By Jonathan Pressley
After three losing seasons, FSW men’s baseball has become a nationally ranked program thanks to a new coach who developed the team by working individually with players.
“He is the best coach I have ever played for” said Bucs pitcher Ryan Gusto.
Gusto is one of six transfers who arrived with Ben Bizier, two-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year (2016, 2018), from Broward College.
However, Bizier didn’t recruit his former players, they followed him. He said the Broward players saw the same support for student athletes at FSW that Bizier saw and appreciated the facilities available in Fort Myers.
“I just told them I’m taking this opportunity,” Bizier said. “And they said, ‘we’re going with you.’”
Outfielder Mikey Burke played for the Bucs last year and sees a different style of play and a different method of coaching under Bizier.
“We really don’t need to necessarily rely on hits,” Burke said. “But we can still scrape away runs.”
The Bucs lead the nation with 89 stolen bases this year. They’ve scored 233 runs in 30 games, but with only 13 home runs as a team.
But when it comes to Burke, Bizier has worked to make him a stronger hitter.
“Last year I just swung for contact,” Burke said. “He likes to focus on everyone getting in there and then swinging. He uses the term ‘putting an aggressive move on the ball’ so I swing a little more for power instead of just making contact.”
Last year, FSW finished the season with an overall record of 27-29, going 12-20 in conference play. At press time, the Bucs were 24-5, and 6-2 in the conference.
Bizier played at Guilford College in North Carolina and professionally for the Pulheim Gophers in Germany.
“He was a utility player,” said Roy Allen, the sports information director at FSW. “He played all positions besides catcher and first base.”
He went to Europe after college and played for the Pulheim Gophers in Germany. It wasn’t long before the 23-year-old was asked to take on more responsibility. Two-weeks after his arrival he was a “player-coach” for the Gophers.
“Days before the game was to be played, I had already played every scenario, every situation,” Bizier said. “Because I was playing in the game as well. A situation would unfold and I was playing so I had to be prepared to match this pitcher, this defender, this guy, because I’m managing the team.”
Then, as soon as the season ended, he became general manager and head coach, while still a player on the roster.
“I got an opportunity to have a tremendous amount of trial and error” said Bizier “I learned so much just because it taught my mind to get way out in front of things.
After two years in Germany, Bizier returned to the U.S. and became an assistant coach for the Broward College Seahawks. While at Broward, he started, owned and operated a program called South Florida Breakers Development program.
“The South Florida Breakers was a high school travel organization,” he said. “We took kids from all over the southeast from freshman through seniors and exposed them to colleges.” said Bizier. The program includes six teams as well as 12 professional, college and high school coaches.
The Breakers focused on the one-on-one development of players. “We were big on practice,” he said. “Big on development, we learned a lot.”
His assistants Chad Boone and Derrick Conatser, who were with him at the South Breakers and Broward, are now here at FSW.
After three and a half years as an assistant at Broward College, Bizier was hired as a head coach for Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s summer collegiate team, the Seacoast Mavericks. After one season, he came back to Broward College as head coach and won two conference coach of the year awards in the next three years.
Bizier said he came to FSW because of “the support of the athletic department, the resources they are putting in. But the number one was, everybody was just really, really supportive of the student athlete.”
The players have responded well to the new coach.
Gusto, who followed Bizier to FSW, said, “He works with a lot of guys on the mental side of the game. The way he approaches you and talks to you about the game, I really love that.”
Bizier is not focused on the Bucs’ won-lost record, good as it is.
“I have expectations for how we are going to do things” said Bizier, “I’m much more focused on the process, on how things work. Then the success is just a result of our process.”
Burke talks about the mental aspect of the game that the new coach emphasizes.
“When you play the game under Bizier, you see the game in a different way,” Burke said. “You pick up small things… and small things win games.”