After a challenging season, freshman Aces coach looks ahead

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Chris Berset talks to Aces players during a game against Bethesda Big Train. (Photo by Mark Briscoe)
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By Mae Hunt | mhunt@alextimes.com

With the Alexandria Aces’ sixth-place finish in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League playoffs, Chris Berset’s first season as the team’s head coach has ended.

Although the Aces, with 17 wins and 22 losses in the 2018 season, declined significantly from last season’s 28 wins and 12 losses, Berset is optimistic about the future.

“We threw away some games, … some very close games we should have won earlier in the year. But with the squad we had, we battled, and we gave it our best effort and we tied for sixth place in the playoffs and lost by a run differential. … It wasn’t as bad is it may seem,” Berset said.

Berset moved to Alexandria after playing years of collegiate and minor league baseball, including seven seasons with the Cincinnati Reds organization. He opened Prime Time Baseball Club in Alexandria along with partner John Skaggs, and, through his business, became acquainted with David DeSilva, the Aces’ head coach of the previous five years.

DeSilva hired Berset as an assistant coach during the 2017 season. Last October, DeSilva stepped down as head coach. Berset, who called coaching a “dream and a passion,” was considered the obvious choice to take over the team.

DeSilva said it was apparent to him from the beginning that Berset was a leader.

“I knew immediately that Chris would be the next manager of the Alexandria Aces,” DeSilva said by email. “After the season, with a lot of thought and reflection, I decided to step down from the organization. My full-time position as a leader with The Hartford Insurance Group had become increasingly demanding and I wanted to make sure I gave the appropriate time and commitment to my family. With Chris on the staff and willing to take over, I knew this was the right time to step down.”

Chris Berset helps Aces players warm up before a game against the Loudon River Dogs. (Photo by Mark Briscoe)

The first year of any job comes with a learning curve, and Berset said this was particularly true for a summer league baseball coach. That’s, in part, because being a coach in a seasonal league, like the Cal Ripken league, is vastly different than being the coach of a major league baseball team. The head coach is responsible not only for creating lineup and running drills, but also building the foundation for a successful team.

As head coach, Berset is in charge of recruiting players to join the Aces. Recruitment proved to be a particularly challenging task in his initial year, considering that the recruiting period typically takes place between August and September, and Berset didn’t step up as head coach until October.

“There [were] a lot of guys already taken … it comes down to recruiting,” Berset said.

In addition, Berset dealt with the recruitment challenges that face every seasonal sports team.

“You’ve got to get the guys who want to be here, who want to play. … I only get them for about two months of the whole entire year. I can’t work with them for the other 10 months when they’re with their colleges,” Berset said.

Pat Malone, co-founder of the Aces Organization, said Berset’s experience playing collegiate and Triple-A minor league baseball will serve as a benefit to future Aces players.

“Each one of these college baseball players who will come to Alexandria … will want a guy who is a mentor, like Chris. Because Chris has been there, and Chris can school them, and Chris can tell them a little bit of the nuances and the experience that he’s had. … We are very glad and proud to have Chris on board as our head coach/manager because of that depth of experience,” Malone said.

As for the Aces’ next season, Berset said he intends to return as head coach. He plans to use what he learned in 2018, as well as his existing connections in the baseball world, to make next season as successful as possible.

“I should be able to get a head start on the recruiting [next season],” Berset said. “I think that’s going to pay immediate dividends … I’ll be able to go out and go get some of these good players from top programs.”

Besides learning what to look for in players, Berset said he also gained experience managing other factors that go into being a head coach. Details like uniforms, field space and transportation can often slip through the cracks if a coach focuses on gameplay alone. Berset had to adjust to the extra work that the job of a head coach requires over that of an assistant coach.

“I figured it would come, but I was unsure of it because I’ve never dealt with it,” Berset said.

Berset’s first season with the Aces was also unique because of his partnership with wife Sara Berset, the team’s general manager.

Malone said that the Bersets brought something new to the dynamic of the team.

“They really connect well with host families, which is something each team needs, and sponsors,” Malone said.

Since the team is a nonprofit organization, a strong presence in the local community is essential for staying afloat.

Berset’s business, Prime Time Baseball, became a sponsor of an Alexandria Little League team, also called the Aces, in 2017, helping to more firmly establish the collegiate team’s brand in the city.

With newly planted yet firm roots in Alexandria and a thorough knowledge of the ins and outs of his position, Berset is confident about the team’s future.

“Going forward, it’s all about getting experience,” Berset said.

Sara and Chris Berset also have another reason to remember this season: Sarah gave birth to the couple’s first child in July, in the midst of the Aces season.

“I kind of surprised her a little bit saying ‘Hey, we’re doing it together,’” Berset said. “She did an outstanding job. …. It’s nice to kind of work as a partnership together. It was a fun time, definitely a learning time between us, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

– mhunt@alextimes.com

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