By Bob Behre
Josh Ake has been a bit of a baseball nomad since the All-State shortstop was graduated from Hunterdon Central High School in Flemington, N.J. in 2011. But Ake seems to have found himself a baseball home.
“I was home visiting in October from Oklahoma and stopped by Diamond Nation, “ said Ake. “I saw Steve DiTrolio and he mentioned St. John’s University had a coaching position open.”
One phone call led to another and, before he realized what was happening, Ake was being interviewed by St. John’s head coach Ed Blankmeyer. “I was supposed to go back to Oklahoma where I had a job and shared a house with a few of my former Oklahoma teammates,” said Ake. “Coaching is not something I was planning to do from the start but after the kind of impact I experienced, I wanted to give back.”
Blankmeyer, who was just inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Jan. 24, hired Ake as a volunteer assistant to complement an excellent staff that already included Mike Hampton, George Brown and Paul Jacobson.
“I was starting with St. John’s right away, so I flew back to Oklahoma, packed up and drove back,” said Ake. “I was pretty much in shock. It came a bit out of nowhere.”
DiTrolio, Diamond Nation’s recruiting coordinator, said, “I was fired up to hear Josh wanted to get into coaching, so when I heard St. John’s had an opening, I reached out to coach Blankmeyer right away. I love when our former players want to give back to the game. That usually means they had a great experience along the way.”
The St. John’s connections were every present for Ake, who knew Blankmeyer’s son, Ty, while the two were with the Diamond Jacks program out of Diamond Nation. Ake had his flirtations with St. John’s as a player, too. The Mets drafted Ake out of high school in the 29th round, 882nd overall, in the 2011 MLB Draft. But he opted to honor his commitment to the University of North Carolina.
Things didn’t work out for Ake in Chapel Hill and he left after one year for Howard Community College in Texas which he used as a successful stepping stone to land a roster spot with the Oklahoma Sooners. “I visited St. John’s after I left North Carolina and I talk to coach Blankmeyer a couple times in high school,” said Ake.
Ake did have a good experience in Norman, bumping his average up nearly 30 points and nearly doubling his hits, runs scored, RBI, doubles and HR numbers from his junior year to senior year. He was also named to the Big 12 All-Academic First Team as a senior in 2015.
So enamored with Oklahoma, Ake stayed on as an undergraduate assistant coach in 2016 while he finished his degree in business/marketing. Perhaps that’s where he got his coaching bug. Ake, a Diamond Jack since the age of 13, came home to New Jersey during his college summers and gave back by coaching Diamond Jack teams at different age levels.
Coaching Division 1 players will, however, be very different for Ake from the high schoolers and youth level players he’s mentored at Diamond Nation.
“Being so close in age to a lot of these guys, I can relate to them easily,” says Ake, just two years older than some of his St. John’s charges. “That has helped create a level of trust and respect and allowed me to build some awesome relationships.” Ake spends much of his time working with the St. John’s hitters and infielders.
Ake knows the importance of the coach-player relationship, having had such a positive experience learning from his dad, Jim, at the lowest levels, during his high school days under Hunterdon Central mentor Mike Raymond and onto Oklahoma where head coach Pete Hughes had a major impact.
“I’ve been lucky to have some of the best coaches, from my dad, to coach Raymond in high school to coach Hughes at Oklahoma, who is one of the greatest people I’ve met for what I’ve learned from him about baseball and life. They are some of the main reasons I wanted to get into coaching.”
Ake was an instant star at Hunterdon Central and an integral part of the Red Devils’ back-to-back NJSIAA Group 4 championship teams in 2008 and ‘09. Remarkably, Ake, just a freshman and sophomore those seasons, anchored the shortstop position and batted leadoff. In fact, Ake led off the team’s Group 4 championship victory over Randolph in 2008 with a booming home run over the left field fence at Toms River South High School.
He would graduated Hunterdon Central as the school’s all-time hits and runs scored leader. He also set the school’s all-time record for runs in a season with 48 in 2009. Perfect Game rated Ake as the No. 4 player in his class in the state of New Jersey in 2011.
“Josh has a lot to offer,” said DiTrolio. “He is going to make a great college coach.”
Ake now gets to experience coaching at the Division 1 level under the tutelage of Blankmeyer, one of the country’s much admired coaches.
“There’s no other staff I’d rather work with,” he said. “I’m pretty lucky. My goal is to learn as much as I can from coach Blankmeyer. I’d like to be in a position like he is one day, being responsible for a big program.”