We've posted Part One of our season wrap up interview with Aggie head baseball coach Rocky Ward. Part two will be posted on Monday. One of the things we wanted to highlight from part one was our conversation with Coach Ward about the Aggies' 12 outgoing seniors.
This is a group of kids that has gotten us back over the top. We had established ourselves in the Sun Belt and really struggled in the WAC and so when these guys came in, they didn't have a whole lot of tradition. The two teams prior to them hadn't had much success in this league and so they had to do it again. They had to do something nobody else had done and this particular group of guys was a pretty special group. When I talk to teams each year I explain to them, and they look at me like I'm nuts, but I say, "Listen, tradition is not something you can hold, it's not something you can touch. It's just something that exists. All you need to understand is that every player that has come before you in this program, you're standing on their shoulders and what they've done and what they've accomplished will make it easier for you to accomplish things. But you have a responsibility as a player to leave the program in a better condition than when you came into it." This group took that to heart and they have left this program in much better shape than what they inherited. If you continue to do that year to year and continue to have seniors like this that take their responsibility… This is a baseball program that when I first came here 14 years ago, really didn't care much about school. They really didn't care much about doing the right thing socially. They weren't a bunch of bad kids but they went out and did whatever they wanted to do. There wasn't any discipline in the program. There was random interest in school. In other words, the good students were good students and the bad students were bad students.
What we've worked hard with over the years is to develop an understanding and I talk to recruits about this a lot. We're looking for triple threat people. That means I want kids that take their school and academics seriously. If a kid's talent level, his mental abilities, are in a level where all he can do is make a 2.5, then I expect him to make a 2.5. If he makes a 2.4, I'll get after him. If he makes a 2.6, I'll praise him. Sometimes you praise the 2.6 student more than you praise the 4.0 student because it's a matter of ability. This particular group of people, not only were they really outstanding in what they did in their careers as baseball players but they were outstanding academically.
This group of seniors that have gone out, their GPA is well over 3.0. Several of those kids have already graduated in just a four year span which is hard to do in today's world. The average student doesn't graduate in four years anymore. It's pretty much a five year type thing. So they have helped me establish a responsibility among Aggie baseball players to get back to the triple threat person and that is a quality student, a quality citizen and a quality player. Clearly they were successful at a very high level in all three tiers. I think that this last semester will have been the eighth consecutive semester that New Mexico State baseball's team GPA was 3.0 or better. That's saying something considering what happened three years ago when they shortened the season. My kids have had to miss a lot of class and yet these kids continue to perform and do a good job.
From a standpoint of the social part, it's not just that these kids didn't get in trouble, it's about these kids took their responsibility to community service things. I had several kids who went to elementary schools and read to kids. That's a big deal for a kid who may not be terribly interested in school, to have an athlete come over and read to them, that can reenergize a second, third or fourth grader to work harder and do better. These kids have done a lot in all aspects of the program. I couldn't be prouder of each and every one of them and what they do. In every single case, whether they've graduated or not, they will all clearly graduate. The kids that haven't graduated are all within a semester. I think I have one of the 12 players who has two semesters to go and that was because he made a change in his degree program that put him behind a little bit.
These guys led by example in the three important areas of life and I'm proud of them.
We've also posted an article we wrote for The College Baseball Blog about Florida International's Garrett Wittels who, as of this post, has extended his hitting streak to 55 games. The college baseball record is 58 games set by Aggie head coach Rocky Ward's teammate on the 1987 Oklahoma State team, Robin Ventura. The '87 OSU team advanced all the way to the national championship game before losing to Stanford.
Here's the full conversation with Coach Ward regarding the streak:
Records are made to be broken and I will forever remember being involved with that streak because as I've told you before, it's not all about the player that does it. The team around him has so much to do with his success and that's what I enjoyed so much about being involved with Robin's streak is you felt like you had responsibility for it. What sounds like an individual accomplishment is very much a team accomplishment. What I can tell you about it is if he does it, great respect goes to him and his teammates in being able to accomplish it. The crazy thing about it is he's going to have to do it under the pressure of playoffs. Robin ended his streak against Stanford in the semifinal game of the College World Series.
I'm rooting for the guy. I think the fact that Robin set the bar 23 years ago and it's held for a long time. I think when people get close to records like that, I think everybody roots for them because it's so hard to get within range. As you get closer the pressure mounts and it gets harder. The biggest thing will not be whether or not he gets a hit. It'll be whether his teammates are able to continue to give him opportunities. One of the things we feared as teammates, Robin hit 30 home runs that year, was that somebody wasn't going to pitch to him at all. That's what we were afraid of. They go out and maybe not intentionally walk him but just not throw him any pitches to hit. That never happened but there were a couple times when he was in his third at bat and they intentionally walked him because of the game situation and we all kind of got angry about it but that's what I mean, it drove us as a ballclub. We went to the national final that year and got beat by Stanford. If you wanted to point to one thing in us winning that game and us not, it may have been the fact that the hitting streak was over and all of us were kind of recovering from it a little bit. We beat Stanford in that semifinal. But that was the old bracketing where you have four teams left, three of them have losses and one of them has no losses. We were the no-loss team and in the old bracket, the bracket forced the team without a loss to play a loser. If you play that loser and win, then you played for the national championship the next day and the other team has to beat you twice. If you play that loser and lose, which we did, then you rest a day while those other two teams play another game to get back to you. Basically we did not win a game after the streak ended. There were only two games but we didn't win either of the two. That's how big an emotional ride it was. It drove us as a team. It was an individual accomplishment that we all felt like we had a lot to do with.
Also, be sure to check out our Aggie football Q&A with Kevin from College Football Zealots.