Bittersweet is the notion.
Chris Fetter, pitching coach for Ball State's baseball program, accepted a position as a minor league pitching coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers Nov. 1.
Although Fetter only served as the Cardinals' pitching coach for the 2016 season, his impression made it no easier to say goodbye when the opportunity came up.
“On one hand, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers,” Fetter said. “It’s one of the premier organizations in baseball and a unique opportunity to step into a role that is considered one of the best jobs from a pitching standpoint in baseball. With that being said, it was bittersweet for me.”
In his season with Ball State, Fetter helped the team rank second in the Mid-American Conference with a 4.31 ERA and win the Mid-American Conference West Division title in the 2016 season.
“I had grown attached to those pitchers and players on the team,” Fetter said. “Working with them day and day out was, up to this point, one of my favorite things that I’ve ever done. I got to see guys grow and over time, you build relationships with them when you’re one-on-one in the bullpen and developing plans for all these guys, and you want to see that through.”
Fetter developed relationships with his players in just one season. However, his relationship with head coach Rich Maloney was nothing new. Fetter earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Michigan in 2009, where he also played collegiate baseball under Maloney.
A right-handed pitcher, Fetter helped the Wolverines win three Big Ten championships and advance to four NCAA regionals. He was also named a 2006 Baseball America Freshman All-American, 2008 All-American, three-time All-Big Ten selection (2006, 2008, 2009) and 2009 team captain.
“The reason why I brought him over to Ball State was because of the relationship and success we had together while he was playing for me at Michigan,” Maloney said. “[Fetter] was one of those guys that struggled his first year and we redshirted him. To his credit, he stayed the course and ended up pitching in the biggest game in Michigan’s relative history, or modern era.”
One of Maloney’s proudest memories was when Fetter pitched in the 2007 regionals against No. 1 Vanderbilt. Fetter pitched seven innings against a team that included future major leaguers David Price, Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty, striking out three and allowing two runs. Michigan won 4-3 in extra innings.
“He didn’t get drafted after that, so nothing was handed to him,” Maloney said. “However, he just kept getting better and finally got drafted to a professional baseball and then gets to be a scout and pitching coach for a couple years.”
Two years later, Fetter was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round of the 2009 MLB draft and played four years in the minor leagues. He never made it out of high-A ball as a player, but he cracked Double-A as a coach for the San Antonio Missions in 2013 San Antonio Missions.
Having experience at the collegiate and professional level, Fetter credits Maloney for his success and experiences during his baseball journey.
“More than anything, Coach Maloney is a winner,” Fetter said. “He doesn’t settle for anything less than your best. That was definitely something I picked up on right away when I was at Michigan playing for him.”
Maloney is eager to see Fetter move back to a professional organization. Fetter’s coaching style not only involves the practice of mechanics, but also the importance of building relationships with the people around him.
Senior right-handed pitcher BJ Butler, for example, looked up to Fetter. Butler finished the 2016 season third in the MAC with a 1.84 ERA and second with nine saves.
“One of my favorite memories with him is playing catch, like long tossing with him,” Butler said. “Most coaches aren’t able to long toss like that because they’re just not in the shape to be able to throw with us. If I had to throw at a separate time or if there was an uneven amount of guys, he would always throw with me. He would always be pushing us out and throwing it farther than us.”
Fetter will serve as one of the pitching coordinators for the Dodger’s minor league programs, overlooking all of the pitchers. He and his wife Jess will be moving to Phoenix, Arizona. During spring training, the Los Angeles Dodgers organization plays its home games at Camelback Ranch complex in Glendale, Arizona.
As Fetter makes this transition, he will always be thankful for the support system he will always have at Ball State — especially his former head coach.
“Rich believed in me,” Fetter said. “He let me run with the guys and for that, I will always be thankful,” Fetter said. “That’s what makes this so bittersweet.”
Maloney said Fetter might not be in the minors for too long, either.
“I’m happy for him and his wife Jess, and it’s exciting to see where the future will take them,” Maloney said. “He’s a groomed guy that will end up as a major league pitching coach at some point, is my guess.”