Like a boss
A life of baseball leads father, son duo to head MSU baseball team
Many baseball teams must work together closely, but the Spartans are more of a family than most. Jake Boss Jr., right, is the head coach for the Spartans while his father, Jake Boss Sr., is a volunteer assistant coach.
When he was nearing high school growing up, Jake Boss Jr. wanted to go play baseball at a school in a different city.
Despite growing up in Holt, Mich., the current MSU baseball head coach wanted to play at Lansing’s Everett High School. Boss had grown up in the Everett dugout with his father — the head coach there at the time.
“He said one day, ‘Dad, I just want to play ball for you. I just want to see if I can do it,’” Boss Jr.’s mother Joanne Boss said. “We worked that out so he was a tuition student at Everett High School because we lived in Holt.”
About 20 years later, Boss Jr. went to his father with another request. But this time, he wanted his father to be an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan University, where Boss Jr. had just accepted his first collegiate head coaching position.
“I did not expect that, not at all,” Boss Sr. said. “When he told me, what could I say? To have an opportunity to work with your son in coaching — something that you’ve done forever and loved so much — I jumped on it. I said yes before he changed his mind.”
But there was a delay. Boss Jr. had accepted the job in November 2007 and Boss Sr. already had a commitment to Lansing Catholic Central High School, where he had been the head coach since 2002. So the decision was made that Boss Sr. would join his son at Eastern Michigan the following year.
It was exciting, as the two had worked together as assistant coaches at Eastern Michigan from 1997-99 and against each other in the 90s in high school ball.
Boss Sr. would have to commute from Holt to Ypsilanti, Mich., but the pair was going to make it work.
Then there was another change. After one season at Eastern Michigan, Boss Jr. was named the head coach at MSU in July 2008. That made things easier. Boss Jr. would be able to take advantage of his father’s experience, while making the commute a nonissue.
“Obviously when I got the job here, it was really a no-brainer,” Boss Jr. said. “It made it even easier because he’s right here. I wanted him on our staff. His knowledge of the game is unbelievable, and he does a great job with kids.”
Now in its third season at MSU, the pair has MSU baseball tied for first place in the Big Ten halfway through the conference season, with a home series against fellow first-place team Penn State this weekend. The Spartans are aiming for their first Big Ten title since 1979, and the coaching staff has plenty of experience on which to lean.
Boss Sr. is a coaching legend in the Lansing area. He was the head coach at Lansing Everett High School from 1973-96 and Lansing Catholic Central High School from 2002-08.
In his time in the area, Boss Sr. won three Diamond Classics, seven conference championships, 10 district championships and three regional championships.
He was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Greater Lansing Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked as a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
So it wasn’t a mystery as to why Boss Jr. wanted his father to help him.
“He’s been around for so long, he’s learned from a lot of different people and I’d be crazy not to tap into the knowledge that he has,” Boss Jr. said.
After playing for his father at Everett, Boss Jr. played college ball at Alma College from 1989 to 1993.
He then moved into coaching like his father. After two high school stops in 1994 and 1995, Boss Jr. left for an assistant coaching job at Iowa Central Community College, where he coached from 1996-97.
“He went out to Iowa Central and that was kind of hard for my husband because, my goodness, he had been around (for a long time), not that far away,” Joanne Boss said. “Then he came back here to be a grad assistant at Eastern Michigan.”
Boss Jr. was at Eastern Michigan from 1997 to 2004, then he went to Michigan for three years before returning to Ypsilanti for the head coaching job.
“I think my mom was excited (when I came to MSU) because that meant (Boss Sr.) didn’t have to drive an hour and a half every day to go down to Ypsilanti,” Boss Jr. said. “It really was a natural fit. It was something that everyone was excited about.”
But it was an adjustment for Boss Sr. With 29 years of head coaching experience, he had to learn to pull back and let his son control things.
“It wasn’t easy, especially the first year,” Boss Sr. said. “I think I’m getting better with it. It’s not that I question what he’s doing, because he’s doing the right things here, there’s no question about it. … Basically, I had to learn my place, and it was an adjustment.
“At times it kind of still is, because I like to jump in and go. But it’s good. I think we have a good working relationship, and it’s working out pretty good.”
It’s not often a son has his father work under him. Is it a chance for some childhood payback? Boss Jr. chuckled and cracked a smile when asked about it.
“We joke about that a little bit. A little sweet revenge for the time he told me to shovel the driveway in the freezing cold,” Boss Jr. said. “It’s an interesting relationship, because during practice, games and things like that, it is more of a coach relationship, it’s not father-son.
“But as soon as that game ends and we’re back in the hotel room or back in the office, it’s definitely a father-son type of thing.”
Boss Jr. technically isn’t “junior,” he is Jake Boss IV. Jake Boss I and Jake Boss II are deceased, but the head coach and his father go by junior and senior to make things easier. When Boss Jr. was set to have a son, there was no doubt what the son’s name would be.
“I said, ‘Jake, what are you going to call him if it’s a boy?’” Joanne Boss said. “He said, ‘Well, Jacob Boss, there’s no middle name.’ I said, ‘Jake, why would you do that?’ He said, ‘Mother, my grandfather and my father are two of the finest men I’ve ever met, and I choose to name my son after them.’”
Now, Jake Boss V spends time on the baseball diamond with his father and grandfather.
Boss Sr. said this will be his last coaching stop. After about 40 years coaching baseball, there couldn’t be a better ending to a career than working with his son.
“I’ve been in Lansing for 42 years now and finally he’s back home with his wife and our grandchildren are here and it couldn’t be any better,” Boss Sr. said.
Boss Jr. has the Spartan program heading in the right direction. With new facilities and a new attitude, Boss Jr. is ready to make the baseball program one of the Big Ten’s best. He was born in a dugout and has learned the game his whole life from a man he calls his best friend. Now the two of them are returning the MSU program to glory.
“For me to be able to spend the time with my dad that I do, I feel pretty fortunate,” Boss Jr. said. “I think a lot of sons would love to have the opportunity that I have: to spend that time with my dad.
“It doesn’t happen with a lot of people, so I’m pretty lucky.”