When John Ostrowski took over the Benedictine baseball program in 1973, he wasn’t thinking of anything long term.
Well, 40 seasons later, Ostrowski is still here at Benedictine and can now say something that only ten other Division III baseball coaches have been able to say: I have 900 wins.
“I was young, I was maybe 25 years old, and I was just ecstatic to get a college opportunity at a school I was familiar with,” Ostrowski said. “To be very honest with you, I never looked long term. It was one season at a time, and looked what’s happened.”
With BenU’s 19-8 win in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Milwaukee School of Engineering, Ostrowski earned the 900th win of his coaching career, joining an elite class of college baseball coaches.
“[I’m] blessed, just very, very blessed,” Ostrowski said. “Basically, being a part of Benedictine: I am so blessed. The school has grown by leaps and bounds.”
While the number may be surprising to some, the path Ostrowski took to get to BenU suggests that he was destined for a fantastic coaching career. As a graduate assistant at Lewis University, Ostrowski worked under Gordie Gillespie, who has the most wins out of any college baseball coach at any level (1,874 before the 2012 season began).
“[It helped] a ton,” Ostrowski said on working under Gillespie. “He’s a Hall of Fame coach who is a master psychologist besides being a great technician and teacher of the game. He influenced me in a lot of ways, and if I could pick one person who has influenced me the most, it has certainly been Coach Gillespie.”
This was all despite not playing an inning of college baseball, as Ostrowski was studying to become a clergy member in college and was not allowed to participate in athletics.
“I was studying to be a Christian brother out of high school,” Ostrowski said. “I really, really felt I had a calling to the religious life. At the time, they would not let me play actively having that commitment to the brothers, but I always knew I wanted to be a coach.”
While at Lewis, he took Coach Gillespie’s coaching class, and from there, Gillespie offered him the opportunity to become a graduate assistant.
“He said, ‘I know you can’t play being a brother, but see if they will let you be an assistant for me,’” Ostrowski said of Gillespie. “That’s where the door opened, and that’s where I got my feet in to coaching.”
After Lewis, Ostrowski decided to stop pursing to become a clergy member, as he said that he realized “you don’t have to wear a collar to have a positive influence on people.” He served as a graduate assistant at Nebraska State University and then became the Head Coach at the now defunct Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison.
He then took over the Benedictine baseball program, which at the time, was on the rise. “O” was able to sustain that momentum.
“It was in good shape. Coach Guy Murray did a great job,” Ostrowski explained. “He turned the program around from where they were struggling a little bit. In three years, he brought some really good players in, and I was certainly the beneficiary of that.”
With his success at BenU, the thought of moving on to a new program has crossed the mind of Ostrowski a few different times, especially when the opportunity to go to his alma mater, Lewis, arose.
“I had applied for some jobs over the course of my career, and the one that I wanted was to go back to Lewis,” stated Ostrowski. “I was in the final two for the interview, and of course, didn’t get the job. Right now, I think I was truly blessed.”
As far as moving up to bigger schools, Ostrowski has always been content at the Division III level.
“I think being at a Division III institution is the best type of job a coach could have because you can have the correct type of perspective,” Ostrowski said. “Yeah, we all want to win and there’s an importance on winning, but at D-III schools, the importance is on the competitive sports experience.”
It is no surprise to some that Ostrowski has reached this milestone, as those who work with him and play for him know his love for the game and work ethic.
“I’m very honored [to work with him] because heck, as a young punk freshman, I was here for his first win,” said Assistant Coach Dave Swanson, who was a part of Ostrowski’s first recruiting class at BenU. “I have very much respect for his knowledge of the game. He knows the game inside and out, upside and down and he does a great job of anticipating situations. He’s just a great baseball man.”
“It’s an honor to be a part of the program during this milestone,” said junior starting pitcher Kevin Crowley. “I think he’s a great coach, and it would be nice to see him get 1,000 [wins].”
So will Ostrowski go for 1,000 wins and join a group of just 57 college baseball coaches?
“I’m going to go one year at a time,” Ostrowski said. “That’s certainly my goal right now, and that’s what I told the team. I told a couple of freshman on the team that I hope they can be here and help me get 1,000 wins.”
Regardless, Ostrowski looks at his 16 conference titles, 30 top two conference finishes and seven NCAA tournament appearances and appears to be pleased with what he’s accomplished.
“I really am blessed,” said an emotional Ostrowski. “There’s always something to accomplish, but I really just want to be a positive influence in my player’s lives.”