and the hope of winning ball games.”
Fortunately, Utley inherits a veteran team with 14 seniors.
“The seniors have a very good understanding of the game and they are getting ready to join the workforce, which is not that different from a baseball team in college,” said Utley. “You have to work together to achieve your goals in baseball as well as in life.”
With COVID-19 ending the 2020 baseball season halfway and the high school baseball season before it even started, Utley said there are a delayed number of players ready to take the field in 2021.
“Last year’s seniors got an extra year of qualifying,” Utley said. “Half of our seniors this year are students who could not find a job right away and had the extra year of qualifying. With times as they are, most children will choose to go to elementary school and play an extra year of baseball. ”
When it comes to recruiting, Utley said coaches have relied heavily on technology to watch videos of players as well as talk to them over the phone.
“Seeing a child play in person is important,” Utley said. “But talking to them on the phone and seeing how they behave through a conversation is as important as their performance on the pitch.”
Utley is also trying to find time to come home to Hopkins County and see the Storm baseball team in action. One of Utley’s former teammates, Austin Starks, is currently the assistant coach for Central.
“I try to catch a couple of key baseball games a year,” Utley said. “Either to recruit or to catch up with old friends who talk about the good old days. My days with Central really help me shape where I am today. Lee James was the head coach then, and all the other coaches there shaped me to understand the game and learn the game on a deeper level. ”
The union’s first match will be on Friday Feb. 5 as they host St. Francis (Indiana).