Abbenante Looks to Put Stamp on WJU Baseball
WHEELING — After a disappointing 7-35 season, Wheeling Jesuit could use a little more excitement around its baseball program.
Enter Dan Abbenante.
The former Wheeling Jesuit graduate assistant was hired last month as the second coach in Cardinals history, replacing Terry Edwards, who retired at the end of last season.
The program has fallen on hard times in recent seasons, but that doesn’t deter the young coach from thinking big, even though he insists a turnaround isn’t likely to happen overnight.
“The biggest thing for me right now is trying to get the schedule filled,” Abbenante said. “I’ve been trying to reach out to the guys and letting them know who I am. I knew some of the players from when I was a GA here, so I am trying to talk to the ones I don’t.
“I want to create a structure for these guys once they get in so they know right from the start what our plan is so they aren’t trying to figure it out midseason.”
Abbenante has a history of success in a short time on the collegiate level.
The Monroeville, Pa., native was a four-year player on the Seton Hill baseball team and helped lead his team to a Division II World Series appearance. The Griffins had 40-win seasons in each of his four years there.
He took a job on Edwards staff where he was the hitting, baserunning and outfield coach from 2015-16. In 2015, the Cardinals had a Mountain East Conference-leading 75 stolen bases.
He left after the 2016 season and took a job as the Midwest Region Director of Operations for USA Baseball National Team Identification Series, providing individual and group instruction.
When he learned Edwards was retiring, he threw his name in the hat.
At 25 years old, Abbenante was named the new coach on July 13. He was given an opportunity at a young age and that is what he is looking to sell when it comes to seeking recruits.
After a seven-win season, there is no place to go for the Cardinals but up.
“Opportunity, isn’t that what every kid wants?” Abbenante asked.
“The opportunity to No. 1, continue his education and No. 2, continue his playing career. No matter how good you are at the game of baseball, there is going to be an end date.
To give a kid an opportunity to extend his playing career, that is what we can offer.”
Wheeling Jesuit has seen its teams capture conference championships in recent seasons — as well as the volleyball team winning a national title. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that success hasn’t translated on the baseball diamond.
How long it will take for Abbenante to get this team to turn the corner is yet to be determined. But one thing the Cardinals are getting is a young, energetic coach that has a lot of passion for baseball.
“This school has a winning atmosphere and being able to start something, to be able to build what we want, the opportunity to be a part of something special is a big driving force in how I recruit,” he said. “I want recruits to understand that they can be a part of something big. We know where we are going. It is hard to go down from where we are at.
“I tell kids, ‘just because baseball isn’t winning now, doesn’t mean it can’t. Look at the programs around us.’ I think it comes down to being proactive in the recruiting process and finding kids.
“There are no expectations for us because our expectations are every single day we are trying to get better. If we can continue to focus on what we can do day in and day out — and that is get better as students and athletes — we will be in good shape. We are not trying to focus on wins and losses because that is still six months away from now.
“Terry has done a great job getting this thing started and it is a testament to him that it never died off. When I was here, I saw Sean Doyle as wrestling coach come in and build a ‘Cardinal Culture.’ That program had a lot of success early and I want to build that kind of culture as well.”
Hundred Finds a Home
Kudos to the staff and community at Clay-Battelle. They have been very active in helping Hundred with their flood issues, even getting Morgantown and University High Schools to help with gathering equipment.
Hundred was originally supposed to open at home against the Cee-Bees. That game has been moved to Blacksville and it looks like the rest of the Hornets’ home games will be played there, too.
I know this is not sports-related, but I just wanted to throw my two cents in on the Uncle Pete’s situation. My girlfriend and I went there Thursday night, and like always, enjoyed the meal.
It is a shame that a local business that is loved by many Ohio Valley residents is closing because of a disagreement with a new landlord on rent.
This is the last week the restaurant is open — it closes Saturday, Aug. 19 — so please go and support it in its final days. And don’t forget to tip your server well.
Josh Strope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org