Central Michigan has consistently fielded one of the Mid-American Conference's top pitching staffs during Jeff Opalewski's eight seasons as the program’s pitching coach.
His outstanding work was rewarded in November 2014 with a promotion to associate head coach and recruiting coordinator.
In 2016, Opalewski saw two of his top protégés, Sean Renzi and Nick Deeg, drafted by Major League Baseball organizations. Deeg, a left-hander, went to the San Francisco Giants in the 30th round, while Renzi, a hard-throwing righty, went to the Chicago White Sox in the 32nd round.
Thirteen Chippewa hurlers have been selected in the Major League Baseball Draft under Opalewski’s tutelage. Four others have signed free agent contracts with major league teams.
Opalewski oversaw a pitching staff that in 2016 finished with a 4.72 team earned run average, good for fourth in the 12-team MAC and ranked second in the conference with 404 combined strikeouts.
Deeg ranked third in the league with 86 strikeouts, while Renzi was sixth with 75. Deeg was also second in the conference with two shutouts and was third with two complete games.
The Chippewas’ pitching staff finished the 2015 season, during which CMU won the MAC regular-season title, with a 3.64 cumulative ERA, which ranked second in the league and 67th nationally.
Among CMU’s mound corps leaders were Renzi, a First Team All-MAC selection; Deeg, an all-league second-teamer who became the first in program history to earn the Rawlings Gold Glove as the nation’s best defensive pitcher; closer Tim Black who set CMU season (11) and career (20) marks for saves while earning Second Team All-MAC honors; and Sean Martens, who was chosen as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, the second time that has happened during Opalewski's tenure.
Opalewski has mentored 14 pitchers who have earned All-MAC honors, two of whom have gone on to to be named All-Region.
In 2014, the Chippewas led the MAC, and ranked 66th nationally, with a 3.39 ERA. That group was led by First Team All-MAC selections Pat Kaminska, who was also an All-Region pick, and Black. Pitcher Jordan Foley was selected in the fifth round by the New York Yankees, becoming CMU’s highest draft pick since 2003. Matt Trowbridge was taken in the 13th round by the Baltimore Orioles, and Kaminska signed a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers.
In 2013, CMU posted a 4.15 team ERA, good for fifth in the league, and recorded 413 strikeouts, which ranked second among conference staffs. Right-hander Dylan Rheault was selected in the 19th round of the draft by the Baltimore Orioles.
Opalewski’s 2012 staff posted a 3.93 team ERA and wracked up 436 strikeouts, numbers that ranked fifth and second, respectively, in the MAC. Four Chippewas were selected in the major league draft: Zach Cooper, 15th round, Philadelphia Phillies; Dietrich Enns, 19th round, New York Yankees; Jon Weaver, 21st round, Tampa Bay Rays; and Ryan Longstreth, 40th round, Detroit Tigers.
The Chippewas won the MAC West title in 2011, recording a team ERA of 3.00 and striking out 208 in 26 conference games. Cooper tossed CMU’s first nine-inning one-hitter, a 3-0 shutout of Western Michigan, on May 14.
All three of CMU's weekend starters on that 2011 squad were taken in the major league draft. Trent Howard went in the seventh round to the Baltimore Orioles, Jake Sabol was taken in the 36th round by the Detroit Tigers, and Cooper went in the 46th round to the Florida Marlins.
In 2010, Opalewski groomed MAC Pitcher of the Year Jesse Hernandez and Enns, who would be named the MAC Freshman of the Year, as the Chippewas boasted a league-best 3.65 ERA in MAC games, and the top overall mark at 4.39.
Both Enns and Hernandez were named to the All-MAC First Team, while Howard earned the second of his three straight All-MAC Second Team laurels. Three Chippewas -- Enns, Howard, and Bryce Morrow -- finished in the league top 10 in ERA. Enns also finished among the nation's leaders in ERA and hits allowed per nine innings, earning Freshman All-America honors.
In 2009, his first season as an assistant with the Chippewas, Opalewski oversaw a pitching staff that had the third-best ERA in the MAC. Dan Taylor and Trent Howard were both Second Team All-MAC picks. Taylor was the Diamondbacks’ 22nd round draft pick, while Devan Kline signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco Giants.
Several players have made their mark on the CMU record book under the guidance of Opalewski. Most notable are Cooper's 270 career strikeouts, which rank third in program history; Enns’ 2.39 career ERA, which is sixth all-time; and Black’s season (11) and career (20) saves records.
Cooper and Trent Howard both posted top-10 strikeout marks during their career under Opalewski, and four of the top-10 save seasons have also come during his tenure.
Opalewski earned four letters at CMU from 2001-04 and served as an undergraduate assistant coach at CMU in 2005. He returned as the volunteer assistant during the 2006 season.
Opalewski worked in varied roles with several organizations, including Cangelosi Baseball and Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports from 2006-08. During that time, he also served as associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, as an assistant coach for the Illinois Sparks, an 18U club team, and as the pitching coach at his alma mater, Heritage High School, in Saginaw.
As a player at CMU, Opalewski appeared in 46 games, 30 of them starts. He logged 147 1/3 innings, finishing 8-8 in his career. He earned his bachelor's degree in marketing in 2005.
Opalewski and his wife Candace reside in Mount Pleasant.