Long before his 600th win, or the State Tournament appearances and 1998 State Championship; long before coaching his two sons through the VS baseball program, long before seeing some of his young players go on to play and coach at all levels; long before the weekend announcement that he will join the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in the organization’s 50th year; Jim Struve demonstrated that he had something special as a coach, even before he was a head coach, says Desi Druschel.
Druschel, who is now the pitching coach at the University of Iowa, clearly recalls the Sub-State game of 1991, when he was a Viking player.
Struve was at that time an assistant coach for the Vikings, helping with varsity and also coaching sophomores. He would become head coach the next year.
Druschel described what happened as the Vikings prepared for that ’91 game against Albia:
While preparing to play that game, Struve called a special practice, so the team could work on first-and-third drills.
“He had seen them play and he knew we needed to work on this,” recalls Druschel. The players spent a long time in that practice session, figuring out how to best respond if Albia had runners on first and third base, and tried to score via a double-steal.
The very next day, in the Sub-State game, the Vikings were on defense in a first-and-third situation, with two outs late in the game. The play developed as Struve had expected, and the players, prepared by the previous day’s practice, nailed it. They got the out, and the win.
“We executed that play,” said Druschel. “That was critical to our victory.”
This story, says Druschel, emphasizes that Struve was “the ultra-preparer.”
“His philosopthy was: ‘Never be caught un-prepared or out-worked.’ That describes Jim and what he did for 30 years, and even before he was the head coach,” adds Druschel. “I don’t think there is anyone who works harder in preparation, practice, training and scouting.”
Whether he has coached State Championship teams, or less-than-average teams, says Druschel, Struve always gets the most out of his players.
“It’s amazing, how he finds a way to win, through sheer determination and the willingness to out-work people and do things others aren’t willing to do,” Druschel says.
“I feel like I got a good grasp on my career from him,” says Druschel, who was also the head coach at Mount Mercy for several years before joining the U of I program.
“All kinds of things I know I got from him I use in coaching,” adds Druschel, who says that along with his coaching philosophy, Struve taught also his players faith and patience.
“Faith is a big thing for him,” Druschel says. “I loved playing for him because he was a competitor. You loved playing for him. You hated playing against him. When the chips were on the table, he pushed all the right buttons.”
Druschel, who traveled to Taiwan with the Hawkeye baseball team last summer for the World University Games, will be one of the speakers at the coaches’ association meeting, where Struve will be recognized. Wes Obermueller, a pitcher on the Struve-coached teams who also went on to pitch in the Major Leagues, will also join the Hall of Fame this year.
Druschel says being part of the Viking baseball program with Struve has helped him understand the process of coaching and teaching pitchers better.
Part of teaching pitchers was perfecting the technique for picking off runners at first, Druschel recalls.
Struve, observes Druschel, is the only person to be involved in all of the Viking State Tournament appearances.
VS also advanced to the Sub-State game, falling one game short of returning to Des Moines, in both 2016 and 2017, losing by one run both times. Struve’s last team ended the 2017 season with 35 wins and had spent many weeks ranked in the Top 5 among Class 3A teams. Struve joined the 600 win club late in June, and ended his career with 610 total wins.
Leaving announced in summer
Coach Struve surprised his players by announcing his retirement from coaching at the annual wrap-up banquet last summer, ending a 30-year stint as coach and 25-year career as head coach.
“It seems strange that he is leaving,” says Druschel. “He was always part of Vinton-Shellsburg baseball. I can’t imagine it without him – it doesn’t seem right. It won’t be the same. Whoever it is that replaces him, it’s not going to be Vinton-Shellsburg baseball like VS baseball is.”
Struve joined the Vinton school district before the 1989 merger with Shellsburg, and has been coaching for the entire existence of VS teams.
Another player from those State teams who went on to a long coaching career is Nate Forsyth, the former baseball coach and current AD and softball coach at Ellsworth Community College.
“Everything I did I learned from Jim,” says Forsyth. “He knew how to motivate people, me in particular. He wasn’t the easiest to play for but he got the most out of his guys. He worked hard and obviously, we got results.”
Forsyth pitched and caught for the Vikings under Struve, and also played first and right field.
“He’s the ultimate competitor – super intense. He wants to win,” explains Forsyth. “One thing I took away from hims is his passion to win – not too many people had that. To do what he did as long as he did was definitely something special. Lots of people never accomplish half of what hes’ done.”
After graduation from high school, Forsyth also joined the Viking coaching staff and continued to learn from Struve in that capacity.
“Seeing him every day – his demeanor in working with players, his strong work ethic, getting the most of every player in each practice – the stuff he was teaching was consistent with what I did as a player for five years,” Forsyth recalls.
Along with the techniques that Struve taught him, Forsyth said he also appreciates the relationship he built with Struve.
“I really enjoyed the way we bounced ideas off each other,” he says.
Forsyth and Druschel coached together with Struve for a couple of years in the 90s.
“I learned a lot coaching with Desi and Jim,” says Forsyth. “Probably the reason why I became a coach is because of Jim.”
The State Championship of 1998 is naturally among Forsyth’s favorite memories. The Vikings won the state title with a 10-0 win over Perry, but began that tourney with a hard-fought, 4-3 win over Oskaloosa. They then defeated Washington, 5-1 to advance to the title game.
Yet, says Forsyth, there were lots of memorable games along the team’s road to a state title.
“Be the Best…”
One of the last pitchers to learn from Coach Struve is Scott Wirth, who graduated in 2017.
“I learned a lot from Coach Struve, but one of the greatest things I learned from him is that if you put in the work, follow the process and don’t give up, good things will happen,” said Wirth. “But most importantly, he taught me how to be the best person I can be, on and off the field.”
Struve graduated from Vinton in 1983, and returned to coach after graduating from UNI. He says he can’t pick a specific moment when he decided to become a coach.
“I have always loved athletics,” he said. In addition to majoring in education, he also minored in coaching at UNI.
While many remember the 10-0 win to secure the ’98 Championship Trophy, Struve also still vividly remembers Game 1.
“Our State Tournament run in Carroll was real exciting,” he recalls. “We were down to our last strike in our first game vs. Oskaloosa, and we won.”
“There are lots of memories,” adds Struve, who specifically thanked his parents, Ken and Darlene. “I am thankful for my extremely supportive parents,” he said. “They supported me as a player and the last 30 years as coaching games – they were at almost every game.”
His parents, he said, “take a lot of pride in our facility,” and were often seen cleaning dugouts and bleaches and helping to edge the infield, as well as heard cheering from the stands.
Hard work and dedication are the keys to success, says Struve.
“I believed the kids who were serious about becoming great pitchers dedicated themselves in off-season, as well as being blessed with good athletic ability,” he said. “There is no substitute for hard work. We require kids to pay attention to detail and teach them that little things will help give their team an opportunity to be successful. Our goal is get players to complete at the highest level; to get the most out of their ability – ability that players didn’t even know they had.”
Mental toughness is also important for coaches to teach, especially to pitchers, Struve says.
“A pitcher will have 28-30 battles each game – individual battles – we teach them to try to win that one-on-one battle 30 times in a game.”
Struve had been thinking about retiring from coaching for the past few years, evaluating his career at the end of each season. Finally, in 2017, he decided after 30 years that it was time to move on and let someone else take his place.
“It was extremely challenging to make that announcement,” he aid.
Struve announced the decision to the players before formally submitting his resignation.
“Out of respect to the parents and players, they deserved to hear it from me, because they have been so supportive,” he said. “But, it was tough.”
The Hall of Fame presentation will be part of the Coaches Association 2018 Banquet in Cedar Rapids, on Jan. 20, at the Marriott Hotel.
Tom Souhrada of the IHSBCA congratulated the Hall of Fame honorees Sunday on Twitter. The association’s newsletter also has information about the honorees.