New coach at HB

Staff photo by TOM KING New Hollis Brookline baseball coach Rich Loftus is hoping to have a focused team for the 2017 season.

HOLLIS – The new coach at Hollis Brookline High School is very old school.

There’s been a changing of the guard on the diamond at Hollis Brookline. Alum Ryan Coulter had guided the Cavalier baseball program for 18 years, but the administration ultimately – without revealing why – decided that it was time for a change.

Enter Rich Loftus, a former Nashua South assistant who is ready to carve out his own program.

“There’s a lot of things that are established, and I need to work on what I’m going to do,” Loftus said. “I’d be lucky to have it for (18) years.”

But make no mistake, the 60-year-old Loftus will do things his way, and that way is a very traditional one.

“I’m an older guy,” he said. “Oh yeah, we’re going to try and play the right way, be gentlemen first, have character athletes, be student-athletes. If we do that … and work hard, then I think we’ll win some games, win our fair share.”

Loftus has wanted to be a head coach for a while at the high school level. A para educator at South, he owned the indoor/outdoor Nashua Baseball Academy in Hollis for the last dozen years before recently selling it, although he’s staying on to help run it for a year. There he ran and coached an AAU program, the Nashua Knights. In fact, the Cavaliers would work out at the Academy in emergency situations. Also, he’s been a unified soccer/basketball coach at South.

So we’re not talking about a coaching novice, here. But while baseball has been part of his whole life, we’re also talking about a Haverhill, Mass., native who didn’t play college baseball but rather was a two-year captain as a linebacker/fullback at Fitchburg State.

But his wife objected to their sons playing football, so Loftus’ time coaching began in local youth baseball circles. Thus he’s certainly no stranger to the local baseball community – and many of his current players. That familiarity has been huge.

“Most of them played in my AAU program when they were 12, 13, 14, so I know a lot of them,” Loftus, who also had been in food service sales for some 25 years, said.

“We’ve gone over (to the Baseball Academy) as part of the high school team to hit or a lot of us played there when we were younger,” Cavaliers senior pitcher-third baseman Nick Corsetti said. “So we’ve all known him for a good while. It was nice that it’s somebody we knew and guys were receptive to it. I think it’s worked out.”

Corsetti said the offseason change caught some players by surprise when they first heard about it a few months ago. Over the last 18 years under Coulter the Cavs won one state title (2007), been to two finals, and were in the Division II semis as recently as 2014. But they are focused on moving ahead.

“We’ve got a guy who’s looking to make some changes, get some wins here,” Corsetti said, “and we’re looking forward to the season.”

Loftus started the Baseball Academy because back in 2004 to basically create his own indoor facility for his sons to play, as there weren’t any in the area at that time.

Loftus knows that coaching high school players is an art all to itself.

“You have to respect them, you have to treat them like young men,” he said. “You have to expect them to be young men, be decent citizens and contribute to society. And they get that.

“We have a talented group here, but I would venture that none of them are going to play Major League Baseball. … I would guess we’d have several college players out of the group because they are talented but mostly (Division) II or III. So we’re not creating professional baseball players but what we are creating are people who are going to have a good experience, love the game, and be contributing to society. So if they’re student-athletes, I guess I’m a teacher-coach.”

That’s a big thing for Loftus, teaching the game. Over the years, he finds that most kids get the beauty of the game. “But some kids want to pull the wagon in a different direction,” he said. “Baseball is a team sport, but an individual team sport. You’re at the plate by yourself, but most of what you do affects 22 other guys. If everyone is willing to pull the wagon in the same direction and sacrifice – there’s that baseball vernacular – a little personal glory, you’re going to be good. … If everybody’s contributing to the ‘family’ then you’re in good shape.”

What kind of teams does he want to have? It’s pretty simple, he says.

“It all comes down to pitching,” he said. “If you can throw strikes and keep the runs down on the opposition, keep them to two, three, four, then you can manufacture runs and play small ball and win games 5-4.”

Loftus said his Cavaliers will embrace small ball and practice it, but he loves a power team with sluggers as much as anyone. He’ll go by what he sees.

“If you have a kid who is good at getting on base, and can steal bases, and a guy who is willing to and is good at bunting … it pretty much depends on what the talent mix is,” he said. “If you have five, six, seven guys who are 6-foot-4 and are big bashers, then that’s the game you play. If it’s a bunch of little guys, who can run fast, then that’s the game you play. But if I had to pick, I’d take big guys who can swing away.”

The Hollis job was a natural fit for him as he teaches in the area, knows the players, and now he’s looking forward to having fun.

“I hope so,” he said. “Winning is fun. The kids have been great. We have some real good senior leaders, they came from (Coulter’s) program into this program, and they’ve been open minded. … They’re the type of guys who have been respectful and will give anyone a chance as long as you’re honest with them. I’m expecting we’re going to have a good situation and a good rapport. I’ll be honest with them, treat them fairly, we’ll work hard and no one will outwork us.”

And thus, the Rich Loftus Era for Hollis Brookline baseball is underway.