By Jacob Knabel
A small dry erase board inside a cubicle tucked away in the upper reaches of the Robert and Ruth Kehl Center on the campus of Clarke University signals the beginning of a new era in Clarke baseball. The board's penmanship, written in red marker for freshly signed prospects and black marker for targeted recruits, is the work of new head coach Dan Spain.
Spain, officially promoted to head coach on May 17, wasted little time adding red ink to the board. The almost immediate commitment of a former local prep baseball standout drew surprise from some in the Dubuque baseball community and gave instant credibility to the Spain hire.
Less than a month on the job, the Delmar, Iowa, native was giddy to scrawl "Andrew Redman" across the white board in red. The acquisition of the former Hempstead all-state right-handed pitcher and Key West Ramblers teammate marked the first major coup for Spain.
"That was my plan right away, to go out and find the biggest name guy around the area and do whatever I can to land him," Spain said. "Thank God Andrew Redman is a kid that I've known for many years.
"I saw this coming a long time ago, as far as him being a great player. That has mostly everything to do with his character. He's a great fit, personality wise and everything. He's just a great fit for what Clarke needs and what we're about."
Redman, who went 6-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 72.1 innings pitched at Iowa Central Community College this past season, relished the opportunity to play for someone he bonded with when the pair joined forces for the Ramblers in 2007. The two now look forward to transitioning to a player-coach relationship.
"It's going to be different," Redman said. "I've always just known him as ‘Spainer.' Now it's going to be ‘Coach Spain.' It's going to be a different transition. He's a guy that you look at as a friend, but you respect him as a coach because he's older than you and he knows more about the game."
It's this ability to relate to prospective collegiate athletes plus an outstanding reputation that permeates the tri-state area and beyond that has already made Spain a recruiting dynamo. These traits have provided a shot in the arm for Clarke. Along with Redman, Spain will welcome fellow Iowa Central transfer pitcher Jordan Hohensee to the mix in 2013.
"I guess we've kind of shocked the community a little bit with some of the recruits we've been able to land," Spain said. "But my side of it is I expect to get guys like that. I expect to get the best players around Dubuque. It's not really a shock to me.
"We're an NAIA school. We offer athletic scholarships. No one else in our area does that. We should be able to get the best players in Dubuque. My main thing is to have the community buy in to what Clarke baseball is all about and what this university represents."
Spain's obvious passion for the university and the surrounding community won over Clarke athletic director Curt Long.
"We know he's had a tremendous baseball playing experience in the area," Long said. "People know him and respect him, and he's well connected with the fine players and recruits in this area. It's a natural for him to lead our program and improve our recognition and notability."
Spain's connectivity to local talent has roots in his status as one of the top players in the tri-state area semi-pro baseball circuit. It's an arena that has put the star shortstop in the spotlight as an outstanding athlete, baseball mind and person.
"I wouldn't be in this position without Key West baseball," Spain said. "I have no doubt about that. Key West is what really made me known in the baseball world around Dubuque. Our semi-pro league is so well respected by the people that play in it and the people that come and watch in our community.
"Key West has just as much to do with me being a head coach as anything. It's been great. It's like my second family."
When Long extended the offer on the morning of May 14 to take the reins of Clarke baseball, Spain struggled to contain his excitement. For many of the hundreds of applicants for the position, the opening may have simply represented gainful employment.
For Spain, it fulfilled a dream. It was the chance to bring glory to his alma mater.
"It's an opportunity I've wanted my whole life," Spain said. "Being a young coach, I didn't expect it to come this quickly, especially with how difficult it is to find head coaching positions and how many people want this position. It's a great opportunity that I'm ready to take advantage of. I'm not satisfied with just being a head coach and just saying I'm the coach at the age of 25. I want to do something with it."
Spain inherits a roster that he admits underachieved in 2012, sinking to an overall mark of 11-31. Those close to the program are confident the results will begin to turn around.
"He's progressed and succeeded at every level," Long said of Spain. "He's a good recruiter. He's already proven that. We know that he knows the game and that the student-athletes that play for him learn from him and are eager to work for him."
No one is more eager to get the 2013 baseball season underway than Spain, who hopes to continue to wear out his red marker.
"I've been at Clarke here for four years now, one year as a player," Spain said. "My goal coming to this school was to win a championship and do something great, and I haven't had the chance to reach that goal. It's great that I have a chance to continue my career here and hopefully live out what I planned on doing from the beginning.
"I love being here."