bleedCrimson.net: Was this freshman class with Parker Hipp, Zach Fisher, Tyler Mack and Ryan Beck the best performing freshmen classes as a group that you've had?
Rocky Ward: Yeah. Clearly. We've had a couple years where we've had a freshman or two who've really played great. Hipp and Fisher were gonna play a lot of baseball but they got moved into an every day role in a lot of cases because of the injuries to Harty and Sodders and Beck and Mack moved themselves into weekend starting roles in league and really handled it well. It's probably the best group of freshman performances we've ever had. I don't know what'll happen but I think Parker Hipp and Zack Fisher are deserving of Freshman All-American honors. I would think that Ryan Beck would but his earned run average won't be good enough. He had three or four innings where he gave up big runs. Earned run average is exactly that, it's an average. There were just a couple times where he bobbled. Eighty percent of the time he was on the mound he was outstanding, the other twenty percent he was bad and it kind of hurt his overall average. But that's part of making the transition from high school baseball to Division I, top 100 baseball which is where we play. It's a pretty high level of baseball.
bc.net: Tyler Mack finished with six wins and the freshman record at New Mexico State is 10 wins. How impressive is the season that he had?
RW: Yeah, wins by a freshman is 10 by Gary Goldsmith. He's all over the record book. He played in 1990 and when you look at our stat book, games started in a season, 19, career 64, Gary Goldsmith. Innings pitched in a season, career innings pitched, he's the career strikeout leader. For Tyler Mack to win six is a big deal. Ten for a freshman is quite a year, 10 for anybody. I just went through the All-American list and I believe there are only eight guys on the All-American list in our region that had double-digits in wins. It's hard to do. It's hard to win double-digits in college. You only get 14 to 16 starts and so you've got to be pretty good. Ryan Beck tied the record for most appearances by a freshman with 26 and that happened to be held by Scott Coffman last year so we have back-to-back freshmen make a lot of appearances for us.
bc.net: At the beginning of the season you set the record for the all-time wins by a coach in the program's history. Have you had any time to look back on that now that the season has come to an end?
RW: At the time it happened it was pretty early in the season. There were so many things on my mind, trying to get the team's season off in the right direction and things like that. Looking back to it I'm very proud of it. I'm proud that I made a mark on the program. I came here 14 years ago knowing there wasn't much in place. There really wasn't a facility. The only tradition New Mexico State had was a knack for knocking off top ranked opponents. There is a lot of history of New Mexico State beating Top 20 opponents but never putting together seasons well enough to be considered a Top 20 opponent. That's what I wanted to do and looking back over the course of those 300 plus wins we've done that. We've put ourselves in a position where we're not just a team that's upsetting people we're a team that when it gets beat it's considered an upset. I think that's a big transition.
The number I'm most proud of is a number that most people wouldn't have even known or paid attention to and that is the fact that against Louisiana Tech, I won my 400th game as a coach here. There were the two years that dad was the head coach and I was the co-head coach in 2001 and 2002. Those games go on his national record which is fine. It was a big deal because those wins took him to over 1,000 career wins which was a big milestone in coaching and I was proud to be his assistant coach while he did it. We win our 400th game in my time here. Forever my record will represent the games that counted for me as head coach but the number I always look at is the number of games that have been won in my complete time here and now that sits at 403. I kind of count those real equally as my wins because it was a program that I came in and started, we changed up for a couple years and I was just as equally as part of those as dad was. I look back, to win 400 at New Mexico State from where I started, with what we had to what we have now and where we are now, I'm real extraordinarily proud. I have a lot of close colleagues, close friends in the business that understood why I took the job at New Mexico State. I had a pretty good job at Kansas State who was getting ready to move into the Big 12. I knew, as did everyone else, that as soon as the Big 12 formed that it was going to be a big league conference and as an assistant coach at Kansas State, within a couple years I knew that I would financially be better off than when I came here, basically I took the job at New Mexico State for the same pay level as I had at Kansas State but I was a 32 year old and I couldn't turn down the opportunity to be a 32 year old head coach. At the time I took the job, I was the youngest head coach in the country. I wanted the challenge, I thought I could do it. I thought I was good enough. There were times along the way I wasn't so sure. But there were a lot of friends that told me I couldn't win at New Mexico State. They [NM State] don't have anything in place, it's in an isolated town in New Mexico. Any of us who have lived in New Mexico have endured the jokes about whether we're not we're a part of the United States and all that other stuff. A lot of people didn't think it could be done. What I'm proud of is the fact that not only did we get a lot of things accomplished that a lot of my friends and colleagues didn't think we could but along the way we've been able to break a whole bunch of records, and maybe the least important one is the career wins record. But what it does for me is, maybe when I'm in my wheelchair or walking on my front porch with my cane, I have accomplished something that a lot of people thought couldn't be done and it will forever be a part of the history of New Mexico State. I love this town and I love this university and it makes me proud to be part of something that's permanent. The hopes when you build a program, and I'm still pretty young as far as coaches go, I might still be here 20 years from now, nobody knows what's going to happen tomorrow, but I do know that it's going to be a record that's going to hold for quite a while.
bc.net: How is the incoming class looking for the 2011 season?
RW: We feel like we have a real solid class. When you look at the returning club, we have our returning starting center fielder and left fielder, second baseman, shortstop and catcher and you feel like those guys are solid. We've got to replace Nate Shaver in right, Wade Reynoso at third, Auten/Aguirre/Harty at first and there are a couple guys that are in the program that might be able to fill a couple of those spots. We've got what we think is one of the better third basemen coming into the program. We've got another shortstop who is another multiple position player. He can play any of the infield positions and outfield. We've got two outfielders who had great years in junior college as offensive players that we're really looking forward to getting our hands on and working with. One's a kid out of Washington, out of Edmonds Community College. The other is from Eastern Oklahoma Junior College. Eastern beat my brother in the championship so he's not very happy but he said the guy can really play. We've got a couple pretty good young catchers to go along with Zach [Fisher]. We're hopeful that we'll have Chuck Howard back. We expect that he'll be eligible and back ready to play, he'll be important. Then on the mound we've got the two freshmen plus Dan Reid so we feel like we've got three of our four weekend starters back. Justin Cooper, Scott Coffman and Adam Heredia as three pretty good setup and close guys. None of them had great years this year. Heredia was really good at the end of the year. Coffman had a good year but not a great year and Cooper spent some time as a starter. He wants us to and we want him to go back and close a year from now. So we feel like we have three starters and three closers returning with a group of six or seven pretty good prospects on the mound that are coming in. A couple of those guys we could get impacted by the draft. You just never know with the Major League draft. I don't know that right now we have any of those guys projected in the top 10 rounds which pretty much guarantees you lose them. It's just too much money to turn down in those rounds. The rounds we always worry about as coaches are the 11th through 20th. The money usually isn't enough to counter what quality of a college education would provide. But the prestige is what's really hard to turn down for a family. Think about it, if you had a son and he's drafted in the 15th round and he's got a college scholarship that he's happy with and the Yankees walk into your living room and offer you $50,000 to play baseball, that's hard to turn down. It's hard to tell the guy no. Most kids dream of that opportunity. Now from a realistic standpoint, it can be explained that the $50,000 can be recouped 10 times more through a college education.
We feel really good about where we are with the recruiting class and there's a good enough base with the quality of the returning players that we feel really good about.