Ezako Not Only Knows How to Coach, He Knows How to Win
How do you build a high performance program where the players, parents, and even opponents sing your praises? Just ask Bryan Ezako.
By Scott Taylor and Paul Edmonds
The respect for Bryan Ezako runs deep in Manitoba baseball circles.
In fact, when people talk about Ezako, they use terms such as dedicated, committed, honest, hard working and remarkable. He’s a kids’ baseball coach who brings a professional approach to both teaching and coaching the game.
And he wins. No question about it. He’s won four ‘AAA’ Provincial Championships (three at the Pee Wee level in ’04, ’05, and ’08 and one at Midget in ‘96). Ask those in the know and they’ll tell you Bryan Ezako teaches young ballplayers to play the game properly.
“Bryan has been an outstanding coach in Manitoba baseball circles,” said Morgan de Pena, executive director of Baseball Manitoba. “He is dedicated to his teams and players and puts in many hours planning for the season and preparing the youngsters to play.
“He’s very organized and keeps the parents in the loop regarding the team. The players have a great deal of respect for him and he makes the game fun.”
For Ezako’s teams, the fun seems to translate into wins. The 2008 Winnipeg South Chiefs were 20-0 in league play and 45-2 overall in Manitoba. The team’s playoff record was 21-3. The Chiefs took home both the WABA League Championship and the Manitoba Summer Games Gold Medal. And as the Provincial ‘AAA’ Champions this past summer, they went on to compete and finish fifth at the Nationals. Prior to that, they also won the Canada Day Classic tournament in Brandon and the Winnipeg Region Manitoba Summer Games Qualifying Tournament.
Ezako has coached the Winnipeg South Chiefs to 3 provincial 'AAA' championships. [Photo courtesy of Mike Anderson]
Not enough? Here are a few stats: Ezako’s Chiefs allowed only 2.4 runs per game while scoring, on average, 17.3. They hit .460 as a team with 127 extra-base hits. The pitchers – all 13 of them – had a combined ERA of 2.81. This was a team that stole 303 bases to go with an incredible 457 hits. “We stayed focused, “ says the coach. “Our philosophy is that we play from the start of the first pitch to the end of the last one.”
It was a superb performance, directed by a brilliant coach. But you’d think that kind of success would harbour some resentment among the competition. If that’s the case, Ezako’s fellow coaches aren’t showing it.
“The Chiefs were the dominant team in the province as their record speaks”, said Dave Nychyk, coach of the North Winnipeg Pirates, the No. 2 team in the province’s Pee Wee ‘AAA’ Division. “But they were also very respectful and sportsmanlike. (We) never had an issue with their attitude which could have been very easily done with some scores that the Chiefs put up.”
Nychyk made those statements in writing as a testimonial to the brilliance of Ezako’s young team, a team that in November earned Baseball Manitoba’s High Performance Team of the Year award for 2008.
To his credit, Ezako not only teaches youngsters to become better ballplayers, but better people as well. And that’s why both his opponents and his players think the world of the coach from south Winnipeg.
Ezako poses with assistant coaches Geoff Grawberger (centre) and Doug Quark (left) at the Nationals in August. [Photo courtesy of Mike Anderson]
“I think everybody really likes him,” says John Anderson, a second-year player on Ezako’s squad. A pitcher and first baseman, Anderson credits much of the team’s success to Ezako’s approach: “He’s relaxed, keeps it fun, but he’s also pretty focused at the same time. And he talks a lot about attitude. On his teams, it’s always important to want to help out and support your teammates.”
The results speak for themselves. In regards to his coach’s philosophy and the winning that follows, Anderson replies simply “It works out pretty well.”
This summer, the Chiefs went on an incredible playoff run, winning 22 straight games (in addition to their 20 league victories). And during their streak of championships, the team scored 10 or more runs in every game they played. They won 19 of these 22 tournament contests by the mercy rule, and at the ‘AAA’ Provincials in Brandon the Chiefs outscored their opponents 75-5 over five games, including a 37-1 margin in the semi-final and final games combined.
It was truly an incredible season.
“I had a special group of players,” Ezako conceded. “The score was never important, it was always about focusing on challenging ourselves within the game. When you go 20-0, like we did in league play, and when you have the overall success we did, every one on the team had to be an important piece of the puzzle. Every one of the kids contributed in their own way.”
Ever a players’ coach, he’s certainly being modest here. Talent aside, Ezako has been there before, as evidenced by his three previous provincial championships. Add to that, he’s a three-time nominee for Manitoba’s High Performance Coach of the Year (he won in 2005).
There’s no shortage of coaches who are well liked, but whose efforts never translate into a winning record. Ezako’s teams, on the other hand, win consistently.
“If there’s anything I’ve done differently, it’s probably preparation. We’ve spent a lot of time envisioning what a high level program would look like.” Ezako has some relevant experience there, being involved with Baseball Manitoba’s development teams in 2000 and 2001, and having served as the coach of the ’03 Western Canada Summer Games squad.
“I take a bit of what I’ve learned about coaching the older kids at the elite levels, and apply it to the younger levels. And I spend time talking to the baseball guys like the Olsens, DePenas, and Mutchesons of our province. They know better than anyone that coaching baseball is more than just practicing from 6-8. It’s about conditioning players properly, taking care of their arms, and putting together the right group of kids.”
And in his recruiting efforts, he’s not afraid to get the word out early and en masse. Prior to the 2008 season, Ezako and his coaching staff sent out more than 200 personalized letters to 1st and 2nd year PeeWee-aged players in Winnipeg South, giving every eligible kid an opportunity to read about the program. More than 70 showed up to the ’08 tryouts, with indoor activities starting in February.
“We’re looking for kids who are well-rounded athletes, sure, but who are also quick learners and who can grasp the concept of the game. And attitude is critical. We tell them that, when you’re representing Winnipeg South, you’re doing so on and off the field. It’s a privilege and kids buy into that.”
“Kids can tell when a coach is there for them and when he’s there to pass the time,” says Ezako. “We have to be there for the right reason—to try to develop them to the best of their ability.”
But why? Why would a 36-year-old guy who works full-time as the Executive Director of the Manitoba Camping Association and the Sunshine Fund, who has no kids on the team, want to spend his limited free time teaching 12-13-year-olds how to be better baseball players?
For Ezako, the answer seems easy.
“I get that quite often,” he told Manitoba Score. “My own personal love and interest in the game is one thing, but my desire to see that, through this game, I can hopefully give back to those young kids who want to learn, that’s what really inspires me.”
Ezako, who learned the game himself in the Winnipeg minor baseball system, has now been a coach for 17 years. And while he loved to play, coaching was a bug that bit him hard before he was out of his teens.
“The first year I could have played junior ball, I ended up coaching with Tyndal Park,” he said. “As a player, most of my ball was played at the community club level, along with a few brief stints with Legion 141 at the bantam level.
“I just loved coaching. When you look at the perspective of coaching, there is just so much to learn. I don’t think there is a perfect coach. I don’t think there ever will be. But you’re never too old to stop learning.”
The more Ezako learns, the more he teaches. And if the past is any indication, his pupils will be piling up wins and championship banners in south Winnipeg for years to come.
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