After 16 Seasons, The Badgley Epic in DeKalb Comes to an End This Weekend

GO HUSKIES
GO HUSKIES

GO HUSKIES

May 10, 2013

(From left to Right: Dan (1997-2001), Mark (2003-07), Nick (2008-09) and Zach (2009-13)

DeKALB, Ill. – For those that have followed the Northern Illinois baseball team over the years, there has been a constant in the Huskie dugout since the late 1990’s. If Head Coach Ed Mathey was the first name that came to mind, you’re a few years off. Mathey’s first campaign with the Huskies was in 2003.

Every year since 1997, with the exception of 2002, there has been a member of the Badgley family patrolling the dugout or the bullpen at Ralph McKinzie Field and wherever the Huskies have roamed over those 16 seasons.

All pitchers and 4-of-12 children in the family, Dan Badgley (1997-2001) paved the way for Mark Badgley (2003-07), who opened the door for Nick Badgley (2008-09) where the road ends with Zach Badgley, who began his career in 2009 and closes the Odyssey in the Badgley epic in 2013.

This weekend’s series against Eastern Michigan at Ralph McKinzie Field marks the end of an era in NIU baseball.

“It’s one of the great stories I’ve been around in college baseball,” said Mathey,  “I’ve been fortunate enough to have known three of them from a coaching standpoint and I’ve gotten to know Dan and Mr. Badgley very well over the years as well. They’re a great family, an outstanding family.” Chuckling, Mathey closed with “you know that if the Badgley family comes to a baseball game, you’re going to have a big crowd in the stands.”

Breaking down the years for the Badgley’s at Northern Illinois, the clan has combined for 226 appearances, 32 starts, 512.0 innings pitched, 19 saves and six complete games. Nick also played in 45 games with 22 starts in the field.

Based on those numbers and a 55 regular season schedule, a member of the Badgley family would have pitched in every single game over 4.09 seasons and just over every inning of an entire baseball season.

Accolades have followed the family, as well, as Mark was named to Collegiate Baseball’s Freshman All-America team in 2003 after setting the program record for saves in a season at 14. He would close his career with 19 saves, fourth all-time.

In fact, both Mark and Dan are in the top-10 at NIU all-time in career strikeouts at 184 (fifth) and 167 (seventh), respectively. Infamously, Dan, Mark and Zach all appear in the career top-10 in wild pitches, but in a family of 12, wild only describes a slow Sunday night.

More of an urban legend in an age before YouTube, it was said that Mark once threw a baseball up and over one of the Stevenson Tower dormitories, all of which are 12 stories high. A confirmed fact, Dan married his wife, Christina, at Ralph McKinzie Field – her idea as a gift to him.

Though the numbers, the accolades and the years spent in the program catch the eyes, it’s the stories from within the program and from the family itself that truly captivates its audience.

IT HAS TO START SOMEWHERE

“I remember having the other schools I was considering letters of intent on the kitchen table and was convinced I was going to Illinois,” recalls Dan via email. “I spoke with Jesse Richardson, who attended NIU and also my alma mater, Dundee Crown, and he was pretty convincing. He came out to Dundee Crown and then I spoke with my high school coach Fred Bencriscutto, whom I still stay in close contact with, and together they gave me some good advice. 

“Spanky McFarland, the coach then (1991-97), was a good pitching guy and had a history of getting guys into the pros. I remember wanting to sign early to be done with it and wound up signing in November during the early signing period. I spoke with my grandfather, who played major league baseball, and my dad and decided upon NIU. Our family is close and because I was really not looking forward to being away from home, I weighed all the options and decided on Northern.”

Dan would see the highs and lows of program in his time with Huskies, entering the program a year off an NCAA Play-in series with Northeastern Illinois, playing his sophomore year through the toughest in program history (4-51-1 in 1999) and helping rebuild the program with Dave Schrage in 2000 and 2001.

Despite the tough years, Dan looks back on his time at NIU with great fondness and continued his stay in the game, coaching and teaching at Crystal Lake Central. “NIU is always going to be a special place. I loved my time up there and most of all I remember all my teammates. The administration there, including Cary Groth and Dee Abrahamson, were always supportive and so were my coaches and trainers and down the line. I am definitely one of the biggest NIU fans in the world and always will be.”

THE NEXT CHAPTER

The 2002 season would mark the only time in the last 16 seasons at Northern Illinois that a Badgley was not on the roster. It was also the senior year of Mark and the final season for Coach Schrage at NIU. Mark had already committed to play for the Huskies under Schrage, but with a coach change made in the offseason, sometimes commitments break. Mathey reached out to Mark and other recruits to let them know how things would work in the new program.

“Mathey was great from day one. He was more than a coach we used to hang out in hotel rooms before games and drink coffee,” said Mark via email, “I thought he was very personable and I loved his attitude towards baseball and coaching.”

Entering his recruiting period in high school, Mark recalls Dan not pressuring him to follow in his brother’s footsteps at Northern Illinois.

“Danny did not influence me to come to NIU,” said Mark, “but I visited a few times when he was in college and I loved the atmosphere at NIU and it was a perfect fit for me.”

“Coach Schrage used to get in my ear a lot about getting Mark (to NIU) and would say he even has your same mannerisms on the mound,” Dan joked. “Mark is the type who would do well anywhere because he just goes about his business and does his thing.

“Mark was pretty heavily recruited and had a great high school career.  He had options but I had a feeling NIU was his first choice all along. I remember my dad one night getting on Mark about narrowing his search down a little and Mark said ‘I want to go to Northern.’”

Mathey entered the program in 2003 and had one of the most successful years in program history, winning an NIU record 34 games, with 14 of those saved by Mark, the fourth-most in the country that season.

His time with the Huskies nearly came to an end in 2005 at Bradley, when he took a line drive off his head and fractured his skull. After earning a medical redshirt, Mark returned for two more seasons at Northern Illinois, working his way into the weekend pitching rotation in 2007 with a 4-4 record and 4.31 ERA. Mark also struck out 83 and walked 30, the fifth-most strikeouts in a season.

In a similar response to Dan, Mark said of his time at NIU “I would not trade my experience for anything. I was not the best student, but I learned a lot on how to be a mature adult from NIU, mostly just from playing baseball. I have lifelong friends from Northern Illinois and it means the world to me to see my brothers have the same thing.”

THE CROSSOVER

While Mark was finishing his last two seasons with the Huskies, Nick began his collegiate career at McHenry Community College as an outfielder/designated hitter. Following his sophomore season, in which he earned first team ABCA/Rawlings NJCAA Division II All-American and first team All-Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference honors, Nick became a Huskie in 2008.

“Choosing NIU was a fairly easy decision for me,” recalled Nick in an email. “Watching Danny play when I was much younger and Mark playing just before me, it made for an easy transition. I already knew the coaching staff and was familiar with the surroundings so to me it was a simple choice. We all looked up to Danny being the oldest so we obviously wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

In his first season, Nick made 21 appearances with seven starts in the outfield, including one appearance on the mound for a talent laden squad that won two games in the Mid-American Conference Tournament and had two players drafted that June.

The following year, a Badgley first at Northern Illinois occurred as Zach joined Nick in the Huskies’ ranks. By that time, it was pretty much a given that Zach would end up a Huskie as three of his brothers had already committed to Northern Illinois. In fact, Coach Mathey recalls watching Zach in the summer of 2007 and upon Mathey’s arrival, the other coaches in attendance, including West Virginia, who recruited Zach hard, already knew he would be a Huskie.

“There was a point where one or two sons wanted a tradition to be started and they got a lot of feedback from their brothers before them,” said the father Phil Badgley. “so by the time it got to Zach, he would have had to been talked out of it.”

While Nick split time between the mound and field, playing 24 games in the field and 13 games on the mound with five starts, Zach was exclusively a pitcher, though he was a strong hitter at McHenry High School as well.

Both look back with great fondness having played on the same team.

“Getting the chance to play with Zach was great,” said Nick, “always playing on different teams growing up, we didn’t have that many opportunities to watch each other. So to be able to watch and hangout with him everyday was a lot of fun.”

Zach remembers Nick as both teammate and big brother. “It was great, we only got to play together for a summer and it wasn’t a summer collegiate ball so it wasn’t a crazy schedule of games. Playing here, he taught me how to be a student-athlete, taught me discipline, how to manage my priorities, getting into the workout room, handling everything right and how to work hard.”

While Nick exhausted his eligibility at the end of 2009, Zach had three seasons to go and heading into his sophomore year, he tore his labrum and was forced to redshirt in 2010. He was forced to reinvent his pitching style and his mechanics. Zach remembers Nick being around to ease the pain.

“Even when I got injured, it was good to see him because he was still here taking classes and that made it a lot easier because he’d be there the whole time.”

MOMENTS OF REFLECTION

“When I first started coming here, campus looked nothing like it does today,” said Zach. “There was no Convocation Center or Yordon Center, there was no Chessick Center being built, the field was different – it was a lot bigger and it looks way better now than it did then.

“(NIU baseball) means everything to us, the four of us have gone here and even the ones that haven’t, they come here for the games and they know the area well.”

“NIU means a lot to me,” added Nick, “I've been watching games at ‘The Ralph’ since I was nine years old, so to still be watching one of my brothers play their 16 years later at the age of 26 is pretty special. It’s kind of sad that there's not going to be any of us on the team anymore but I guess we had a good run.”

Said Mark, “I feel like we accomplished something at NIU. I am very proud of my family. I will always look at my years at NIU with a lot of pride.”

“Honestly I cant believe it’s been 16 years. The whole thing went fast,” closed Dan. “My siblings who did not play at NIU are also a big part of this. They have been through all the games and discussions and arguments and stories over and over again. It’s cool to be able to talk about things that only a NIU baseball player would understand; such as ‘The Ralph’ or ‘The Gator’ (tractor) that nobody else understands. I remember when my brothers, especially Zach were little. They would come with my dad to the games and eat it up. They loved watching my games and were always wearing my hand me down apparel and shorts.”

Behind every tight knit, good family, there is a rock. A person who carries the load, balances the books and keep everyone on an even keel. The monarch of the Badgleys is Phil, whom the sons say is the key figure to their success.

“The most important person in all of this has to be my dad,” said Dan, “he drove all over to my games and all of my brothers’ games. He has seen more NIU baseball then anybody that ever lived probably.”

Mark cites his father as his inspiration to play baseball in the first place and says he thankful for him.

When asked about what 16 seasons of NIU baseball meant to the family, Phil said “It s going to be a little bittersweet. That’s not even accurate enough,” he said with a chuckle through the phone. “It’s been 28 years since my oldest started playing little league. It’s been 28 years for me, 16 at NIU.”

One of the key attributes Phil can point back in his sons’ successes is their competitiveness.

“Being competitive is a family trait. They’ve all competed with each other for years and they always want to beat each others’ brains in whether it’s on the golf course now or playing in the backyard then. Through that though, they’ve always been for each other. I think they brought that to the team at Northern Illinois and I’m very proud of that.”

Coach Mathey cites the Badgley competitiveness as a benefit to his program as well. “They always seem to be in the moment. They’re nowhere but here and that’s where they want to be. When it comes to baseball, you know they love being on the field and they love the interactions, not just the competitiveness, but the interactions on the bench and on the field.”

Phil will always look back on the time his sons spent with the Huskies with great fondness and what it’s done for the family.

“Aside from a good education which is obviously important, I think it prepared them very well for outside life. To have an excellent program like NIU has so close by has been fantastic. It’s kind of toughened them up in some respects. It’s helped create careers that weren’t there when they necessarily went to school. 

“If you look at the oldest, Daniel, he’s now a teacher and he is a high school baseball coach. He didn’t even think of that when he started playing. I know coaching has a lot to do with that.”

There is no comparison that emerges when it comes to the Badgley family and Northern Illinois baseball. Every team needs a player that leads by example, loosens up the atmosphere, one that can batten down hatches when the seas get rough and that guy that pulls the next game's starting pitcher out from a dog pile after a walk-off win to save him from potential injury. It just so happens that over the last three decades that a Badgley has been in that role.

While time might erase the Badgley’s from the record book at NIU, the four head coaches and 171 other players that have played alongside them will not soon forget the name. What started out as a clan of 12 in Northeast Illinois, was whittled down to four in DeKalb, which quickly became a brood of thousands as the Badgleys left an impression at Northern Illinois University.