Baseball, ping-pong and all-around comedian
Baseball, ping-pong and all-around comedian
Former Flames reflect on first season in professional baseball
Reliever focused on reaching Omaha, Neb.
Senior captain Ian Lewandowski poised for 2016 campaign
The steady influence instilled in the University of Illinois at Chicago's baseball program since the arrival of Mike Dee as head coach 17 years ago has been evident across every facet, both on and off the diamond.
Well over 50 of Dee's former players have gone on to professional baseball careers. Most recently, Dee saw pitcher Ryan Hinchley (Chicago White Sox) and infielder Jeff Boehm (Los Angeles Angels) begin their pro careers when they were drafted in 2015.
They follow Steve Carlson (New York Yankees, 2001), Curtis Granderson (Detroit Tigers, 2002), Wes Gilliam (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2002), Kevin Ryan (San Diego Padres, 2002), Kevin Nelson (New York Yankees, 2003), David Haehnel (Baltimore Orioles, 2004), Jordan DeVoir (New York Yankees, 2004), Ryan Gehring (Minnesota Twins, 2004), Mike Hughes (Anaheim Angels, 2004), Nelson Gord (Schaumburg Flyers, 2004; Houston Astros, 2007), Bryan Russo (Schaumburg Flyers, 2004), Justin Johnson (Baltimore Orioles, 2006), Ryan Zink (New York Yankees, 2007), Zach Peterson (Kansas City Royals, 2007), Kevin Coddington (Cincinnati Reds, 2008), Adam Worthington (Arizona Diamondbacks, 2009) and Tomas Michelson (Tampa Bay, 2014) as UIC players playing professionally since Dee's arrival.
One of the most notable professional products to develop under Dee and his staff while at UIC is current Major League Baseball All-Star Curtis Granderson, a New York Met and a Flames outfielder from 2000-2002. In November 2011, Granderson was given the AL's Silver Slugger award and finished fourth in the MVP voting. In September of 2012, he became just the fifth Yankee all-time to post back-to-back 40 home run seasons, a list that includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi.
On February 6, 2013, Mike Dee and the UIC baseball program retired Granderson's No. 28 Flames jersey at the first annual Diamond Dinner. At that event, Granderson unveiled his plans to help fund a new baseball stadium on UIC's campus. His gift of $5 million dollars is the largest one-time donation from a professional athlete to their alma mater in history, according to Sports Illustrated. The facility officially opened on April 17, 2014 as Granderson was on-hand to cut the ribbon and throw out the first pitch. The stadium is home for Flames Baseball, but more importantly, is intended to serve area youth and the Chicago community. Partnerships with Major League Baseball (MLB), Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and various youth organizations provide access to the aptly named "Curtis Granderson Stadium" for a multitude of events.
Granderson became the first UIC player to start for a major league club on Opening Day when he manned centerfield for the Detroit Tigers in 2006. He played a big role during the Tigers' magical 2006 campaign, helping bring an American League Championship and World Series berth back to Motown for the first time since 1984, and in 2007 he accumulated 23 homers, 23 triples, 38 doubles and 26 steals to become just the third player in major league history with 20-plus homers, 20-plus triples, 20-plus doubles and 20-plus stolen bases and the first since the legendary Willie Mays accomplished the feat in 1957.
There is no denying the success achieved on the field by UIC under Dee's tutelage. In 14 of the past 16 seasons, the Flames have finished either first or second in the Horizon League regular season, serving as the highest total among conference schools. UIC also owns 11 regular-season crowns having won eight straight from the years 2002-09.
With Dee's guidance, the Flames have proven themselves highly successful in Horizon League tournament play, garnering nine championship and runner-up titles since 2000. UIC has also earned their way into the NCAA tournament on four separate occasions since 2003, the most among league programs.
With Dee on the bench, UIC rattled off nine consecutive 30-plus win seasons from 2000-08, including seven straight campaigns of 35 victories or more from 2002-08, just another example that winning is a staple of Dee's program.
Many of those wins have come against some of college baseball's premier programs. In recent years, UIC has defeated a nationally-ranked foe on the road in six of the last eight seasons, with a triumph over No. 24 Texas A&M being the latest in a line of Top 25 teams, including No. 23 Western Kentucky in 2010, No. 5 Vanderbilt in 2008, No. 18 Ole Miss in 2006 and both No. 17 Long Beach State and No. 19 Tennessee in 2007, that have fallen to the Flames.
Dee has made road dates against some the toughest teams in the country an essential portion of the Flames' schedule each season, with Alabama, Baylor, Long Beach State, Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Santa Clara, Texas, Texas A&M, Tulane, Purdue, Vanderbilt and various other national powers on the slate. One of the keys Dee has emphasized within his program is being competitive on the regional level, and UIC has looked no further than the Big Ten in its journey as one of the top programs in the Midwest. Dee's UIC teams have gone 34-29 against Big Ten opponents in the past 15 years.
Taking on tough opposition during the regular season has helped UIC steadily improve its postseason results. UIC beat Long Beach State in the 2007 regional opener for the team's first NCAA tournament win, and the Flames eliminated a tough Dallas Baptist team to chalk up their second-ever regional victory six years ago.
Dee's style of play has not only translated into consistent winning on the field; it has a lasting way of developing talent that has garnered an extensive array of awards in addition to opening up opportunities to play at the professional level. In the last 16 seasons UIC has featured 85 All-Horizon League selections, 14 league individual award-winners (including three conference player of the year honorees), 46 league all-newcomer team picks, 38 league all-tournament team players, four league tournament most valuable players, five NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team members and eight All-Mideast Region Team athletes.
Aside from the new multi-million dollar stadium, continuous upgrades in facilities have taken place since the first day of Dee's tenure. Les Miller Field, the home park of the Flames, has undergone renovations ranging from a brand-new FieldTurf surface to new lights to refurbished dugouts and a list of improvements from 1998 to today. Seven years ago the Peggy Colvin Baseball Center for Excellence, a state-of-the-art 4,690-square-foot clubhouse exclusive to the UIC baseball team, was constructed. The Colvin Center houses a players' locker room, coaches' offices, a study laboratory, a video lounge and numerous other amenities.
In 2009, the program welcomed a new indoor hitting facility, complete with up to six batting cages and FieldTurf, to the fold.
Dee's emphasis on steadiness to his players transcends their participation in the sport. An equal focus is placed on their dual status as both students and athletes, and if the accomplishments on the field are any indicator, each and every member of the UIC baseball team is also expected to give maximum effort to succeed in the classroom.
The tools to fulfill school duties are provided through required study sessions, course performance monitoring and strong academic resources. The UIC baseball program has responded to such concentration on thriving in the classroom by constantly ranking among the athletic department's top-performing teams in terms of grade point average, having an annual presence on the Horizon League's academic honor roll and academic all-league team, and, most recently, attaining the UIC Athletic Department's Male Academic Team of the Year award in 2007-08.
Dee came to UIC after serving the previous 11 seasons as the pitching coach for the University of Minnesota, where his pitching staff was frequently one of the best in the Big Ten. Dee's Minnesota staffs finished first or second in the conference for team ERA in seven of his last nine years as the Golden Gophers compiled a 405-254 (.615) record while registering a 190-101 (.653) ledger against Big Ten foes during his time in the Twin Cities.
In 1997, Dee's pitchers set a school record as they fanned 406 batters in 444.1 innings of work, led by 110 strikeouts from Mike Diebolt, a 1997 draft pick of the Detroit Tigers. Dee's 1993 squad set a then-school record with 43 wins. Minnesota captured the Big Ten Tournament title four times during Dee's tenure and earned the regular season championship twice, in 1988 and 1992. The Golden Gophers qualified for the NCAA Tournament seven times while Dee was an assistant, including as recently as 1998.
In addition to his coaching duties with the Golden Gophers, Dee also served as the chief executive officer for the Minnesota Baseball Instructional School in Minneapolis. In that position, he handled all staff hiring/training, marketing and scheduling and all business accounting. Under Dee's direction, the business grew into one of the largest baseball camps in the United States.
Dee began his coaching career at his prep alma mater, Aquinas High School in LaCrosse, Wis. As the school's head coach for six years, his squads compiled a 100-26 record. Dee led Aquinas to six straight state tournament appearances and won the Wisconsin state title four consecutive years (1984-87). Following the 1987 season, Dee was named the Wisconsin State High School Coach of the Year before moving on to the Golden Gophers staff the next year.
Dee spent the first 17 years of his life raised in the Chicagoland area. He was an all-state selection as a high school junior at Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill., before finishing his prep career at Aquinas, where he garnered all-state honors.
He then attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he was a three-year letterwinner and an NAIA All-America selection following his junior and senior seasons. Dee helped the Indians place fourth at the 1979 NAIA College World Series as a senior. Following his collegiate career, Dee played one season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization before entering the coaching ranks.
The body of work of the UIC baseball program has earned Dee a long stretch of awards from his peers. He has garnered an unprecedented eight Horizon League Coach of the Year awards, winning the honor in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, and in each of the last four seasons (2005-2008). Dee's accomplishments at UIC, Minnesota and Aquinas gained him induction into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in February of 2006, and he was also honored as the 2007 Division I College Coach of the Year by the Pitch and Hit Club of Chicago at the organization's 62nd annual awards dinner in 2008.
In addition to coaching, Dee has also served as a featured clinician at over 100 clinics nationwide, including the National Baseball Convention in 1991, 2001 and 2006.