Coach Interview Series: Nicholas Derba (University of Maine)
Where did you grow up and what is your playing background?
I grew up in College Point, a town in Queens, New York. I played at Archbishop Molloy High School (Briarwood, NY), then Manhattan College (Riverdale, NY), and then six seasons with St. Louis Cardinals. I played two and a half seasons in Triple A with the Memphis Redbirds mainly as a catcher. I also played three summers in the Cape Cod Baseball League all with the Chatham Athletics.
What made you want to become a coach?
During my final season with Memphis I found myself working with players rather than competing against them. Even though playing in the Big Leagues was something that I wanted, I didn’t feel that I was meant to do so. Teaching the game of baseball was something I always enjoyed and as my playing career began to end, I became more involved in the teaching side.
After several offers to attend Spring Training, I decided that a career in coaching was where I needed to be. To have the chance to help young men get better at something they love, while helping develop them into contributing members of society is more fulfilling to me than to have reached the Big Leagues as a player. I can remember my high school and college coaches and I only hope to be as good of a mentor and teacher as they were for me.
Who has been your biggest mentor and what is the most important thing you’ve learned?
My parents, Jack Curran and John Schiffner are/were the most important mentors in my life. They were teachers and always instilled some basic ethics such as hard work, perseverance and altruism. They truly cared about the players/students that they had. Their life’s work was dedicated to helping the youth to reach their personal goals and in many cases surpass them. They are legends for this very reason. They are admired by many and loved by most. My wife is a major inspiration for me at this point. She, of all people, has shown me the true meaning of chasing a goal and never looking back.
Who is one of your current or previous players that you’re most proud of helping improve and how did you do it?
Through my limited coaching experience I only have a few players that I can draw from. Connor Joe of the University of San Diego would have to be my #1 at this point. I had the privilege of coaching him during the summer of 2013 where he came in as a raw 3B that was starting to catch. Connor developed throughout the summer and will most likely be among the best catchers in the country this year. I gave Connor the information that he needed and with all of my players I give them my time. I am available for any player at any time. I firmly believe that coaching, like catching, is a selfless job. My desire to learn allows me to teach. I make it known to all of my players that I am willing to work as much as they want to. So to answer the question, I taught.
Other players who I like to believe I’ve helped were during my playing days. Trevor Rosenthal, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Mikael Cleto are a few notable names that I have been lucky enough to catch and work with. Bryan Anderson, catcher in the Angels organization, is another player that I was lucky enough to play with and help with catching. As for the hitting side, I was always in conversations with Matt Adams and Mark Hamilton and many others. They helped mold my view points on hitting approaches and have allowed me to grow as a coach.
What helps you determine a prospect’s character, work ethic, and competitiveness?
From the second I get to the field I am judging a player’s worth ethic and character. The athletic side is easy to see. It is literally in front of you for the whole world to see. The number one thing I want to see is if the player is having fun. If you like what you do you will go to any end to get better. If you enjoy what you do competing and working hard merely come with the territory.
How long have you been on FieldLevel and why did you join?
I have been on FieldLevel for two years. I joined because it allows me to get a closer look at the players than on any website I have seen. They are great with technical support and are open to suggestions. Their business model puts getting players in the right place first. It is a much easier way for coaches to get in touch with other coaches nationwide.