Delbrugge Passes Torch to Brunner as New Wheeling Post 1 Manager
Former Linsly, WLU Standout to Lead Post 1
WHEELING — Mark Delbrugge knows the importance of American Legion baseball, and more importantly, how prestigious it is to be a part of Wheeling Post 1.
His four seasons in charge were some of the most successful in the history of the program. But now is the time to walk away.
Delbrugge recently stepped down as manager of Post 1 and handed the keys to former Wheeling Post 1 standout Jon Michael Brunner.
“When (American Legion Athletic Club President) Don Tennant asked me to come aboard, I told him this wasn’t going to be a life-long thing,” Delbrugge said. “I was just there to bridge the gap until they could find a capable replacement.
“Jon Michael Brunner is the ultimate replacement to lead this organization. He has so much energy. An incredible, mature young man and is very goal-driven. He is a Post 1 alum. A West Liberty alum. Has good vision and the kids love him.”
Delbrugge went 114-48 with a 13-3 record in the state tournament. His teams also won the Beast of the East second place championship pool twice (2014, 2016) and the third place pool in 2017. Post 1 went a combined 9-0 on those three Sundays.
In 2014, Post 1 won the prestigious Hillbilly Hardball Classic in Elkins.
His biggest contribution came in 2015 when Post 1 broke a 27-year state championship drought. Post 1 went on to win the next three titles and in 2016, Delbrugge’s squad won its first American Legion Regional Tournament game since the 1960s.
“There are a lot of good things we did and I feel we left it in a better place,” Delbrugge said. “We have gone from having one team to having six and that is something we are very proud of. We have provided an opportunity for 100 players to wear the Post 1 uniform. A lot of families are wearing Post 1 gear. We expanded the organization.
“We won some games, had a lot of success and helped a lot of people continue to play baseball in college. The future is incredibly strong for Post 1 baseball.”
Delbrugge has placed 13 players at the college level, including Michael Grove at West Virginia University, Russell Schwartzfeger at University of South Carolina-Upstate and 11 at the Division II level. Andrew Kowalo recently graduated from Liberty University and signed to play professionally with the Washington Wild Things.
“Coach Delbrugge has done a phenomenal job putting together strong varsity squads and his extraordinary efforts as a volunteer head coach have been greatly appreciated,” Tennant said in a press release. “From recruiting the best available players to game coaching and teaching not only baseball skills and strategies, but life’s skills, Coach Delbrugge has excelled and we are most appreciative of his time, effort and enthusiasm. We look forward to Coach Delbrugge’s efforts on the Board and transitioning to our new coach, Jon Michael Brunner.”
With all that success, it will be hard to follow in Delbrugge’s footsteps, but that is the challenge facing Brunner.
Despite getting his first taste of being a head coach at the young age of 24, he is excited for the opportunity.
“I have always dreamed of coaching baseball and I am happy they thought enough of me and wanted me to take it over,” Brunner said. “I don’t plan on changing much. I just want to be a fresh face for these young guys to get to know and learn from.
“Post 1 is all I’ve ever known. I didn’t play travel ball, I played legion for four years. I still continue to lean back on these guys. Coach Del, I have a very close relationship with. Even Coach (Chuck) Koehler, he was always there to give me fist pounds or hugs when I was playing. For him to still be around is huge. I understand how everyone operates and they know me.”
Brunner was an All-Valley baseball player at Linsly before going on to have a successful career at West Liberty from 2012-15. During his junior season, he finished third nationally in toughest to strike out with only four. He bettered that mark his senior campaign when he became the national leader with just two strikeouts.
During the past four seasons, Brunner has been the head coach of the 15-Under and junior varsity teams, as well as given many private lessons.
“We have a lot of returning guys and I don’t feel any pressure, just excited to get started,” Brunner said. “We are not going to take things slow. We are going to continue to get better and maintain this level of excellence. There are a lot of players out there excited to play legion ball now. Being at the 15-Under level and the junior varsity level, the players there know me and know what I expect.
“I am ready. Coach Del and I have had a lot of long conversations and he has showed me a lot of the behind the scenes things that some people might not know about. Along with Mr. Tennant and all the coaching staffs, this thing doesn’t happen on its own. I am lucky enough to have everyone chip in and keep this ship sailing.”
As for Delbrugge, baseball is not out of his system just yet. He may look into becoming a college assistant down the road, but for now is focused on spending summer time with his family.
Still, he won’t be too far away from the ballpark.
“I am going to miss it dearly,” he said. “It is a grind, an incredible grind. But I have developed life-long relationships and I had an absolute blast. These past four years were the best baseball years of my life. I am so proud of the young men we have had and what we accomplished and I am proud of Jon Michael. He will lead us for a long time.”