College coaches seldom open a door to welcome an athlete seeking a place to play a senior season.
Most fear that any athlete needing a program for only one year is carrying too much baggage to get through the door even if it was open. The potential for chaos in the dressing room and off of the field is often far greater than the promise of success such a player might bring.
Lipscomb University baseball coach Jeff Forehand opened the door not once, but three times this year. He added shortstop Jorge “Jo Jo” Gutierrez, left fielder Blake Bratcher and left-handed pitcher Michael Dunn. Gutierrez and Bratcher have both been starters this season. Dunn is the third starter in the rotation for Atlantic Sun games.
All three have been major contributors to the Bisons, posting 21-18 record overall and a 15-9 mark in the A-Sun, good enough for second place with three conference series remaining.
“Some coaches push those players away,” said Forehand. “I kind of welcome those types of players. All three have been not only good additions on the field for us, but three of our team leaders as well. It is all about the experience these guys bring to a league that is really tough. There is no substitute for that experience.”
The toughest part of the transition for each player was convincing their new teammates they belong in a purple and gold uniform.
“When a guy comes in for one year, first impressions at fall practice are important,” said Forehand. “The rest of the guys are going to watch how a new player like that goes about his business.
“They all three know what they have to do to make themselves better personally. They are also great team guys. They transferred here to have great senior seasons individually, but they also want to move on in the postseason and keep on playing as long as they can.”
The key to signing the trio was the fact that Forehand knew the history of each player. He had recruited Gutierrez and Bratcher while he was still the baseball coach at Trevecca Nazarene. He knew about Dunn because he was playing at Austin Peay State University. In addition, his father, Philip Dunn, is a Lipscomb alum.
“They all three came in here with an intangible that draws people to them,” Forehand said. “It allowed them to quickly be let into being a part of a new team.
“Jo Jo made an impact that was huge as far as being one of the biggest leaders on our team both vocally on the field and as a good presence off of the field.”
Gutierrez has also earned a great deal of additional respect from his teammates for the way he has overcome adversity this season. He was hit on his wrist by a pitched ball in the first Atlantic Sun series of the season against Belmont. Despite the injury, he has started all 39 games.
Gutierrez is from Miami. He made the transition to the Bisons from UAB. He is batting .296 with 12 doubles, two home runs and 24 runs batted in.
“His wrist injury is holding him back,” Forehand said. “If he wasn’t hurt he would be flirting with a .400 average instead of a .300 average.”