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Grant Achilles talks maintaining morale during baseball's search for new normal

Achilles reflects on team’s brotherhood in aftermath of canceled season

Grant Achilles, baseball’s 17th head coach since 1900, was hired as an assistant coach in 2012 and promoted to head coach midway through the 2014 season. Under his direction, Brown has earned 13 All-Ivy selection titles with multiple First Team honorees. Achilles has seen several players drafted to Major League Baseball, including Austin French ’16, Rob Henry ’17, Christian Taugner ’17 and Reid Anderson ’18. Henry and Taugner represented the first dual selection of Brown players in the draft since 2005. Bruno was just a third of the way into their 2020 baseball season when spring sports were canceled due to COVID-19. But Coach Achilles continued to rally his team virtually, even when he and his wife Elizabeth welcomed their new daughter, Ali Jo, mid-pandemic. For his dedication on and off the field, Coach Achilles has been selected for this edition of The Herald’s Coach’s Corner.

Herald: College baseball does not look the same as in previous years. How are you working to keep milestone events ceremonious and fun despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Coach Achilles: Trying to maintain normalcy of naming our captains. This year it’s going to be (Joe Lomuscio ’21) and (Collin Garner ’21). There are certainly still ceremonies and things like that that we can do, it's just being creative with the ways we implement them. We may not be able to order all of the gear that we want, but to still go through and plan for the new normal, the new approach that we're going to have as a team and to involve all our players’ input into that (process), will be critical to drawing closer together as we move towards the season. I’d like to think it will be easier when everybody's on campus, but that almost feels like such a long ways away that we want to try and do as much as we can in the short term to maintain closeness as a program.

How have you been working to maintain closeness as a program while having players studying remotely in different time zones and living situations?

We’re trying to respect the time of our players as best as possible without inundating them with meetings here and meetings there. What works best for our team is only calling a meeting when there's something to talk about. Now that we're in the virtual world, we’re especially trying to have more one-on-one and small group connection points so that a bond really continues to formulate between us as a staff with those players. (The players) do a pretty good job of communicating. I mean, from the get-go there's always been a playful banter ... (between players and staff). So, the social normalcy returning has been very beneficial for that integration.

How has the trimester system, which brings different class years to campus at different times, affected the team dynamic?

(Currently), our juniors and seniors are all on campus, and our freshmen and sophomores are all remote. Over the last three years, our respective incoming classes have created a tight bond in the fall of their senior years in high school. So the trimester has certainly had a negative impact on a lot of the normalcy, but I truly believe that our players are continuing to progress without skipping a beat. … In that respect, we almost welcome the unique side of the challenge of bringing in the freshmen a little bit later. Seeing how our team has bonded together has almost made this easier in some ways.

What is your plan for returning to competitive play in the spring after having spent the fall and winter without full access to training facilities?

The mental side of our preparation has continued. I understand that it’s challenging not to play hypothetical games of “what if” in athletics and all the way down the road to an academic and social perspective. But since our season got canceled, and we transitioned power from the 2019-20 team to the 2020-21 team, we’ve been allowed to have the focus, wherever we are, whatever we're able to do, on having the mindset of competing for an Ivy League championship. Our players are scattered, but we know that wherever they are now, they're going to have two weeks from the end of the fall semester until the projected start of the spring semester, to get going. While there are physical things that we will need to play catch up on, I think the mental toll that missing last season had on us provided that inner fire to do whatever it takes within our capacity to be ready to finish this year out strong.

Can you share a fun fact about your life off the field?

My wife qualified for this year’s Boston marathon and was registered to run. Two days after our season got canceled, she found out that the Boston marathon got canceled. She had been training for months. So, when she was nine months pregnant, I worked together with her to structure the South of Boston Marathon. A totally socially-distanced 26.2 miles. Two loops around our house, around the Brown athletics facilities and the campus that she could run. She ran a full-on marathon, while pregnant, the week after the Boston marathon was supposed to take place. So, that’s my fun fact. I coordinated and was the grand marshal for the South of Boston marathon, during the pandemic. Actually, my real fun fact is that I’m married to her.

 Brown Baseball is involved with Team IMPACT, a charitable organization that pairs young athletes battling health issues with college teams. Has the team stayed engaged with their Team IMPACT member during the pandemic?

(Our Team IMPACT member Alex’s) birthday was Oct. 2 and we had guys send videos and FaceTime him for his birthday. … (He and the team) still stay in constant communication. This is sad to say, but we were ready to move into a new phase with a new Team IMPACT player when the pandemic hit. Not because of a sad or poor experience, but quite the opposite, because our experience with Alex and his family has been so great and he’s had a phenomenal recovery. We now need to continue the story with a new Team IMPACT member.

 Is there anything that you would like to take from this experience into regular seasons?

 Our core principles as a program are brotherhood, integrity and gratitude, and I’ve really seen those playing out within our team during this pandemic. They’ve seen that our individual actions can have a very profound influence. Whether that’s (flattening the curve) of the pandemic, or participating in the election, whatever the case may be, it’s holding onto that “life is about more than just me as an individual,” lesson and the gratitude that comes with it. (Those of us on campus) have conditioned as a team a few times since getting back, and one of those days it was kind of wet and nasty, so we had a conversation about, "Hey, you know what? We all probably had that thought go through our mind of, ‘Ah, this is a miserable day.’ But let's bring our minds back to March 13 when the world absolutely changed and we weren't sure when we were going to see each other again.”  

 This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 



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