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PHOTO GALLERY: Alma's Kreiners have turned "The Barn" into a baseball sanctuary

  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball head coach Denny Kreiner, right, stands next to his father Dean Kreiner as Alma plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball head coach Denny Kreiner, right, stands next to his father Dean Kreiner as Alma plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball head coach Denny Kreiner, right, stands next to his father Dean Kreiner as Alma plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball head coach Denny Kreiner, right, stands next to his father Dean Kreiner as Alma plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball head coach Denny Kreiner, right, stands next to his father Dean Kreiner as Alma plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma's Chris Roethlisberger (16) puts one in the outfield against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma's Justin Doyle (8) sprints to first base a moment before the ball against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma's Trent Fish (12) starts to swing against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma's Konner Vedrode (2) commits to stealing second base as he watches the ball going to first against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
  • Ken Kadwell/@KenKadwell - Special to the Sun Alma baseball plays against Chesaning at Alma Friday, May 9, 2014.
Word of mouth can travel a long way.

Despite no advertising or campaign to drive in more business, the well-known baseball sanctuary located between Mount Pleasant and Shepherd affectionately referred to as “The Barn” has become a go-to spot for baseball youths to develop their skils.

It has now been thriving for approximately 12 years under the tutelage of mid-Michigan coaching legend Dean Kreiner as well as sons Ken Kreiner and long-time Alma High School coach Denny Kreiner.

The question was posed to Denny on just why it is that year after year his Alma squads seem to have very strong pitching staffs.

“My pitching coach and what we do up there in that barn,” Denny said at a May 14 practice, pointing at his father who was standing at second base working on the infield following a rainfall. “The kids get a lot of work done there and most of it is done outside me because the high school rules don’t allow me to be there working with more than three or four guys. So I steer clear, but that’s right up my dad’s alley.”

Dean played baseball at Central Michigan in the late 1950s before embarking on a lengthy Chippewas coaching career, first as an assistant under Dave Keilitz and then inheriting the program 1985.

Under Kreiner’s leadership, Central Michigan went 516-282-4 and advanced to the NCAA regionals seven times in 14 years. An outstanding pitching coach, he spoke for years at national conventions about pick-off moves and three of his CMU players (Kevin Tapani, Shawn Hare and Lee Gardner) eventually reached Major League Baseball. Eight other former CMU pitchers made their way to the big leagues during Kreiner’s time as a pitching coach under Keilitz.

Needless to say, Dean Kreiner is a key figure in the advancement of mid-Michigan baseball and the development of the baseball craze in this area.

But since Dean’s retirement from coaching at Central Michigan, he has shifted his focus to prep baseball where he has helped mold countless players.

Baseball in the northern states such as Michigan has a disadvantage during the cold months as it is an outdoor game that cannot be played effectively with snow on the ground.

That is where “The Barn” comes into play.

It is a baseball sanctuary during the winter months where baseball and softball players have congregated for the past decade-plus. The 88-foot long barn is most active during the winter but at any point during the entire year you might find at least a player or two working diligently under Dean or Ken’s tutelage.

“We could probably draw in more if we advertised, but we still have them coming from all over,” Dean said. “A pitching coach might come to us and say their pitchers are struggling and they’ll come in and we’ll try and work out their issues.”

An individual session at “The Barn” costs $25 for a half hour, while a group session costs $15 per player for an hour of work. Group sessions start in January and continue right into April.

“The barn has had an influence over quite a few kids,” Denny said. “It’s unbelievable if you go back through the years just how many kids around here who have had baseball

It is not even just mid-Michigan players that are benefitting from the teaching points the Kreiner family provides at “The Barn”.

“We had all the Grand Ledge pitchers come up here,” Dean said. “They have outstanding baseball facilities and coaches down there, but they wanted to be up here to work on their pitching craft.”

Midland Dow pitcher Evan Marquardt, who is committed to play baseball at Ball State University, is another who made huge strides while working under Dean’s watch at “The Barn”.

“He is a big 6-foot-6 kid so getting his mechanics in order was important,” Dean said. “He made major improvements during his time with us and now he’s a kid who is going to Ball State on a baseball scholarship.”

Ken, who pitched under his father at Central Michigan and was known for having an exceptional pick-off move, has worked with kids at “The Barn” ever since its beginning.

“What we try to do most at the barn is try to simplify the game of baseball or softball for the kids,” Ken said. “We work a lot on fundamentals and just keeping everything simple to understand.”

With the space constraints of “The Barn”, pitching and hitting are the aspects worked on the most but with younger groups fielding drills can also be done.

“I work with kids of all ages and it is always a blast to be around them,” Ken said. “It is unique with all the different skill sets and ages that come to us. Most of the groups and individual sessions are baseball and we’ll get a couple softball groups every winter. It’s time-consuming because I still have my everyday job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Other recent success stories at “The Barn” include Vestaburg senior ace Austin Myers, who improved his record to 9-2 Saturday after striking out 19 batters in a 2-1 victory over Carson City-Crystal.

“He’s a kid who tops off at 80 or 81 MPH on his fastball but he has an outstanding curveball and is having a tremendous year on the mound,” Ken added.

Many Vestaburg players have worked extensively at “The Barn” and the dividends are evident as the Wolverines won their first conference title in 38 years last week.

The work at “The Barn” has also been a major boost to the Alma baseball program through the years as Denny takes the work done over the offseason and continues the growth between the chalk lines during the high school campaign. Alma currently has a 15-6 overall record as districts approach in two weeks.

Alma junior ace Zach Hanson, who has been a mainstay at “The Barn” over the years, has put together an impressive campaign on the mound and recently one-hit Chesaning over five innings with 10 strikeouts in a 7-0 victory.

“The improvements Zach has made over the last two years are remarkable and a lot of that has to do with the work at the barn,” Denny said.

But life over the past year has not been only fun, games and coaching for the Kreiner family.

Last summer, Dean was diagnosed with prostate cancer and not too long after that Denny was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Fortunately, in the months since then Dean’s cancer has been contained while Denny’s cancer is in remission.

“What I went through was a terrible thing but there are plenty of people who have gone through much worse than I did,” Denny said. “I had great support and I was a little bit embarrassed by all the attention. It’s not who I am. I’m pretty private. But it makes you feel go knowing that many people are pulling for you. The hard part is watching your family deal with it.”

Soon after Denny began chemotherapy during the second week of school back in September, his Alma baseball players told him to hang around after school.

“That’s the time when you are tired and just want to get home, but the kids brought me in there and I was wondering what was going on,” Denny said. “Then I see them pull the clippers out and we started buzzing the kids’ hair off in the room next door.”

If the players were trying to gain some brownie points from their coach, it didn’t work.

“Yeah, it was really nice but it didn’t get them any more playing time,” Denny joked.

Denny was able to do all his treatment at the MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center, where he now returns for a checkup every three months with the next one coming in June.

“There would be treatment for a week and then I’d be able to go in and teach for two weeks and so on and so forth,” Denny said. “I was fortunate that after three cycles of chemo it did what it was supposed to do and now I just have to go back and monitor it every three months.”

With the MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center in Alma and the Norval K. Morey Cancer Center in Mount Pleasant, there are now two prime options in mid-Michigan for patients diagnosed with cancer.

“I don’t think a lot of people know that there are two cancer centers within 20 miles of here which keeps a lot of people from having to travel hours away to receive treatment for their cancer,” Denny pointed out.

The one thing that astounded Dean when going through treatments is just how many people are impacted or have been impacted by cancer.

“You just don’t realize how many people have it or have had it,” Kreiner said. “You come to Mount Pleasant and the cancer treatment center is full. You come to the one in Alma and it’s full. And it’s continuous. They finish on with their treatment and then there are others coming in right behind them starting theirs. I just didn’t know that many people had cancer.”

Despite the cancer battles and gradual return to health for both, coaching is in their blood and has never wavered throughout the process.

This past winter, “The Barn” was in full use and Dean was right at the forefront of it all.

“The coaching never stopped,” Dean said. “I just don’t really think about the cancer. Even though I’m retired, I have so many other things to do that I’m too busy to worry about thinking about it aside from the checkups. Somebody will bring it up and you’ll think about it, but you don’t go to bed thinking about it.”

Denny concurred with his father.

“There are things you can’t control,” Denny added. “You can control some things that happen and the treatments and that sort of thing, but everyone is going to handle it different and people react differently to treatments. You just have to go listen to your doctors and stay fairly healthy ahead of time. That’s important with any disease. But if you are diagnosed it’s just important to stay positive and keep living.”





Last Updated: 5/17/2014 5:22:26 PM EST

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