Senior Jake Garella tried his best to wrap his arms around Edwardsville High’s remarkable streak of 37 consecutive 20-win baseball seasons.
“We kind of forget about it sometimes, it’s just such a crazy number to think about it — but it’s also kind of normal around here,” said Garella, a pitcher-shortstop and Division I prospect. “There’s so much talent that’s come through here and the coaching staff’s unbelievable, it always has been. It’s unreal and it’s great to be a part of too. You absolutely love it.”
The streak began when current head coach Tim Funkhouser was a bat boy for father Bill Funkhouser’s 26-9-1 club in 1980 that reached the state tournament.
It continued under Hall of Fame coach Tom Pile through a pair of state championships (1990, 1998) and a state-record 64-game winning streak during the 1990 and 1991 seasons.
The winning continued after Tim Funkhouser took over the program in 1998. The current Tigers are 24-4 with an 11-game winning streak dating back to a 12-2 loss to O’Fallon on April 14.
“Consistency is probably your best word for all of it,” said Funkhouser, a Hall of Fame coach who sent 10 players into the college ranks from his 2015 squad. “We’ve had a lot of good players over the years. The coaches put in the time and we have the support from the community to give you a chance each year. Ultimately the players have got to go out an make plays, make pitches, put a good swings on a ball.
“It’s the approach in practice and the philosophy that’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
The success that began under Bill Funkhouser continued under Pile, an iconic personality nicknamed “Moto” who valued hard work above all else.
“How do you beat people? You outwork them and you out-think them,” Pile said. “You’ve got to be able to have the guts to pull the strings and you’ve got to have the kids buy into the program. They don’t have to love you or like you, but they’ve got to respect you and they’ve got to buy in.”
Success for the long haul
How does Edwardsville’s 37-year streak of 20-win seasons stack up with other metro-east teams?
O’Fallon has the second-longest stretch at 14 straight 20-win seasons. Nashville has eight, Columbia has seven and Alton has six.
Here are a few more numbers to consider with the Tigers from 1980 to 2016:
▪ 17 30-win seasons, including six in a row from 1999 to 2004.
▪ 25 regional titles and 13 sectional titles.
▪ 11 state tournament trips; won state titles in 1990 and 1998; finished second in 1991 and 2002.
▪ 15 players in pro ball, including former major-leaguers Mark Little, Jason Boyd and Justin Hampson.
▪ 10 All-Americans.
“Once you step out on the field with that uniform on at Tom Pile Field, there’s no better emotion,” Garella said.
Winning 20 games isn’t the important achievement, it’s being able to do it year after year after year with completely different types of teams and talent levels.
The Tigers are also doing it while playing in the highly competitive Southwestern Conference, which is regarded as being the top conference south of Chicago. They are doing it while playing a nonconference schedule that typically includes most of the top teams in the metro-east and St. Louis region and other teams from outside the region.
“That really says lot,” Funkhouser said. “I think our players are kind of conditioned to bring it each day. Some teams may circle Edwardsville on the calendar and we’ve got to realize that every day we’ve got to come ready.”
Waldo works wonders
Perhaps the most important number in the 37-year streak is one — as in one pitching coach.
That would be Mike Waldo, whose diligent work through the years simply cannot be overlooked when it comes to the success of the program.
Waldo began his baseball coaching career as a volunteer assistant in 1980 and has been a strong presence through more than 1,000 Tiger baseball wins since.
“He developed, he grew and had all the right stuff to be a good coach,” said Pile, who also credited the work done by long-time Edwardsville assistant and former Triad head coach Darrell Butler. “We got a lot done.”
“I don’t know if there’s a formula or anything, it’s more ‘this is how we’re working together,’’’ Tim Funkhouser said. “Coach Waldo’s been a steady force throughout that whole run. He spends a lot of time with the pitchers and has the same expectations he had whenever he started in 1980. I don’t know if we have a so-called Tiger way, but we want the guys to achieve the best they can each day. You can achieve a lot of individual success while you have team success.”
Edwardsville’s last losing record was a 12-13 mark in 1971 —and the Tigers still won their regional that year.
The last time Edwardsville didn’t win at least 20 games was 1979 (14-12).
Waldo’s blue-collar pitching program enables him to work as well with elite-level pitchers like the future major leaguers and pro players like Boyd and Hampson. He also did quality work with college prospects like former Saint Louis University standout Ben Hutton (45 career wins from 1995-98), former Notre Dame and minor league pitcher Tom Price (32-1 career record) and former minor-league and University of Missouri standout Nathan Culp (35 career wins from 2000-03).
Perhaps just as importantly, Waldo has found success with players who never threw a pitch in college ball, or maybe found their way onto the mound staff at a Division II or III or NAIA program.
“He’ll take a very average pitcher and he’ll make them pretty decent,” Pile said of Waldo. “Half of it’s believing and if you want to work. If a guy’s got a little bit of talent and wants to work, he’s going to be good at Edwardsville as long as Mike Waldo’s there — and he’s been there since 1980. If he gets a good pitcher, he’s going to be real good. And if you get a really good pitcher, even better.”
At least two former Edwardsville pitchers have taken what they’ve learned to their own jobs as pitching coaches. Nick Seibert is the successful pitching coach at O’Fallon High and Jon Goebel is the pitching coach at Parkland College in Champaign.
“Growing up in Edwardsville, any kid that played baseball idolized the current players on the varsity team,” Seibert said. “I can remember wanting to be (former Tigers and Missouri State catcher) J.J. Scerba as a kid. When you attended summer camps, a tradition was passed down by the current players to the youth of all ages on doing things the Tiger Way.”
Waldo’s approach doesn’t work with everyone. But Garella said it won’t be for a lack of hard work and trying.
“He’s an incredibly hard worker and that just rubs off on every pitcher that goes through his routine,” Garella said. “It’s unreal how it rubs off from him to the other players. He pushes guys in ways that they didn’t know they could be pushed, which is a good thing. He gets every ounce of baseball out of them.”
Garella said the decades of previous Waldo success create a competitive work environment.
“As long as he’s been doing this and the success that he’s had, they trust him because they know it’s going to work,” Garella said. “I can get into my own head when something’s not going well. The biggest thing he taught me is that the mistake’s over, you’ve got to worry about making that next pitch great. You can’t change what’s happened in the past, strive to get the next guy out.”
Building a program
The current state-of-the art baseball facility known as Tom Pile Field was constructed much like the baseball program itself, with years of hard work, patience and dedication.
Pile was a tireless backer of the project, but had plenty more support throughout the community with former players and parents, local businesses and former Edwardsville Superintendent Ed Hightower.
“We built a tremendous baseball field and a tremendous complex, but baseball is what did that,” Pile said.
Funkhouser was a talented shortstop on Pile’s first state title team in 1990.
“He had a big impact on our program and an impact on me as well,” Tim Funkhouser said. “I know a lot of the years after I finished (coaching) it seemed we needed a little bit more ‘Moto’ in our team, we needed to scrap and get after it. We always want to keep that grit and grind and that blue-collar mentality that he would instill in the players back then. That’s one thing we always want to carry on and my dad had a lot of guys like that as well.”
Funkhouser is just one of numerous baseball coaches to come out of the Tigers’ system.
The list includes Seibert and Goebel, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville coach Danny Jackson, Triad High coach Jesse Bugger and assistant Sam Drake, former Valmeyer and Nashville High coach Dave Vieth, Shaun Seibert and Dave Crouthers, among others.
O’Fallon Panthers coach Jason Portz was an assistant coach under Pile at Edwardsville before becoming one of the area’s top coaches.
One of most important aspects of the Edwardsville baseball traditions has been each generation passing what it has learned onto the next. It might be through summer camps, coaching local youth teams or former players taking time to visit practices or games.
“Even when I played guys would come back after their college seasons and the pro players would also stop by,” Funkhouser said. “You’ve seen guys have success before you and you want to help build off that. When we won our state championship in 1990, I think a lot of kids that came to camp that summer had a vision of ‘we want to be part of something special’ like that.”’
Funkhouser recalled a recent visit from former Tigers teammate John Droste.
“He didn’t need to, but he came and spent an hour and 15 minutes here,” Funkhouser said. “We introduced him to some of our guys, showed him the locker room and he was able to see what Edwardsville baseball is like 25 years later. It’s fun we have guys that check out how things are going and that serve as links to the past.”
Belleville News-Democrat High School Baseball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Sunday.
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Belleville East (20-9), Freeburg (21-6), Collinsville (14-12), Columbia (16-10), Civic Memorial (15-12-1), Highland (11-14)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Mater Dei (4)
Also receiving votes: Dupo (14-7), Althoff (11-7), Gibault (12-15), Wesclin (12-11), Okawville (14-13-1)