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With a new leader in the dugout, baseball is ready for a fresh start

Ben Greenspan makes his Northwestern debut as the Wildcats begin the season at Tulane and Duke
ben greenspan
Previously named one of NCAA baseball’s top assistant coaches to watch, Ben Greenspan has played a key role in recruiting and developing top prospects and Major League Baseball stars at each stop on the way to Northwestern. Photo by Northwestern Athletics

After a long winter, few things are as heartening as the crack of the bat and a new baseball season. At Northwestern, that sense of renewal is embodied in head coach Ben Greenspan who was hired last fall to take over the Wildcats.

Previously named one of NCAA baseball’s top assistant coaches to watch by D1 Baseball, Greenspan has played a key role in recruiting and developing top prospects and Major League Baseball stars at each stop in his coaching journey, which has included Michigan, Cal Poly, Arizona State and Indiana.

At Northwestern, there’s excitement in the air as Greenspan takes over a team looking to improve. He took time out recently from pre-season preparations to talk with Northwestern Now about his early impressions, his previous stops and his vision for the upcoming season.

What do you feel is the assignment as you begin your tenure here?

My job is to work within the framework of the Northwestern University mission and build a program that everyone can be proud of.

You’ve been here only a short time, but is there anything in particular you’ve come to love already?

I’d say how close-knit our head coaches are. The ways we support each other by attending a game or sending a text after a big win.

I’ve learned a lot from softball coach Kate Drohan. She was extraordinary during my interview process. She’s provided a real blueprint for us in a similar sport in a northern climate that has been really competitive on the national stage. The environment she created — I think there’s an authenticity, such a genuine care for the student-athletes. And that's what I aspire to build here. I want our student-athletes to feel how much we care about them as people first and players second.

You’re known as an exceptional recruiter. So, what is the Northwestern pitch? And can you recruit MLB prospects here?

It’s not a pitch as much as an honesty session. There are so many great things about Northwestern that we can highlight: an unbelievable education in an amazing city, and you can play ball at the highest level. I hope for all of our players that their first job is in professional baseball. But if it’s not, they’re set up to do well in life.

And, yes, we absolutely can recruit big league prospects here. People make the place. And, we have great people here. We’re also fortunate to have all the resources we need to develop these players into the people we know they can become.

At Indiana, you coached Kyle Schwarber, a member of the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series team. He credits you for some of the lessons he’s learned on the way up. Can you explain?

He probably taught me more than I taught him. We focused on continued development day after day. Always trying to attack a deficiency while maintaining a strength. Kyle Schwarber has such an incredible impact on every clubhouse he’s in. The respect he has from his teammates and his coaches. His lightheartedness in a sport filled with negativity. A lot of what he has today he already had at Indiana, like that clutch gene.

The Foundation: Go behind the scenes with Northwestern baseball and new coach Ben Greenspan.

How would you preview this year’s Wildcats?

The strength of this team is its versatility among position players, with some good returning bats. A few questions in terms of our pitching depth, and a battle at catcher.

Some of the players we’re going to count on are infielders Owen McElfatrick, who has the potential to make a big jump and become a breakout player, Tony Livermore and Vince Bianchina. Garrett Shearer is in his first year, and I’ll give him the ball in the most critical situations to go win us a game. Also in their first year are outfielder Jackson Freeman and infielder Griffin Mills. Starters Matt McClure and Luke Benneche will help anchor our pitching staff.

Tyler Ganus, a transfer from Oregon, is a real program-changer. He’s really separated himself in terms of building culture, getting the respect of his teammates and so on.

As the spring schedule begins, what progress points are you looking for?

I’d say we want to establish our identity on offense. Put balls in play and give ourselves a chance to score runs. On the mound, it’s simple: throw strikes. Play clean baseball. This game has been around for a long time, and I don't believe in trying to reinvent the wheel. Of course, there will be growing pains. We know that. But it all comes down to things we can control, like how we handle adversity and failure.

Can you talk about the coaching staff?

This is a younger group for the most part. I was looking for people with the right values, so we can grow the program and grow together as coaches.

Our hitting coach, Tyler Rost, was director of player development at Duke. I wanted someone from a similar institution that, historically, had not been a baseball powerhouse. It has since become one of the elite programs in the country, and Tyler helped build it.

Our pitching coach, Ben Keizer, was a pitcher at Michigan and captain of the team that played for the 2019 national championship.

Brian Anderson helps with the outfielders and the offense. He won the World Series with the White Sox. He’s the only big leaguer on our staff, and he’s important because he can teach our players a lot about what he’s learned along the way.

Northwestern baseball opens the 2024 season this weekend with a three-game series at Tulane in New Orleans. The Wildcats also will travel to Duke Feb. 23-25, Bethune-Cookman March 1-3, Louisville March 8-10, UTSA March 16-17, Texas A&M Corpus Christi March 19-20, and McNeese State March 22-24 during non-conference play.

Greenspan and the Wildcats will make their 2024 home debut against Northern Illinois on March 26 at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.