Mike Birkbeck | Associate Head Coach
Considered by many as the best pitching coach in the country, Mike Birkbeck, a former major league pitcher, has been the associate head coach at Kent State since July 2004 and is currently in his 21st season with the Flashes as of 2017.
Prior to coming to Kent State, Birkbeck spent 14 years playing professionally. His last 10 seasons were spent at the AAA or major league level. He also spent parts of two seasons playing in the Japanese major leagues with the Yokohama Baystars in Yokohama, Japan.
The Golden Flashes have now won eight MAC regular season titles, nine MAC tournament crowns and have appeared in nine NCAA Regional Tournaments during Birkbeck’s tenure, including fifteen championships in the last seventeen seasons. In Birkbeck's 20 seasons, KSU has won 731 games, an average of 36.55 wins per year and have now won 30 or more games in eighteen consecutive seasons. The top five team strikeout totals for a single season ever at KSU have all come under Birkbeck’s watch (2012, 2011, 2009, 2004 and 2016). His staffs have also set two of the lowest season ERAs in school history.
Birkbeck has worked with 45 student-athletes who have been drafted or signed into professional baseball, including 2011 First Round Draftee Andrew Chafin and 2016 fellow first rounder and National Player and Pitcher of the Year Eric Lauer. Lauer also set the season's lowest ERA in the nation that season at 0.69, the lowest in over 30 years across Division I baseball. Six of his former hurlers, Matt Guerrier ’99 (Twins), John VanBenschoten ‘01 (Pirates), Dirk Hayhurst ’03 (Padres), Andy Sonnanstine ’04 (Devil Rays), Chris Carpenter ’08 (Cubs) and Chafin '11 (Diamondbacks) have all appeared in the major leagues. In addition, he has mentored 38 All-MAC, 17 All-MAC Tournament, 11 All-Region and 11 All-American honorees.
Several Golden Flash pitchers have broken single-season or career pitching records under his guidance. 2007 saw RHP Jason Seelman author the best single-season ERA in Kent history, allowing three earned runs in 33 innings for a .82 ERA. Other notable record setting performances include: Justin Gill ‘11, career appearances (97); Kyle McMillen ‘11, who smashed the single-season and MAC single-season saves record (18), Dan Adams 2000 career saves mark (29) and single season appearances (31); and Andy Sonnanstine ‘04, single-season wins (11) and single-season innings pitched (125) in 2004. In addition, the 2012 pitching staff established a new school record for strikeouts with 543 and senior LHP David Starn eclipsed the single-season strikeout mark with 127 and he tied the single-season wins record (11) along with sophomore RHP Tyler Skulina (11). Starn also established new career records in wins (29), innings pitched (341) and strikeouts (347) supplanting former Flash major leaguer Dirk Hayhurst ‘03 in the latter two categories. Lauer’s final season in 2016 broke the single-season ERA record as he landed second behind Starn in career strikeouts (292).
Nearly all who have learned from Birkbeck will say their greatest lessons learned came not from pitching mechanics but from the larger lessons Birkbeck has taught them. As a coach who understands and values personal relationships, he is a great mentor in the mental part of the game and also in teaching lessons that transcend baseball into life.
Birkbeck assists in the evaluation and recruitment of pitchers and is directly responsible for the pitching staff’s off-season winter individual throwing workout programs. He also coordinates the Flashes’ winter and summer youth pitching camps and assists with the throwing portions of all other camps.
Coach Birkbeck is a member of the Orrville Sports Hall of Fame, University of Akron Sports Hall of Fame, Wayne County Sports Hall of Fame, the Richmond Braves 10th anniversary All-Diamond Team and Richmond’s All-Century Team. In summer 2001 he also was inducted into the Greater Akron Baseball Hall of Fame and the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame. In 2012 he was handed the prestegious ABCA/Baseball America Division I National Assistant Coach of the Year award. In January 2016 he was inducted into the Greater Canton Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.
Birkbeck, a 1985 graduate of Akron University with a degree in Business Administration/Marketing, was a four-year letter winner, two-time captain, the 1982 Ohio Valley Conference MVP and an All-American with the Zips. He still holds the Akron career victories record with 24 wins and is also a member of the Ohio Valley Conference’s All-Time team.
A native of Orrville, Ohio, Birkbeck, his wife Suzanne and son John, live in Plain Township, Canton, Ohio. John completed his career as a right-handed pitcher for the Golden Flashes in 2015 and is currently working in the baseball industry.
Derek Simmons | Assistant Coach
Head Coach Jeff Duncan added Derek Simmons to the Kent State baseball staff in July 2017.
“I’m so excited to have Derek join the Kent State family,” said Duncan. “Derek is a proven recruiter and developer and he will have a great impact on our student-athlete. He has an infectious personality and is a very good communicator. His experience at Alabama, Kennesaw State, Central Michigan and Team USA will give us great insight and help push the program forward.
Simmons comes to Kent State from Alabama where he was an assistant coach since July 2016. With the Crimson Tide, he oversaw the infielders, assisted with the hitters, coached first base, was the camp coordinator, on-campus recruiter and was the academic liaison. Alabama’s infielders led the Southeastern Conference with 50 double plays while the team improved in various hitting categories and signed nationally-ranked recruiting classes with Simmons on staff.
Prior to Alabama, Simmons coached for four seasons at Kennesaw State, helping grab the program’s first regular season conference championship in 2016 and the first conference tournament championship in program history in 2014. With Simmons on staff, the Owls went 127-82 overall and 57-37 in conference play. He helped mentor five All-Americans, 31 all-conference honorees and had 16 players get selected in the MLB Draft, including a first-rounder. At Kennesaw State, Simmons oversaw the team’s hitting, recruiting, administrative duties, academics and camps.
Simmons has been a part of USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars since 2012. He also has Mid-American Conference experience as he was the hitting coach and volunteer assistant coach at Central Michigan from August 2010 to July 2012, helping the Chippewas claim a 2011 MAC West title and place seven student-athletes on the All-MAC team.
Simmons started his playing career at the University of Montevallo, qualifying for the Division II College World Series in 2006. After earning two letters there, he went on to be a two-year letterwinner and captain at Georgia State. Simmons earned first team all-conference accolades, becoming the first player in Georgia State history to be a first-team honoree twice. He finished his career ranked in the top ten in numerous single season categories, including homeruns, runs scored and RBI while posting a .344 career batting average for the Panthers.
After college, Simmons played one season in independent baseball before entering the coaching profession. He and his wife Erin have two children, Bella and Braxton.
Tony Caldwell | Volunteer Assistant
Bio coming soon!