View full size Rutgers-Camden first-year head baseball coach Dennis Barth (center) smiles with his assistant coaches during a game against Penn State-Abington, Friday, March 15, 2013. He was the Gloucester Catholic baseball coach the past 19 years. (Staff Photo by Tim Hawk/South Jersey Times) Tim Hawk
CAMDEN — Dennis Barth is not a man prone to change, and has little reason to be.
His way of doing things bred maybe the best run of success with what’s considered by many to be the best high school baseball program in South Jersey.
So if you go to Campbell’s Field to catch the Rutgers University-Camden baseball team play a home game, don’t be surprised if the pre-game warmup, and play thereafter, bears more than a passing resemblance to that which the team’s first-year coach got out of some of his best teams during his 19 years as head coach at Gloucester Catholic High School.
“Playing the game the right way is the same at every level,” Barth said after the Scarlet Raptors’ 9-1 win over Penn State-Abington Friday, as his team ran through fielding drills. “You’ve got to do the little things right to win. To me, baseball is baseball.
“The fallacy is that Gloucester Catholic always had the best players. That’s not really the case ... That’s not happening every year. They just played better together. The team that executes, doesn’t give away outs and takes advantage of every out they have ... is going to win.”
That’s exactly what RU-Camden did on Friday, committing just one ninth-inning miscue while pounding out 12 hits and capitalizing on five Nittany Lions errors. The win improved the Scarlet Raptors to 5-3 overall, a record that Barth will never be happy with but one that reflects the transition period the team is still going through.
The new coach’s reputation helped spark more than a dozen transfers into the baseball program, with multiple newcomers playing big roles so far. Senior first baseman Dave Prager, a Deptford graduate, is hitting .344, freshman Joe Sigismondi (Highland) leads the regulars in batting at .409 and senior Adam Satanoff (Pitman) has been big out of the bullpen with a 2-0 record and 2.31 ERA.
“The coach (at Eastern) left ... and I found out (Barth) was coming here,” said Prager, who was 2-for-4 Friday and is second on the team with six RBIs. “It’s my last year of eligibility, so I wanted to go out with a bang. I figured he was my best bet for winning and getting better in general.”
There are plenty of incumbent players as well on the enormous 42-man roster, and one of those — who red-shirted last season with a knee injury — was as excited as anyone to see Barth and three of his Gloucester Catholic assistants join the program.
“That was a best-case scenario,” said second baseman George Spingler, a 2009 Catholic graduate who played under Barth. “He’s the best coach around. All the new stuff he puts in for everybody else I’ve been doing for six seasons with him ... I know it like the back of my hand.
“When I ended with Brooklawn (American Legion baseball) I had the same coaching staff, I didn’t think I was ever going to play for them again. Out of nowhere they all come back. It couldn’t get any better than this.”
Ironically, Barth said one of the areas he’s found most challenging in the early going is recruiting, despite his success with enticing transfers and the persistent rumors about the reasons for his success with Gloucester Catholic. But he also feels that the potential for drawing baseball talent to the school is strong.
“Contrary to what everybody says, I never really had to do any recruiting at Gloucester Catholic,” Barth said with a grin. “People just came there, they wanted to come. Here it’s hard, you concentrate on baseball and you fall behind on recruiting. It’s a tough thing to balance.
“We’ve got a great setup.... We’ve got new batting cages underneath (the stands), we’ve got a brand-new locker room, we’re playing in a minor-league stadium and we’ve got a great education at a state school where the tuition is real cheap. We’ve got a lot of things in our favor.”
The level of players Barth can draw to play at RU-Camden and how they develop is critical to his goal of bringing the winning tradition he continued at Gloucester Catholic to Division III baseball. Development has been difficult to date with limited practice time allowed in the fall and poor weather hindering consistent work so far this spring.
Barth noted the Scarlet Raptors were picked to finish ninth in the New Jersey Athletic Conference, which currently features eight plus-.500 teams and two nationally-ranked schools in the latest d3baseball.com poll in Kean (No. 8) and Ramapo (No. 14), with Rowan and Montclair State each receiving votes.
That’s part of the reason why he worked to change the team’s schedule on a critical eight-day, 10-game excursion to the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational that begins today. Rutgers-Camden will play two ranked teams there as well to find out where it’s at and get ready for the NJAC schedule.
Just as he’s always working to secure the future of his team, Barth’s not willing to write off any season or any team.
“I’m so excited to go down there and play,” senior designated hitter Donnie Haines (Penns Grove) said. “It’s been brutal (weather) out here. We’ve fought through it, but I can’t wait to get out on those fields and play in some nice weather. It’s going to be a good test, I was at Rowan last year and I know what the NJAC’s about. It’s the best Division III conference by far.”
“When you take the teams all across the country, there’s not that much difference in the talent level,” said Barth. “We’ve got some good kids coming in next year, some kids on the fence. But we’re not too far away from being real good this year. We told the kids in the beginning, we’re not trying to win next year, we’re trying to win this year. You never get them back, you never know what’s going to happen.
“I’m happy with the move. ... I’d rather be 8-0, but that’s the way it is. But ... we put on our spikes the same way as everybody else. We’re going to take a shot. We don’t care who they are, what they won, where they came from or what they’re ranked. We’re going to line up, and you’ve got to beat us. So far we’ve been beating ourselves a little too much, but hopefully we’re going to get better.”
That’s probably a pretty safe bet.Contact Scott Chappelear at 856-686-3614or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow @srchappie