Since taking over the program at Northeastern University upon Neil McPhee’s retirement in 2014, Mike Glavine has been named the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Coach of the Year in 2017, 2018 and 2021. In ‘21, Glavine led the Huskies to a 20-3 CAA record, a 20-game win streak, its first CAA championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Glavine was also an assistant and a standout player at NU, racking up 28 career home runs and 110 RBIs. He was drafted in 1995 and played 10 seasons of professional baseball, earning a call up to the big leagues in 2003, where he suited up with brother Tom and the New York Mets.
Inside Pitch: What was it was like to grow up in a sports-oriented family environment?
It was awesome. My parents were instrumental for myself and my brother Tom. They told us, ‘If you want to play, we'll get you there, as long as you go in with a smile and leave with a smile.’ And really, that was it. It was pretty simple. It wasn't ultra-competitive or you have to play on all these teams. It was really just simple. You want to play? We'll get you there. We'll sign you up. Looking back on it, there was no car rides or anything like that where you were worried about what your parents were going to say. It was all positive, and let's be the best you can be and have fun with it.
Tommy's seven years older than me, so he was someone I really looked up to growing up. I was always in awe of him and just trying to keep up with him too! And he would let me tag along. If he was playing a Wiffle ball game, or a pickup baseball game, or around here a pickup street hockey game, he was including me and he was letting me do something and play, be around it. I was always the stick boy for his teams in hockey and a bat boy for his baseball teams. So it was that kind of relationship where I just looked up to him all the way growing up.
As I got older and needed more advice, l relied on him more as a mentor. ‘What do you think? What would you do here? What's your experience?’ That kind of stuff. Our relationship from a baseball standpoint has obviously changed throughout the years.
IP: Do you feel like your players are listening to you because you've been to where they want to go? Or do you feel more like you've earned that respect as an instructor and a mentor first and foremost, as opposed to “here's what I did, here's what you should do”?
I very rarely ever talk about my playing days with the guys. First of all, I wasn't very good––I was just a career minor leaguer. But I did have incredible experiences, great teammates and great coaches. So I always draw upon those experiences.
One of the biggest messages that I'm always trying to get across is just being where your feet are, right? I feel like every high school kid can't wait to get to college. They're all about the recruiting process. Then they get to college and they can't wait to get drafted and play professional baseball. Sometimes college kids get so consumed with the draft and playing pro baseball that they're missing that college journey and they're really just looking at the ending.
Listen, pro ball is awesome. You're getting paid to play baseball, although it's not a lot. And you're in a professional organization. But college baseball is special. It's different. It's a different vibe, a different atmosphere, you don't play as many games. Every pitch, every play matters. These are your lifelong friends. Embrace it!
IP: Describe the stability of the program at Northeastern.
I was always familiar with the program. After my playing days, I came back as a volunteer assistant under Neil McPhee, who I had played for. I learned a ton from him and tried to apply as much of that as I could. When I took over the job here, I always felt like we had to do some things a little differently, but we could compete at the top. So the process was just trying to getting a plan together, which began when I was an assistant. We are always trying to find ways to take the program to another level.
IP: What were some of the most significant stepping stones NU has taken?
MG: If you look at our roster, there’s a clear focus on the Northeast player: New York, New Jersey and New England. We just think that makes sense for us being a cold-weather team. It’s not that we don't want to try to recruit nationally and find the best players we can academically and athletically; we really want to narrow our focus and be really good in our own backyard.
IP: So there are specific players that come to mind?
Yes, some of those include Jason Vosler from New York, Rob Fonseca from New Jersey, Aaron Civale, who made it to the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians, as Vosler did. Aaron is from Connecticut. So again, we're really just trying to focus on our backyard, being really good in the Northeast and trying to get that player that we think can change our program and be a potential big-leaguer down the road.
IP: What would you say your niche is when you look at players that you really feel like you've done a nice job with in terms of evaluation?
That’s a great question. Ultimately, as much as I want to stay in the Northeast, it's a heavily recruited area. We have to compete with schools nationally, people are coming into our region, and that makes things really challenging for us. What we've tried to do is be patient. We stay in the process with the kids and try to see who maybe was overlooked, who we feel like is a Division I player and maybe didn't get the offers they wanted.
We also look for multi-sport athletes who are talented and take academics seriously. Northeastern's a strong academic university, so that piece of it has to fit. It's a beautiful thing to be close to home when you're playing college baseball, to have that support, and everybody can come watch you play all the time.
When you recruit locally, you get to see kids play a lot and get as good an evaluation as possible. You get to develop relationships with local high school and summer coaches. You get really good information. And you put that whole package together before you make an offer.
IP: If you could make a billboard that every high school prospect could read, what would it say?
Be proactive. Put your videos together, put your emails together, but be realistic with where you want to go and where you fit in. Research the schools. Sometimes I'm surprised when kids sit in front of me and they don't know as much about Northeastern University and our baseball program as I feel like they should. But then they'll tell me we're in their top five. Get out and see campus, and go watch college baseball games!
IP: What's the checklist for you to have your team ready to go in the spring, given the unique schedule that college baseball has and the fact that you may not be able to get outside as often as you want?
Fall is a great time for us––the weather is awesome. That’s when we start the process with our players verbally, emotionally, and physically, reminding them of the obstacles that we have to overcome, what it's going to be like in the spring, getting them to embrace that and buy in to it.
I never really feel like we're quite ready [on] opening weekend, and I'm sure most coaches feel that way. You don't know until you get out there. But we're trying to build team chemistry, number one, and that starts in the fall. You’ve got all your new guys here, freshmen, transfers, so you're to emphasize team-building right away. That starts on day one.
Then you're trying to create an atmosphere of competition. The last piece is getting all of our team stuff in: offense, defense, base running. There are some things that we just can’t do when weather forces us inside, so we have to make sure that we maximize everything in the fall, and hope our guys pick it back up pretty quickly in the spring.
There's no question, we play some cold-weather games. That has to be something we embrace, having enough mental and physical toughness and not letting the cold weather and other obstacles creep into your mind and saying, “This stinks. I wish we had this,” or “I wish we had that.”
I don't think it's anything unique to us. I wouldn't say we start out slow, but we pick up speed as we're going. Let's put it that way. I don't think we're playing our best baseball the first two weekends.
IP: Anything unique to Northeastern as it relates to building team chemistry?
What we like to do is have them around each other as much as possible, because that will happen naturally during the season, right? I do think that’s a positive of the schedule we play, we travel a lot early and we’re always together as a result. We also assign lockers in the clubhouse so younger guy's next to an older guy. Little things like that just to try to get them out of their comfort zone and not hang around the same groups all the time.
We do try to think outside the box with team building. Can we do something off the field? Can we work with our ROTC program? We’ve done that before and it was awesome. We have Practice Players of the Day. I have a hammer in honor of my dad, who was a very hard worker. I always pick the first one and then that player gives it to another player the next day. It just shows some respect and that they see what their teammates are doing, how hard they're working. Who's invested? Who's bought in? Who's doing the things we want to do and brings it every day?
We also have a team competition, which I love. We'll pick two guys and I'll tell the team to pick who they want to back. We'll pick to get them out of their comfort zones: we’ve brought the pitching wedges out to see who can land the ball closest to a base, set up field goals to see who can kick a football, we'll do soccer penalty kicks. Anything to get them out of their comfort zone, compete and have some fun!