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Little did Mike Bachar realize how much a speech class with Steve Ginley at Morton College is helping the Berwyn native in coaching baseball at the college level.
“That class was a big help for me,” said Bachar, who completed his third season as the head baseball coach at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “I have to talk in front of the teams, parents and students and that speech class at Morton College gave me the foundation to do so.”
Bachar wears a number of different hats at Lakeland, located an hour north of Milwaukee. In addition to being the head baseball coach, Bachar is the facility manager of Lakeland’s main athletic building and teaches a baseball theory course.
“I love being here and being around the game of baseball,” said Bachar, who played baseball at Morton College during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. “Moving up as quickly as I have to a head college baseball coach was quite a blessing.”
As a senior, Bachar helped Morton High School’s baseball team to a conference championship. He also was one of the key players on a Berwyn team coached by former Mayor Mike O’Connor that was a game away from advancing to the Junior Little League World Series for 16-year-olds.
Coming out of high school, Bachar knew he wanted to continue playing baseball, but was undecided on a career path. He joined friends Dan Houdek, Tom Zaremba and Joey Bratta at Morton College. Bachar was a two-time, all-Skyway Conference selection in baseball.
“I liked Morton College because it was close to home,” Bachar said. “I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. Getting a scholarship to attend Morton College also played a big role in my college decision.”
John Weber, who coached baseball at Morton College in the late 1990s, recruited Bachar to play at Lakeland. The Muskies were fresh off a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Division III College World Series and Bachar fit the bill for a need at shortstop.
During Bachar’s two seasons at Lakeland, the Muskies won back-to-back conference titles in 2003 and 2004. In 2003, the Muskies made it back to the regional tournament, but fell short of a trip back to the College World Series. When Bachar needed to stay an extra year because he switched majors to exercise science, he was hired as a volunteer assistant at Lakeland.
Bachar also met his future wife, Kristi, a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and a player on the women’s basketball team at Lakeland. His proposal was one to remember. At halftime of a women’s basketball game, Bachar set up Kristi to a win a free-throw competition.
After she won. Bachar, wearing the school’s mascot costume, approached her with a T-shirt that asked, “Kristi, Will You Marry Me?” She said yes and they tied the knot in 2008. They now live in nearby Plymouth with their two children, Kaelyn and Landon.
After the 2005 season, Bachar moved back to Berwyn. He was prepared to climb the coaching ladder through the high school ranks. However, his stay at home was brief. Two days later, Bachar was headed back to Lakeland because there was a coaching change. Bachar was brought on a full-time assistant before being elevated to the head position in 2012.
Bachar tapped into his Morton College connections to land former Panther player Logan Karse, who started 31 games at second base this season for the Muskies, who finished 11-28.
“We’re a junior-senior dominated team for the first time in a few years,” Bachar explained. “I’m excited that we’ll have experienced players out on the field. I’m predicting that if my players stay healthy, we’ll have one of the best defensive teams in the college’s history.”
Coaching a spring sport in a northern climate presents its own series of challenges. In 2013, Lakeland played only eight of its 33 games at home because of the weather. The team usually doesn’t get outside until its Florida trip in March.
“You have to keep it fresh and change things when you can,” said Bachar about practice. “You have to make sure the guys aren’t losing interest.”
Bachar sells Lakeland as a place where the coaching staff cares about the players as people. He had the good fortune of growing up in a two-parent home where Bachar received plenty of support. He appreciated having played for Roger Hahn and John Sime at Morton High School, remembering his coaches as caring about the players as well as having a love of baseball.
“At the college level, you can keep the players around for four years,” Bachar said. “I enjoy watching the players work hard and develop as people and players.”
Bachar earned a master’s degree in counseling from Lakeland in 2010 because he wanted to be able to connect with the players on another level.
“Being a college student-athlete isn’t easy,” Bachar said. “There’s school, girlfriends, stuff at home. I try to learn their backstory and find out who they are as people. I enjoy finding out who they are.”