CHAMPAIGN — Mike Alves is well connected to the Champaign baseball scene.
Which was key while he went through the process of becoming a high school head coach.
The former Centennial baseball assistant coach is now the new St. Thomas More coach, with STM athletic director Jon Marston announcing the hire on Monday.
But Alves’ transition to becoming the Sabers’ coach after serving under recent Centennial coaches Ryan Remole and Rich Hyde also involved another Champaign high school baseball coach: Champaign Central’s John Staab.
“About a day before Remo stepped down, Staab messaged me and asked if I had any interest in the STM job,” Alves said. Staab’s son, junior Blake Staab, is a member of the Sabers’ baseball program.
“And I actually told him that I had the best job in America because I got to sit back and make fun of Remo and coach and just be with kids,” Alves continued with a laugh. “So I told him, ‘No way I’m leaving.’ And then the next day I get a message from Remo telling me he stepped down. So I kind of debated whether I wanted to be a head coach, and finally after some people reached out to me, I decided to apply.”
After eight full seasons and a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened ninth in Centennial’s dugout, Alves will wear an STM jersey beginning in the summer 2021 campaign.
“It’s a little scary, and it’s really exciting,” said the 48-year-old Alves, a Centennial graduate who was a starter on the 1990 Chargers’ team that reached the Class AA state tournament. “I’ve heard there’s a lot of great kids over at STM right now, so that’s exciting to go in with a senior class that’s supposedly hard workers and wants to get after it.”
Alves replaces Scott Runyan. Runyan, a Champaign Central graduate, was STM’s coach the last three seasons.
Alves was part of 162 victories, three regional championships and one sectional title in his coaching tenure with the Chargers. Remole, who resigned earlier this year after seven seasons as Centennial’s coach, recently was replaced by another Chargers assistant in Sam Flowers.
STM struggled during its most recent schedule of 2019, going 3-21 with a roster that included just one senior. The 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic.
The Sabers have won four regional titles in program history, most recently in 2015.
“I want a bunch of kids that want to hustle and work hard and want to be playing aggressive baseball,” Alves said. “I just have a good time with the boys — try to get the boys to work hard and get them to improve, but also reach out and get to know them a little bit.”
Alves helped institute a player development program at Centennial that he aims to duplicate among the Sabers.
“We were big on building up the players as far as in the weight room, throwing programs, hitting programs,” Alves said, “so hopefully that will translate well into the smaller school.”
Alves has accepted the STM role amid plenty of pandemic-related uncertainty. And that extends beyond the need to forge connections with his new athletes.
The owner of Champaign’s screen-printing company, A&A Graphx, also acknowledged he isn’t terribly familiar with many of the foes on the Sabers’ schedule, as Centennial more often faced bigger-school opponents.
In fact, Alves needs to become reacquainted with what it’s like to coach a game at all.
“At Centennial, we couldn’t even be around the kids until August (because of pandemic restrictions),” Alves said. “Actual baseball activities, I haven’t been around since March. I don’t coach travel ball ... so it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the baseball field.”