Forsythe's long and winding road leads him to Bears
By ZACH BOND
GREELEY – The East Coast may have the bright lights and big cities, but for many nothing beats the sweet air of the Rocky Mountains. Northern Colorado softball coach Mike Forsythe is just one of those people after a long, winding road finally brought him out west.
Forsythe has held the role of pitching coach for the Bears for the last two years – ever since head coach Mark Montgomery brought him along in a westward migration when Montgomery took the head job with the Bears. Montgomery had previously coached in Louisiana at Centenary College.
That trip, from the East Coast to Greeley, is one that Forsythe has made more than he probably would have liked – as he spent his first two years on staff commuting from his home in Norwalk, Conn. to Northern Colorado during softball seasons. While thoroughly enjoying himself as a Bear, he didn't want to leave his wife – a longtime fourth-grade teacher– or his pitching academy behind in Connecticut.
"It's been a tough situation," Forsythe says. "Going back and forth was something Coach Montgomery and I discussed when we came out and I left Fordham. We didn't quite have as much time with the pitchers during the offseason – from November until Christmas Break -- but it hasn't worked out bad and we're been getting good results."
Before taking the position at Northern Colorado Forsythe ran his academy, Pro Softball Instructions, while coaching on the staff at Fordham – located in New York City. He has also found himself on the staff of the Akron Racers of the Women's National Pro Fastpitch League before Fordham.
Pro Softball Instructions gave Forsythe the opportunity to work with some younger pitchers, away from a college campus. The academy gives up to 60 lessons a week.
Under Forsythe's watch, the staff at Fordham posted the lowest ERA in the nation and his many different stops have taught him a lot about pitching – which he is now passing on his Northern Colorado staff.
"Pitching is a commitment – it's 90% of the game," Forsythe says. "Working with the Akron Racers and working with some of the best pitchers in the world, you find that the great ones all have two things in common: a passion for pitching and a strong work ethic.
"I haven't changed my coaching style since coming to Colorado, although I quickly realized we need pitchers who can keep the ball down in the zone here. The first time we took batting practice outside, I noticed fly balls carry 50-70 feet farther than on the East Coast. We have to have pitchers who can keep the ball down in the zone and get groundballs because fly balls carry a lot farther."
Despite all his success in New York and across the Eastern time-zone, Forsythe and his wife knew they wanted to retire in the Rocky Mountain region after visiting family in Pueblo. They just didn't know exactly how they were going to get there until Forsythe contacted Montgomery.
After two years of tough commutes, to say the least, Forsythe and his wife have finally made the permanent move to Greeley – bringing his academy with them. Now, aspiring pitchers around the region will have the chance to study under one of the most experienced coaches in the nation.
Forsythe has teamed up with Dave King and his staff at Triple Crown to work with younger pitchers in Fort Collins. He has also traveled to Colorado Springs to help run some clinics for promising pitchers in that region.
And although Montgomery is happy his pitching coach can keep running his academy and working with younger players, he is more excited for his pitchers to get more time with Forsythe.
"I can't tell you how excited we are," Montgomery says. "Mike's presence here has been phenomenal just even in the part-time status that it was. To have him here daily – to contribute with our pitchers and their workouts – I think you're going to see the consistency factor really rise.
"The No. 1 thing about him is his understanding of mechanics. Most pitching coaches can teach some spin and some other things, but Mike really understands the mechanics of the upper and lower body and how those two mesh together."
In just two years under Forsythe, the Bears' pitching staff has seen its collective ERA drop by more than a run. And the staff has already set the two-lowest walk totals in school Division I history since Forsythe came on board.
Junior Megan Wilkinson has been with Forsythe the longest of any Bear pitcher and knows firsthand the way he can improve any pitcher.
"I thought he did a really good job of coming in and working with what I had as far as my pitching style and mechanics," Wilkinson says. "He didn't really try and change me a whole lot – he did a lot to work with me with what I already did as a pitcher and just made it better.
"We've really been working on my curveball and rise-ball and I've made great leaps and strides as far as those pitches go. I am really a lot more confident in myself when I throw them and where I'm going to be able to spot them."
With the Bears preparing to compete in the inaugural Big Sky season and with Forsythe available on a more permanent basis, it appears the sky is the limit for Wilkinson and the rest of the staff.
"I know if everybody is working as hard as I am, we are going to be pretty good this coming year," Wilkinson says. "I hope we come out this first year in the Big Sky and really rip it up and show everybody just who Northern Colorado really is."