Hampshire baseball coach Frank Simoncelli earned high points for scheduling this season.
Simoncelli put Conant on the Whip-Purs’ schedule for the season opener at Joliet’s DuPage Medical Group Field, then after they played there, he told the players they would end the season there, as well.
It was a nice to have that motivation present all season. Then, as Hampshire took each step further in the Class 4A state tournament series, it became more of a reality.
Eventually, the Whips won the McHenry Sectional and their Schaumburg Supersectional games and made it back to Joliet, taking fourth place in Class 4A.
For their remarkable finish, after taking sixth place in the deep Fox Valley Conference, Simoncelli earned Northwest Herald Baseball Coach of the Year honors, voted on by the sports staff.
Hampshire (22-16) lost two close games in the state tournament, 2-0 to Edwardsville in the semifinal and 3-2 to Chicago St. Rita in the third-place game, proving it could compete with anyone.
The high school counselor and his wife, Daniela, have two children, Dominic (3) and Carla (nine months), who were there for most of the games during the Whips' magical postseason run. Simoncelli played baseball and football at Maine South, then pitched at Eastern Illinois University.
Simoncelli, who took over for the 2018 season after assisting former Whips coach John Sarna, talked to Northwest Herald sports writer Joe Stevenson about pregame meals, good books and scheduling the opener for next season.
Were you able to share any of your state championship game experiences from Maine South in 2003 with your baseball team?
Simoncelli: I scheduled our first game in Joliet, and after the game, during my postgame speech, I shared with the team that I was lucky enough to experience being in a state championship game as a player. You always have to believe that you can make it to that point. I had them look around and told them we would be back at the end of the year. I didn’t share too much of my experience as I wanted them to have their own emotions and feelings toward this special moment in their lives, but I did tell them to enjoy all this opportunity has to offer and to take a moment during the game to look at all those there supporting you and to just stay loose and have fun.
What is your favorite pregame meal?
Simoncelli: Our first regional game was supposed to be at Harlem, but was switched to Hononegah because of weather. I knew it was going to be a long day, so I went to Speedway at the Hampshire truck stop and picked up grape Big League Chew, BBQ Pringles, a smartwater and an orange Monster Energy drink. Wendy’s is right next to Speedway, so I grabbed a single cheeseburger. After we won the regional, I did the same exact thing for every single playoff game, so I guess my pregame meal was a Wendy’s single cheeseburger with BBQ Pringles, a smartwater and an orange Monster, with some grape Big League Chew for after. Pretty random.
What was the funniest thing that happened in a game this season?
Simoncelli: Brady Young, one of our sophomores, always had his hat fall off when he pitched. We gave him the smallest hat we had, and it still would fall off. It’s still a mystery as to why it falls off, and I can’t find an answer. Hopefully a year of preparation and strategy will help me figure out a way to keep the hat on his head for next year.
Who is the last musical act you saw live?
Simoncelli: My wife and I saw Brad Paisley and Darius Rucker in concert. Both are country, but I can pretty much listen to any type of music. What’s usually playing at our house is country, the Chainsmokers, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Elvis.
What got you interested in coaching?
Simoncelli: My parents (Craig and Cheryl) were a big reason I pursued coaching. My dad is my hero. He lectured me not so much on X’s and O’s of the game, but he taught me to view sports on a deeper level and to look at the journey as a whole and the life lessons you learn from it. My mom wasn’t huge into sports, but her support and sacrifices for my siblings and me taught us selflessness. They didn’t miss a game when I played, and they still come as much as they can. My goal has always been to try and make a difference in the world, and I felt that school counseling and coaching would provide me a platform to help students reach their goals and provide me an opportunity to make a difference and be a role model. I take it very seriously to help make their high school baseball experience special.
What is the last really good book you read?
Simoncelli: Does reading Dr. Seuss, “Toot, Toot, Beep, Beep” and “Goodnight Moon” to my kids count? I do listen to a lot of podcasts while on the run, which is great for information about baseball, motivation and leadership.
It worked out well this season, will you schedule next year’s season opener in Joliet?
Simoncelli: That was a pretty cool story. A lot of people thought I was out of my mind, and maybe I was, it was like 30 degrees out and we were playing on a Friday night in March. I truly believed that if we could make the players believe in themselves, that we had some talent to make some noise. My athletic director, Mike Sitter, and I have already started some talks. We will see how it works out.
Who is the best speaker you have ever heard at a coaches’ clinic?
Simoncelli: I listened to (NCAA Division III Spalding, Kentucky University) coach Jeremy Sheetinger speak at the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association clinic in January. His speech really hit me to the core when it came to relating with players and trying to motivate the team on a deeper level. His talk about mudita, which basically means celebrating the joys and successes of others, is something I spoke to my players about. We made it a motto for the year, and you’d hear players shouting “Mudita!” from the dugout.
Is there a particular game from this season you will remember most vividly?
Simoncelli: When we beat Barrington, 3-0, in 11 innings for the McHenry Sectional semifinal. It was the most intense game I’ve ever been a part of, as a coach or a player. It was a well-played, errorless game on both sides. Each team had chances to end the game. Matt Jachec threw 10 innings for us. That’s incredible! I will never forget that game. It gave our team so much confidence moving forward throughout the playoffs.
If you, as a high schooler, were on your team this year, what position would you have played and where would you have hit in the lineup?
Simoncelli: I was a lefty hitter and righty thrower. I would’ve hit mid-order and played outfield. I played both ways in high school, but I only pitched at EIU. I would’ve been a starter or closer type. Just to have some fun, I pitched three innings against the team in a live practice this season. Pitching coach Ryan Sitter and I pitched against each other and had a showdown. I did pretty solid. The players were radar gunning us, and I threw a ton of junk. It was fun, but I think I’m still sore from it.