After graduating from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and entering the working world, Blake Eller realized he wanted to be a baseball coach.
The 2004 Brainerd High School graduate, a standout player for the Warriors and in college for the Saints, served the last two years as a graduate assistant coach at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
“I’ve wanted to coach for the last few years,” Eller said. “Obviously, I always loved playing the game and everything involved with it. (The game) teaches you about yourself and about life. I wanted to get involved and help kids who want to play.”
On June 11, Eller’s career path took another step in the right direction when he was hired as head baseball coach at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. He succeeds Pat Held, who resigned following last season.
“When I got done with grad school I was on the job search,” Eller said. “There was not a lot going on, so I decided to come back to town. I heard coach Held had retired. I thought about that for a while, and (CLC athletic director) Jim (Russell) called me and said he wanted to meet. That got the wheels turning in my head.
“I thought it would be an awesome opportunity to start with a program that hasn’t had a lot of success in the past, but last year started to grow a little bit, and put my stamp on it.
“I have a lot of good mentors. In speaking with Jim, he said he talked to a couple people who gave me good references. He’s been talking to (Warriors head coach) Lowell Scearcy, who’s been great to me. (Warriors assistant) Keith Peterson and (Brainerd Bees coach) Tim Martin have helped me along the way, too. I appreciate what those guys have done for me.”
Russell was thrilled to hire an individual who’s come through the Brainerd baseball system and was a standout player.
“He’s a Brainerd guy, he’s from the Brainerd community,” Russell said. “He played four years in college, was a graduate assistant at Southwest State, that alone says a lot about him, and about his character. Just the connections he has in the Central Lakes Conference, at the high school, and with Scearcy, he went through that system.
“We’re excited to get a baseball guy. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does. I will work with him. Baseball is his love and it’s his dream to coach college baseball. Hopefully, he sets his stamp on this program. As an AD, I will do everything I can to help him out.”
Eller, 26, takes over a program that went 0-31 in 2011 but began to right itself this spring. Eller’s brother, Grant, gets married this weekend. When Eller returns he will begin recruiting.
“Guys that win put in the time, and that’s what I will do,” Eller said. “Guys who play for me will be hard-workers, good students, good people off the field. I think that translates to success on the field.
“I’ve been away from Brainerd the last eight years. It’s good to be back,” Eller said. “I’m definitely looking forward to putting in the hard work around people I know. Hopefully, we can put something out there (the community is) proud of and we win some games.”
At St. Scholastica, Eller helped the Saints to four NCAA region tournaments.
As a senior in 2008, he batted .443 in 36 games with 11 doubles, five home runs and 36 RBIs and was named first team all-conference.
During his junior season, Eller led the team with a .429 average and hit 14 doubles, 12 triples, three home runs and led the team with 58 RBIs.
For the Saints, he was a two-time all-conference outfielder, conference player of the year as a junior, all-region his junior and senior years, a preseason All-American his senior year and was the regional’s most outstanding player his senior year.
At BHS, he was a two-time all-conference selection and played in the Lions All-Star Series.
Following graduation from St. Scholastica, Eller attended tryout camps for the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, as well as trying out for a independent league teams. Those experiences motivated him to coach.
“The White Sox (tryout) went well,” he said. “A scout told me they would contact me, but the call never came. It’s something that happens in the baseball world. That motivated me to keep working after it didn’t work out.
“I had a tryout with an independent team the summer after I graduated from St. Scholastica but they weren’t looking for a player my style. They wanted more of a big, power hitter, and they didn’t sign me either.
“About six months after that, when I was working and not in baseball shape, I was offered another tryout, but I decided the job I was doing at the time was too much to give up. Looking back now, I kind of wish I would have went and did that but at the time it didn’t feel right.
“Coaching drove me to push kids to make sure they don’t have any regrets or what ifs.”
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.