By Nate Thompson
MUSKEGON – For Logan Fleener, being named the new manager of the Muskegon Clippers is much more gratifying than considering it a resume booster.
To him, earning the position meant a return back to almost a second home, since his dad, Mark Fleener, grew up in the area and played baseball at Mona Shores. Although he was born in Findlay, Ohio, and later moved to the Nashville area during his childhood, the younger Fleener fell in love with Muskegon when he donned the Clippers uniform himself as a player back in the summer of 2016.
Now, he said, it’s come full circle, as he is set to replace longtime area coach Walt Gawkowski as the Clippers’ leader, although Gawkowski is still involved as the team’s general manager and head of player acquisition.
“Near the end of last season, Walt reached out and said it was going to be his last year and they needed somebody to take over,” Fleener said. “I loved my time in Muskegon and the relationships I’ve started here.”
The Clippers officially opened the position in early fall of 2021, and after a couple interviews over the phone, they had found their man in Fleener, making him a manager at the age of 27.
Aside from his dad’s connection to the area, Fleener’s uncle, Greg, is currently the head soccer coach at Oakridge, and he has other relatives and family friends close by as well.
“Obviously, it’s special to get a head coach job for a young guy like myself, but it’s so much more to me than just another bar on the resume,” Fleener said. “I love this area and knowing the kind of people that run this team and the other coaches that we’ve got; just great baseball minds; I know it’s a chance for me to develop as a coach.”
Fleener is currently an assistant coach at NAIA school Tennessee Wesleyan in Athens, Tenn., and has helped lead the program to the NAIA College World Series this spring. As a player, Fleener played with another NAIA program, Roosevelt University in Chicago. His coaching duties began as an assistant at his alma mater and he’s also been on the staff at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville.
Fleener’s coaching staff with the Clippers includes a former playing teammate at the junior college ranks, Dion Felger, who will be the team’s pitching coach. Felger, a Youngstown, Ohio, native, is currently the pitching coach at Chattanooga State Community College.
The Clippers’ other assistant is a familiar face in the local prep baseball scene – Brian Wright of Shelby. Wright has coached the Tigers for 36 seasons and has amassed more than 500 wins at the school.
“To be able to work side-by-side with a coach like Brian Wright, I mean the guy has more love for the game than people who are around it every single day,” Fleener said. “He’s a great teacher and the love and passion he has for the game, he passes it on.”
As for building the roster for this summer’s Clippers, Gawkowski asked for a group effort in compiling college-aged athletes looking for exposure and a chance to improve their skillset.
“Myself and (Felger) reached out to any connection we may have had and we compiled a list of I don’t know how many players, but it was lengthy,” Fleener said. “Walt did the same with players around this area that he was more familiar with.”
Fleener said it gave him an opportunity to put his recruiting hat on, and it helps that he had first-hand knowledge of the Clippers’ organization and his experience playing in the area.
“A huge plus that I tell some guys is that we’re on the water,” Fleener said. “Some guys will say the water to them is the Atlantic Ocean, but Lake Michigan looks like the ocean to me. The beach is there, it’s beautiful weather, not too hot, the humidity is low. And with our staff, you’ll get to learn a lot.”
Fleener said he’s kept tabs on several players on the Clippers’ 32-man roster. A few players he’s already excited about include right-handed pitchers Parker Swanson from Milwaukee Area Tech College and Tyler Petersen from Gulf Coast Community College; catcher Logan Hylek, a Lansing native from Davenport University; infielder Jace Preston, a DeWitt native from Lansing Community College; and Grand Valley State outfielder Steven Nelson, who was one of the Lakers’ top hitters this spring.
The Clippers’ will again play their home games at historic Marsh Field in Muskegon. Their season begins with a 6-game home stand beginning June 7-12.