Bernardini ready for Rivier baseball season to start

NASHUA – Louie Bernardini knows all about throwing a two-seam fastball.

But his transition from pitching/associate head coach to taking over the Rivier University baseball program as its new head coach is basically seamless.

When Bernerdini, the former Daniel Webster College head baseball coach, joined the Rivier staff three years ago, then-head man Anthony Perry pretty much knew his eventual successor was on board.

“Yeah, something like that,” Bernardini said. “He had aspirations of being in administration, and he had an opportunity to do so at Fisher (College), so he took it, which was right for him.”

“And, I let Joanne and Rivier know right away that I was interested in taking over,” Bernardini added. “So, it was pretty seamless.”

And now, as the new Raiders head baseball coach, he begins practice/workouts this week, with the hope that after the 2020 season was scrapped one Florida trip in due to the pandemic, that this spring, the Raiders can play a season locally. The Great Northeast Athletic Conference is expecting to meet and discuss preliminary plans and the pros and cons for a spring season in the coming week. Sources say no final decision would likely be made then, but anything is possible.

In any event, Bernardini, who found himself without a team a few years ago when DWC closed its doors, is back running a college baseball program again.

“It feels spectacular,” he said. “I love it. I love every part of it. I love interacting, I love leading the players, I love interacting with the parents, the families, the alumni, I love chiming in at the administrative level at athletic meetings, I love helping my colleagues, helping the school overall.”

As Bernardini explained, as an assistant or associate head, every aspect of the job is player-based, “and that’s it.

But there’s a lot more that comes with being the head coach, and I’m excited about that part, too.”

And there’s a reason for that.

“These guys (at Riv) make it easy for that,” he said about the additional duties. “In general, the type of people at Riv are just quality people. People you want to be around, which is going to make it easy for me to build a coaching staff that fits into that culture, and the players fit into that, they’re great people and their families are great people.

“It’s not a mixed bag of personalities that are conflicted.”

Bernardini missed being a head coach. Midway through his third year removed from DWC, “I really had the itch and started poking around.”

In fact, Bernardini was offered a head job at a Division II school in the region but turned it down. There was the battle in his mind of being a head coach again with all that comes with it, vs. the family life he had begun to enjoy living in the area with his wife and kids.

And around the same time, Perry was starting to help out the athletic administration at Fisher, his alma mater, with a few things in what little spare time he had, and made it known to Bernardini that it might eventually turn into something.

“I had the relationships at Riv, I had the rapport with the players,” Bernerdini said, “so I didn’t want to go anywhere.”

So he sat tight and it paid off. “I want to put my players first,” he said, noting Rivier gives him the best chance to do that.

Bernardini will be guiding the new waters of the GNAC, which might be a tad tougher than what he saw at Daniel Webster in the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC). But remember, he’s already aware of that, having coached in the Riv dugout for two seasons before the pandemic shelved last season after about 10 games.

“We’re going to compete regardless of who they put on the field,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s Colby Sawyer, or Keene, or the Red Sox or the Yankees. Again, I can’t reiterate enough the high quality person that’s playing on this team. They don’t care who they’re playing. They give it their all every single time. When it comes to who we’re playing, being competitive and finding a way to win are two different stories.

“In terms of finding a way to win, we slowly adjusted philosophies here over the last two years. The guys have a full understanding of why the phiosophy needed to change to give us a better chance of winning baseball games, not just competing. So I think in the next, after two or three recruiting classes, we’ll be one of the stronger teams in the conference.”

What was that philosophy change?

“You’re going to give my secrets away to my competitors,” Bernardini said, chuckling. “Intropesctive, you have to project confidence. You have to control the tempo of the game, and you have to make the hitters swing the bat. There’s a big difference between letting the other team swing and making them swing.

Those are three core philosophies on the pitching side: project confidence, control tempo, make the opponents swing the bat.”

Does it mean a change in the type of players that Bernardini will recruit?

No, he won’t substitute talent over character. “But I’ll always reach for a player who has the talent to compete at a higher level,” he said. “But the philosophy doesn’t change. When you fully understand the difference between letting a hitter swing the bat and making him swing the bat, and owning control of the entire baseball game, you pitch differently. You pitch more competitively. And your defense, your teammates love having you on the mound. If you’re pitching to contact, the faster they get into the dugout to hit. It creates a fun, fast-paced baseball game.”

What does Bernardini think the potential is for the program?

“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “We have a great foundation of kids and culture. I couldn’t ask for better men to be part of the program in terms of players. They are dedicated, they are hard working, they’re good people, which is the most important thing. I don’t have any headaches in terms of managing things off the field.”

Bernardini says all the signs are pointing upward. There’s new people in overall administration surrounding longtime athletic director Joanne Merrill, including new VP of Enrollment Paul Brower. And don’t forget the school has added men’s and women’s hockey.

“That’s what we want our recruits to see,” he said. “In 2021, most schools are cutting back, and we’re adding. It shows the health of the university and the health of athletics.”

Of course, what Bernardini will also show recruits are the two homes for Riv baseball that aren’t on campus – Holman Stadium, which is available to the Raiders at times for the last two or three weeks of the season beginning in mid-April, and Harvey Woods Field on the DWC campus. Riv, mainly through the relationship Bernardini has had with the new owners and caretakers of the property, has used and maintained Bernardini’s former home the last couple of years. Bernardini says Riv takes that opportunity “one year at a time, and if there’s a way, we’ll make it happen.”

And it’s a stop on the tour for recruits.

“I’ll show them right on the map,” Bernardini said. “This is Holman Stadium, where we play our home games in April, this is Harvey Woods, where we play our home games in March, how when I was at Daniel Webster it was my field.”

Bernardini says he looks forward to increasing Riv baseball’s relationship with the city of Nashua and increasing the team’s presence at Holman, not just in terms of games.

“Adding our logo to the dugout was huge,” he said. “It marks a territory for baseball. It’s home for us, and we want to treat it as home. I look forward to building that relationship and increasing our presence at Holman whenever possible.

“It’s easily hands-down the nicest facility in the conference; it’s just a matter of being transparent that it’s not ours, it’s just available to us, and we’d like to play as many conference games there as we can. That would make a big difference in recruiting.”

Because, as Bernardini said, the top reason a recruit chooses a school is because it has the major he or she wants, the second is facility. And number three is the coach.

“You bring a recruit on campus and you have the major, you check that box,” he said. “You walk them over to Holman Stadium, you check that box. You offer them a spot, you check that box. It would facilitate things from a recruiting standpoint if we increase our presence at Holman and be part of what Nashua baseball fans are proud of.”

Bernardini has been in the area five years, and says he’s still getting to know people, network, etc., “and I need to continue to do that.”

Meanwhile, he’s entrenched at Rivier.

“I’m really enjoying getting to know some alumni that have reached out to me since the change, and they’re great people,” Bernardini said. “They’re excited about the future. Like I said, great foundation of culture and people. Sky’s the limit.”

Bernardini’s arrival at Riv three years ago was certainly the right move, for both sides.

“It was a good fit, in terms of what the program needed from a pitching perspective,” Bernardini said. “I was able to chime in with my expertise on pitching so Coach Perry and I were able to work well together those brief couple of years, developing a new philosphy of offensive and pitching strategy, which should just snowball with all the new recruits we’ll bring in over the years.

“That should make for a great foundation.”

Bernardini isn’t too worried about the immediate future, taking things one day at a time as if there aren’t games, there will be constant zoom meetings, lifting programs, etc. “Our relationship is so strong player to player, coach to player, we would just keep going.”

And then players, like last year, would decide on whether to take a grad year or semester off to get a year of eligibility back.

“It wouldn’t hurt our culture or how we mesh as a team,” he said. “We’re strong in that department because we’ve got such good people. You can’t throw this train off the tracks just by adversity.”

Meanwhile, he wants his players playing in the off-season, meaning summer baseball. Either Legion ball for the freshmen, or summer collegiate level baseball for the upperclassmen, whether it be a league like the Futures League or some type of 25-and-under league at a minimum.

“Some leagues are very expensive,” Bernardini said, generally speaking. “Sometimes you have to throw down a lot of money for a uniform, a host family, food and things like that, plus you have to get a job on top of it.

“Some aren’t ideal, as opposed to the ones that do it right like the Cape, the New England Collegiate Baseball League, or the Futures League, where the players are taken care of.

“I want them all to find a place to play in the summer, 100 percent, whatever that means. If we have guys who are talented enough to play Futures League or NECBL, I will be on my network about getting a player signed.”

Any new coach will want to bring their own ideas. What does Bernardini want to change over the next year or two?

“We need to completely master the fundamentals,” Bernardini said. “Not only execute the fundamentals, but teach them to the guy next to them or behind them in line. Once we can master the fundamentals, we can move forward with more complex strategy.”

Bernardini has always had a simple saying for college baseball.

“I’ve always said college baseball games are always lost,” he said. “Ninety percent of college baseball games are lost, not one. It’s errors, or walks, or hit-by-pitches. It’s fundamentals, it’s mental mistakes, it’s missing a cutoff man that leads to an extra run. Passed balls that lead to an extra run. Not covering a base, and a baserunner takes an extra bag. Those little things add up, you lose by three, and you could’ve won the game 2-0.”

And he feels that way about every Division, from I through III.

DWC was Bernardini’s first head job. What did he learn about life as a head coach? A gradual move to establishing his culture, instead of immediate imposition.

“The power of the people around you,” he said. “As a head coach going in, you want to wipe the slate clean and do everything your way.

“What I learned was I can gain a lot more if I go in and use what I have, use my current resources, and slowly adjust those resources. Adjust their line of sight and their concentration in a way that will slowly evolve what I expect things to be and things to run.”

At DWC, he was 29 when he took over, and he indeed did try to wipe the slate clean. “It wasn’t a failure,” he said, “guys bought in and were excited about the change, but had I survived five years, we might not have won a conference championship as quickly as I wanted to.”

And now? He plans on making a slow evolution “from what we are to what we want to be. … It’s got to be an evolution. It’s got to happen slowly.”

This year, master the fundamentals and compete, if there are games. Year two, with incoming freshmen, make “a quarter turn toward change.” Year three, a 180 turn, and by year four or five, he says, “a complete 360.”

However, keep in mind that Bernardini, while certainly recruiting at DWC, did not recruit in his previous position at Riv, just player development.

“Big plans for recruiting,” he said. “Get our numbers up. There’s power in numbers. When there’s two or three guys at each position competing for that job, everybody gets better.”

And that’s the plan for Bernardini at Rivier.

“It feels seamless right now,” Bernardini said. “I’m excited.”