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Colleges: AU baseball’s Neitzel steps aside on top

Updated: February 22, 2013 6:10AM

Coaches come and coaches go. That’s the nature of the beast.

Some move on to bigger and better things on their own while others are given a not-so-gentle push out the door.

Shaun Neitzel is one of those fortunate ones. He decided, pretty much on his own, that coaching baseball at Aurora University, though totally fulfilling, wasn’t what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Yes Neitzel, who is also serving as AU’s interim athletic director until recently hired James Hamad takes over next month, could have remained on the Spartan bench for this year and years to come. His record speaks volumes.

Certainly, Neitzel didn’t build the AU baseball program into the NCAA Division III power that it has become. That process started long before Neitzel joined the AU coaching staff. His is just another name added to a long list of outstanding AU baseball coaches.

What Neitzel did in his 11 years is keep the program moving forward. He leaves with a 287-146-2 record and two top finishes — third in 2004, seventh in 2006 — in the D-III tournament. The list of the all-conference, all-region and all-American players he’s coached would fill a phone book.

Last year’s team was, arguably, Neitzel’s best. It finished 38-10, won the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament and advanced to the NCAA regionals for the sixth time in his tenure.

While it is true that the 2013 Spartans will have holes to fill at virtually every position, Neitzel hasn’t handed over an empty cupboard to new coach Lane Stahl. He didn’t step on a sinking ship in 2002 and he wasn’t about to leave one listing in 2013.

What coach wouldn’t want to start his first season with last year’s top four pitchers — Brad Warnecke (8-0), Drew Guy (8-0), Eric Palmer (8-0) Kevin Day (3-2) — returning? And Neitzel beat the bushes recruiting two years ago and those recruits will step in to fill the holes in the lineup.

Then why in the name of SportsCenter did Neitzel decide to hang up his spikes?

It was time.

Neitzel has been involved with baseball since he was old enough to walk. He played at Oswego High School, set career records in saves and appearances at Waubonsee Community College and was a fixture on the William Penn pitching staff before becoming an assistant coach there in 1995.

Often, enough really is enough.

Over the past 20-plus years, Neitzel has had baseball coming out of his ears. There were countless hours of practice, games to prepare for, lengthy road trips and endless recruiting. All were part of the fun and the frustration of coaching.

All of those lost hours will now belong to Shaun’s wife (Michelle) and two daughters (Allison and Lilly). Instead of helping hitters learn to hit the breaking pitch up the middle, he’ll be able to watch those daughters grow into women.

The AU community will absolutely miss Neitzel’s ability to ease the best out of the athletes he recruits, but no one would argue against the reasons he’s moving on. Family comes first and second isn’t even close.

Besides, AU isn’t losing Shaun Neitzel. He moves into the position of Dean of Student Life and will attack that job with all the enthusiasm he had while waving a runner around third base.

He can be expected to be seen at Solfisburg Park now and again watching the Spartans but don’t look for Neitzel to be bugging Stahl with suggestions or offering lineup tips.

He’ll smile and leave all that to others.

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