SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — By the time they go back to Billings, Big Sky All-Stars coaches Mark Kieckbusch and Tom Zimmer will have spent nearly five months coaching kids in baseball this year.
“We either play a game or practice every day of the week except for Sundays,” Kieckbusch said. “We’ll usually take Sundays off.”
Both Kieckbusch and Zimmer are coaches for the first Montana team ever to make it to the Little League World Series. They assist Big Sky manager Gene Carlson in running practices and directing players during the games.
In this past regular season, Kieckbusch was a coach for the Pella Windows & Doors team, the team that Carlson managed. Zimmer was manager of the Tri-State Truck and Equipment team.
When the Big Sky All-Star team was chosen, the two men were picked to be coaches. Both have sons on the team: Connor Kieckbusch, who plays second base and right field, and Patrick Zimmer, who pitches and plays shortstop.
While coaching takes up a lot of time, Zimmer said, it’s worth the effort.
“Starting with kids and seeing what their abilities are and making them better ball players, and actually better kids is great,” he said.
Though both men knew they had a talented bunch of players on their hands, neither thought they’d find themselves at the World Series.
“Our primarily goal going into this season was (the Northwest Regional in San Bernardino, Calif.),” Kieckbusch said. “And then once we got to San Bernardino, it was to get the kids on a TV game.”
Only when the boys kept winning, Kieckbusch said, did he get a notion that Williamsport might be a possibility.
Zimmer, who calls himself a little superstitious, never put San Bernardino or Williamsport on his business calendar.
“That’s the icing on the cake, that’s the trophy you get and you can’t get the trophy until the very end,” he said.
At a practice, Zimmer is part-cheerleader and part-teacher. He frequently stops the practice to point out an error in mechanics or praise a particularly good play.
“I’m one of those guys that, if they’re not hustling or if they’re not doing something to the best of their ability, I’m gonna get on them,” he said. “But if they do things right, I’m gonna be the first guy to tell them what they’re doing right. Or at least that’s my goal.”
Kieckbusch tends to be quieter, but he’s there, talking to players, helping where help is needed. At Saturday’s practice, he threw probably a couple hundred pitches for the boys to hit so they could work on their swing.
Kieckbusch is an electrical engineer who works for a consulting engineering company in Billings called HDR Engineers. Zimmer is co-owner of Tri-State Truck and Equipment Inc.
Kieckbusch is married to Dani and has a daughter, Ally, who is 14. Zimmer is married to Erin and has a son, Joseph, 15, who plays Legion baseball for the Blue Jays and a 9-year-old daughter, Laura.
The two coaches juggle work and family and baseball. For Kieckbusch, during the season, that can mean not getting home till 8:30 or 9 at night.
For Zimmer, the downside can be missed family moments.
“I had a business trip this week that Laura was going to go with me on, so coming out here we had to cancel that,” he said. “So I owe her big time.”
But the two coaches also know they are in the midst of a very special time of their lives, joining 12 talented, hard-working players at the highest level of play.
“That will be something really special, I think, when we look back on it,” Kieckbusch said.
Zimmer adds that whether here or during the regular season, his goals are the same.
“It’s about teaching kids to play baseball the right way, hopefully winning along the way because winning makes it more fun,” he said. “And making sure they develop a love of the game so they come back and play baseball in years to come.”