Josh Birnberg looks toward home plate during a West Bloomfield High School freshman baseball game last season. (By Laura Schwartz)

At age 24, Josh Birnberg is one of the youngest coaches in the state of Michigan.

Josh Birnberg is back home. And it didn’t take a long time.

Just six years after ending a memorable playing career with the West Bloomfield High School baseball team, Birnberg is the Lakers’ new coach.

At age 24, he’s one of the youngest high school coaches in any sport in the state.

West Bloomfield Athletic Director Eric Pierce, who was Birnberg’s coach during the four years Birnberg was the starting shortstop for the Lakers, said he is ready for his new job.

“Eric knows my expectations for our baseball team because he bought into the program when he was a player, and he knows how much everyone loves baseball at West Bloomfield,” Pierce said.

“He’s not going to shy away from anything. He has a high baseball IQ, beyond his years. That’s why he’ll be a great leader. He’ll get us back to where we’ve been.”

West Bloomfield went 13-20 last season. The Lakers don’t finish under .500 very often.
Birnberg coached Motor City Hit Dogs 10U and 17U travel baseball teams the last three summers. He feels that experience — and six years of playing for the Hit Dogs — was great preparation for being a high school baseball coach.

Josh Birnberg is now in charge of the West Bloomfield Lakers
Josh Birnberg (left) and teammate Brandon Wallace show off the West Bloomfield High School baseball team’s district championship trophy in 2014. By Wendy Birnberg

“There are high expectations for Hit Dogs teams,” he said. “The Hit Dogs aren’t just any summer travel program. They’re one of the best travel programs in the country.”

Birnberg is well aware of the advantages and possible pitfalls of being a young coach at the high school level.

“I can relate to the guys because I’m not far removed from being a high school student,” he said. “One of the challenges is thinking at times that coaching is easier than playing. I know that’s not true, but sometimes you can think that.”

Then there’s the temptation of getting upset at a player for making a mistake.

“I can’t get upset because I know how hard it is to play baseball,” Birnberg said. “Did I make mistakes when I played? Of course, I did.”

Birnberg didn’t make too many mistakes when he played for the Lakers.

Pierce said he could see when Birnberg joined the team as a freshman in Pierce’s first year as coach that Josh was someone the Lakers could build their team around.

“Josh was ready for the rigors of high school baseball, even at a position like shortstop, because he had played high-level travel baseball (with the Hit Dogs),” Pierce said. “I knew he wasn’t going to be intimidated playing against older players and he wanted the responsibility of being our starting shortstop.”

Josh Birnberg is now in charge of the West Bloomfield Lakers
Josh Birnberg (left) takes in a West Bloomfield High School boys basketball game at Breslin Center in East Lansing with friends Max Sandberg and Mitchell Jones. Carol Henson

Birnberg was West Bloomfield’s team captain in 2013 and 2014. The Lakers stunned Birmingham Brother Rice in the districts when Birnberg was a senior and advanced to the regional finals.

After graduating from West Bloomfield in 2014, Birnberg went to Eastern Michigan University to play baseball.

But he didn’t spend much time in Ypsilanti, leaving after a freshman red-shirt season and transferring to Oakland University, where he didn’t play baseball and earned a degree in communications in 2018.

“I must admit, it took me a while to get over not playing baseball anymore,” Birnberg said. “I started playing high-level baseball when I was 9. Getting into coaching with the Hit Dogs really helped me through a tough time.”

Birnberg also coached the West Bloomfield freshman baseball team last spring and, this winter, he was the coach of the undefeated (12-0) Abbott Middle School seventh-grade boys basketball team.

He’s also a hitting and fielding instructor at High Performance Training in Keego Harbor.
So why did Birnberg coach basketball at Abbott?

He has experience in the sport. He played basketball at West Bloomfield.

He was the Lakers’ starting point guard as a sophomore and junior, but he didn’t play basketball as a senior so he could concentrate on baseball.

Birnberg’s first scheduled game as West Bloomfield’s baseball coach was to be March 23, but the game was canceled due to the coronavirus.