Shane Sieben likes to give out a game ball to a top performer on his Rock Creek baseball squad after a win. On May 23, it was his pitcher, Toby Becker.
Becker was fresh off throwing a no-hitter against Burlington to power Rock Creek to a 3-0 win in the state quarterfinals. But this postgame was different for Sieben, the head coach.
This time, he made certain he had two game balls.
Those who know Sieben best will say he is as humble as they come. Two of his seniors, Nate Williams and Becker, raved about this trait. After the Burlington game, Sieben was modest in not mentioning to reporters that he had just eclipsed his 100th win at Rock Creek, but that’s what the second game ball was for.
“I didn’t really think about it, but then I kind of realized it when I saw Greg Woods interviewing him and I thought, ‘Aw man’, because Shane is never someone to tell you about an accomplishment like that,” Sieben’s wife, Tori, said. “He always wants the spotlight on the kids.”
Sieben’s face brightened talking about his team and their accomplishments.
“I knew going into the season that if we got 20 wins that we’d be at that 100 mark,” Sieben said. “But this wasn’t a 'me thing.' I’ve had so much young talent and terrific young men and have been around so many amazing coaches and role models, so I’m just glad these kids have been able to see their hard work and dedication turned into success.”
Coaching isn’t a hobby Sieben just one day decided he wanted to pursue, and it’s certainly not a new environment for him. This life started for him in his yard as an 8-year-old, playing catch with his father and grandfather. Whenever Sieben returned home from school, his dad always proposes they go play catch or shoot hoops. When he moved on to high school he found another strong role model in Manhattan High coach Don Hess.
Sieben played under Hess as a part of the Indians’ last baseball state championship in 1998. Sieben also worked as an assistant under the current senior director of development at Kansas State, Mike Clark, after graduating college.
Through each experience Sieben said he just wanted to be a sponge, but there is one thing he always took away.
“It starts with relationships and building relationships. To me that’s the No. 1 thing with coaching is you’ve got to build relationships with the kids,” Sieben said. “Once you have that relationship, you can challenge them a little bit. If you do that without a relationship it’s going to lead to revolt.”
Sieben faced a critical coaching moment with Williams in 2017. The Mustangs’ star catcher at the time, Tucker Garrett, busted his arm in practice and required Tommy John surgery, which ended his season. This left Williams with the duties behind the plate, and he’d never caught a varsity game before.
“I had to step up and catch,” Williams said. “I hadn’t caught all year and hadn’t really been taught much about it in high school either. It was just something I had done as a kid.”
Williams had, however, caught a doubleheader at the junior varsity level for Riley County’s current head coach, Weston Steiner. Sieben, who has a strong relationship with Steiner, asked for Steiner’s thoughts on Williams’ play.
“'Man, that kid was the best dang catcher we’ve seen,” Steiner told him, as Sieben recalled. “'What are you doing sending a varsity kid down to catch?'”
Sieben told Williams the confidence he and Steiner had in Williams, and it made all the difference. Williams played a terrific doubleheader at catcher against rival Silver Lake, and the Mustangs swept that series.
“That was my first real varsity start, (and it) was at a position I don’t play,” Williams said “He just gave me all the encouragement and put his trust in me and showed me that he believed in me. That gave me the confidence.”
Sieben shows the same pride in his players in defeat as he does in victory, though, as long as the effort is always there. Rock Creek made it to the Class 3 state title game against Sabetha on May 27, losing 10-4. Sieben said he thought there were some nerves involved in the loss, but he was proud of how his team battled in a big game. He grants a healthy dose of leadership responsibility to his seniors.
Williams gathered the eight other seniors on the squad after the championship loss and urged them not to be down on themselves, nor forget their accomplishments from the season. One of the those was winning a fifth-straight regional title, and Sieben gave the credit to his players.
“He’s a selfless leader. He never wants to take credit for the success our program has had. And our program was successful before he got here, but he brought us to a whole new level of consistency,” Williams said. “We’re talking about five-straight regional championships since he’s been here. His first year here was a state title. I think it comes down to his care for the players and how much he invests in us.”
Sieben always stresses accountability to his players. It’s become contagious at Rock Creek so much so that the seniors often hold the underclassmen accountable. Sieben said he hasn’t had to do nearly as much coaching the past few years as he did when he first got there because the players just know the expectation is always a state title. His team embraces that, and they embrace him.
“His main goal isn’t just to make us better baseball players, but better young men. I’ve never had a coach that pushed me so hard,” Williams said. “At times I was just like, ‘What the heck is this guy doing?’ He could be yelling at you one minute and the next he’s got his arm around you, showing you how much he values you as a human. Nothing gets you to perfection, but he’s close to it.”