GRAND CHUTE — Coaching high school baseball originally was going to be a temporary gig for former major league pitcher Bob Wickman.
But Wickman — who prefers to talk about his current team and not his 15-year career in the big leagues — is in his element in his fourth full season as head coach at River Valley.
A two-time All-Star relief pitcher who spent five years with the Milwaukee Brewers, Wickman took over the Blackhawks during the 2011 season, when the former coach at the Spring Green school was fired.
“It was the right situation. I didn’t take anyone’s job and I had helped the program and it kind of went from there,” said Wickman, an Oconto Falls High School and UW-Whitewater alumnus.
River Valley (22-7) suffered an 8-1 loss to Green Bay Notre Dame (20-10) in the second WIAA Division 2 state semifinal Wednesday night at Fox Cities Stadium.
Notre Dame pitcher Ty Yewman dominated, striking out 17 in a three-hitter.
“Bob is just a down-to-earth guy, whose main focus is on the kids,” River Valley athletic director Eric Briehl said. “He has done a lot for our athletic program anonymously. He doesn’t want to have the spotlight on himself.”
Wickman retired after the 2007 season, following a 15-year big league career during which he played for the Yankees, Brewers, Indians, Braves and Diamondbacks. He appeared in 835 games and posted a 63-61 record with a 3.57 ERA. He finished with 267 saves, including a career-best 45 in 2005 with Cleveland.
Wickman, though, admitted he has developed a passion for coaching at the high school level.
“I like seeing young kids grow. This is my first team that I’ve had for four years, from freshman through senior year. I’ve enjoyed being part of the program,” said Wickman.
Bob's son, Ryan Wickman, is a sophomore second baseman who got one of the team’s three hits and scored the Blackhawks' only run Wednesday. Ryan’s sister, Kaylee, qualified for state in track and field.
The Blackhawks made their fourth state trip and first since 2003. They lost four of their last five regular-season games, but then got hot.
Pitcher-shortstop Lucas Price, who is batting .482 with 32 RBIs and has an 8-3 record and 3.04 ERA, is one of only five seniors for the sixth-ranked Blackhawks.
Sophomore Elijah Alt (9-1, 2.82), who won the sectional title game, and junior Matthew Yanke (4-1, 2.30) also anchor the pitching staff. Ryan Wickman is batting .425 with 23 RBIs.
Wickman, who also serves as a youth football, basketball and baseball coach in Spring Green, is proud of the way his team has competed this season.
“They handle the pressure of playing baseball, knowing it’s just a game,” he said. “They keep it in perspective that’s it’s just a game.
“No matter what happens in school, if they do bad on a test or something like that, when they come to the baseball field they relax for the couple of hours I do get to work with them.”