J.D. Arteaga: Leading communities, not just baseball teams

Miami head coach J.D. Arteaga embraces a player during a game while he was an assistant coach. Photo credit: Miami Athletics

J.D. Arteaga’s history with the University of Miami goes farther than being named as the 10th head coach of the baseball team last fall. From the Miami area, Arteaga played his college baseball career at UM and served as an assistant coach for 22 years. Through triumph and tragedy, Arteaga’s path has led him to where he is now, at the helm of his alma mater.

Miami retired Arteaga’s No. 33 on Feb. 5, 2003, for his stellar performances during his four years as a pitcher in Coral Gables. Arteaga helped lead his team to the College World Series as a player, and now he’ll try and do it as a coach.

“We could win 12 national championships and I’d want 13,” Arteaga said. “I’m not one that is driven by failure, I just want to be the best anytime we do something.”

That mantra of being “the best” is one that Arteaga continues to instill in his players. While Arteaga is coaching a baseball team, he’s also mentoring his players.

The sport of baseball can teach a player many things. Arteaga recognizes that beautiful part of the game and does his best to make sure his players understand that as well.

“Teamwork is one lesson. It’s a team sport,” Arteaga said. “Sacrifice is one. I don’t think any other sport has a stat under sacrifice. I mean you actually give yourself up for your team to advance another runner. There’s no other sport that teaches that. Perseverance. It’s a game of failure, especially as a hitter. If you are successful 30% of the time you’re considered one of the all-time best. If a surgeon fails 70% of their surgeries they are not going to be very good.”

While the title has changed from pitching coach to head coach, Arteaga does not feel like his role with the team has changed all that much. He’s still the same old J.D.

“From my end no, but from the players’ perspective, I sense it’s a little different,” Arteaga said. “With the assistant coach, you are a little more open in talking to you but when I try to approach guys in the way I always have they are a little more standoffish. I’m doing my best to continue that relationship with each and every player and I think it’s important that you care about them as human beings first.”

Junior lefty Rafe Schlesinger was coached by Arteaga for his first two years, and now Schlesinger has Arteaga as his head coach. Arteaga worked with Schlesinger on both the mental and physical side of his game and in his third year, all that work is paying off on the mound.

“J.D. keeps it a good mix,” Schlesinger said. “He keeps you at a distance where you respect him but he knows when someone needs that extra lovin’ that maybe they are slacking right now, he’ll be there for you, he’s got a tremendous feel for that stuff and he reads players greatly.”

Arteaga wants to be able to support his community now, in a way that his community supported him when he was younger. This place has a special place in his heart, but it’s not about the location, it’s about the people.

“When I was 15 years old my dad passed away and there were a lot of people who played a role in getting to where I was, to stay on the path and do things the right way,” Arteaga said. “And when my son passed away five years ago, the rally around me and my family was, not sure we could be where we are without them.”

Arteaga has surrounded himself with a group of excellent individuals in his community and in his coaching staff especially, There are incredibly wise minds helping Arteaga navigate this first season as a head coach.

One of those is Laz Gutierrez, who took over the role of pitching coach when Arteaga was promoted to head coach. Gutierrerz and Arteaga have similar theories when it comes to how pitching should be taught, but they are not all the same.

“We joke about it all the time,” Gutierrez said. “Because we’ve always talked about pitching, and obviously our origins, our foundations come from similar things having pitched here so the philosophies are very similar but as soon as you start working alongside each other, there are certain differences and I think those differences play off of each other and allow us to grow and see a different perspective that maybe you had not thought about.”

The two work together to create a winning culture that cares about the success of the players as individuals, the wins come as a byproduct of the culture that Arteaga strives to lead and develop.”

“It’s an honor. An honor to have to title but it does not change anything about the way I feel about doing the job. It’s always been about winning and producing not just great baseball players but husbands and fathers and friends,” Arteaga said. “The players come first, always have, even as a pitching coach, always the same thing, I just oversee a few more guys.”

Baseball has been woven into every part of Arteaga’s life. From a young child to his current role as a leader of men, the lessons he’s learned shaped him into the strong role model he is today.

Last week, Arteaga was tapped into Iron Arrow, the highest honor attained at the University of Miami. While this is his first season at the helm of the program he knows and loves, Arteaga is more than ready to build a culture that his community can be proud of.