Approach. Mental preparation. Dedication. Hustle. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments, according to Coach Dan Colucci.
Lake Park Lancers Varsity Coach Colucci, 47, has been coaching at Lake Park High School since the spring of 1996. When asked to describe himself in one word in an interview at West Campus on Monday, Colucci said, “passionate.”
His passion radiates when it comes to baseball. In regards to his coaching style, Colucci said, “I like to be aggressive. The way I like to coach the game is that if you do all the little things right—if you play fundamental—the result typically works out in your favor.”
Baseball was Colucci’s first love. He started playing when he was six years old. He attended Lake Park, as well, and played baseball as a Lancer.
He then went on to play baseball at three different colleges: Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., Bellevue College in Bellevue, Neb., and then transferred to Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill. “Northern was a bigger school and it was closer to home so my parents could come out to watch me play,” Colucci said.
When he graduated from NIU, he had a degree in marketing and worked in sales. After about six months, he felt unfulfilled. “I just felt like there was something really missing cause I had played ball for my entire life and now it was gone,” said Colucci. As a result, he went back to school and earned a Master’s degree at Roosevelt University to be certified to teach.
In 1996, a position opened up at Lake Park so he started as the sophomore coach. In 1999, he became the varsity baseball coach.
Colucci said, “I know it’s cliché to say, but when I was in sales I didn’t feel like I was making a difference in anybody’s life. It just wasn’t fulfilling. So making that decision to get into teaching and coaching was something that I really had a passion for and being able to make a difference in some people’s lives.”
Whether it’s because of a former student, from 15 years back, coming out to help rake the field after a game in 30-degree weather, or the people in the community reaching out to show their appreciation for his work, Colucci works to make a difference because he is driven by his passion to do so.
“We had a clinic this Sunday, we had little munchkins—like five-year-old kids—coming in there. And I got an email from one of the parents saying thank you, and that’s why I do what I do. Overall I look at the people. The people that have been involved. That’s my takeaway. That’s the goal,” he said.
He’s not just there to get the boys to win. He’s a mentor.
When asked about what his best advice is for the boys to take away with them after high school, Colucci said, “To be personally responsible. To look at yourself in the mirror and say I am where I’m at now because of all the things I’ve done before, whether they’re good or bad. I don’t want them to finger point anywhere else. You’re not going to blame anybody else for your success, so don’t blame anybody else for your failures, because ultimately it’s you. That’s the goal.”
Colucci recognizes that there’s a lot of ways to do what is right and that his way might not always be what’s best for the player. So when a player doesn’t follow his advice but is successful, then that’s sufficient for him. Results are what the coach really looks for. “But if players are having issues and are not coachable, then you have to go to the next man up, unfortunately, and they have to learn to make adjustments,” he said.
As for parents—“We’ve been lucky. We’ve been lucky,” Colucci said. “We typically have a pre-season meeting. We lay out the ground rules and how the parents can approach us, how they can talk to us. The rules are if they have something nice to say, they can say it anytime. Anything else, call or email to set up an appointment and sit down to talk face to face. Don’t have that conversation before or after games where emotions are high and people are busy.”
Colucci teaches AP economics and accounting, and monitors the players’ grades. In the beginning of the year when they do their cuts, he looks at the last couple of kids on the team that he’s thinking of keeping and it comes down to hustle. If two players are equal athletically, then he takes the kid that is more dedicated to the sport and academics. Academic eligibility factors in.
When it comes to his own mentor, he doesn’t have just one.
“I would say I gain a lot of that knowledge from playing against the incredible coaches that I coach against here in high school, rather than the ones from the MLB,” said Colucci.
He likes to learn things from a lot of different coaches and pick up certain strategies that stand out to him. He’s been doing it his whole life.
“What I found, and this isn’t my philosophy, but most games are lost and not won. So if you could prevent yourself from losing a game and making errors and making big mistakes that can cost you the game—by limiting that—you’re going to have the better chance of coming out on top at the end of the game.”
Colucci followed his own advice and came out on top in the end by not making the big mistake of staying in sales. Imagine if he didn’t go back to coaching baseball. That would’ve been a strikeout for him. Instead, he hit a home run.
by Bella Michaels