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Gene Stephenson enters College Baseball Hall of Fame

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Saturday, June 28, 2014, at 11:24 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 29, 2014, at 6:26 a.m.

Photos

Hall of Fame Shockers

Wichita State baseball players previously inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame

1B Phil Stephenson (1979-82)

• Class of 2007

• One of three players named as Collegiate Baseball’s Player of the Century in 1998 and voted to Baseball America’s top 10 list of Players of the Century.

• Hit .423 for his career with 418 hits, 206 stolen bases, 420 runs, 91 doubles and 57 home runs.

OF Joe Carter (1979-81)

• Class of 2009

• The Sporting News Player of the Year in 1981

• Hit .430 for his career with 74 doubles, 58 home runs and 312 RBI.

P/DH Darren Dreifort (1991-93)

• Class of 2009

• Golden Spikes and R.E. “Bob” Smith player of the year awards winner in 1993

• Went 11-1 with a 2.48 ERA while hitting 22 home runs in 1993

P Don Heinkel (1979-82)

• Class of 2010

• Won 51 games, an NCAA career record

• Compiled a 2.62 career ERA with a 51-12 record and 39 complete games

— Gene Stephenson resurrected the Wichita State baseball program, dominated the Missouri Valley Conference and won a College World Series title while amassing 1,837 wins.

While the former Wichita State skipper built the program from nothing, he also helped build the lives of many of his baseball players.

More than a dozen former players showed up at the College Baseball Hall of Fame inductions Saturday to show their support.

They spoke of Stephenson being a coach, and often more.

During Matt Brown’s freshman year his father died, and Stephenson became a surrogate parent.

“One of the things when he came in my home, he promised he would take care of me,” Brown said. “He took care of that and more. He was there for many years after.”

Brown, an outfielder, played for Stephenson from 2005-07, in the middle of and eight-year run of consecutive NCAA regional appearances.

“It’s hard to think about how everything unfolded (at the end of his career),” Brown said. “It’s a little hard to go back to without him there.”

Stephenson, who owns the second-most wins at the D-1 level with 1,837 victories, led the Shockers to the College World Series seven times, including the title in 1989. He won 20 Missouri Valley regular-season titles and 18 Valley tournament titles.

While 33 of Stephenson’s players went on to play in Major League Baseball, there were many more like pitcher Matt Dobson (1994-98) who didn’t get the opportunity.

“This is well-deserved,” Dobson said. “He’s one of the best coaches of all time. Not only is he a great coach, but he’s a great motivator.

“I didn’t go to the pros, so my time at Wichita was a big deal. I had a great time and made a lot of great friendships. I wouldn’t have missed this.”

Pitcher Don Heinkel — a 2010 Hall of Fame inductee and the career wins leader in college baseball — was more than happy to welcome his former coach as the fifth Shocker to earn enshrinement.

“This was just a matter of time,” Heinkel said. “What he did was unprecedented and something that I think could never happen again.”

Stephenson helped guide Heinkel in two directions.

“He helped me fulfill my dream of being a pro ball player and a doctor,” Heinkel said.

The other Wichita State hall of famers are Phil Stephenson, Joe Carter and Darren Dreifort.

Phil Stephenson, Gene’s younger brother by 11 years, was one of Gene Stephenson’s first recruits, playing from 1979-1982.

“”Being his brother, I think he was harder on me than he was on others,” Phil Stephenson said. “We had a lot to prove, to put together a winning baseball program. With my brother on board, it wasn’t a family thing. It was business.”

The school reached the College World Series for the first time in 1982, just five years after Gene Stephenson revived the program.

Phil Stephenson said he wouldn’t be surprised to see his older brother in uniform sometime soon, even after not being a coach for the first time in nearly four decades this season.

“I just wonder if he’s done coaching,” Phil Stephenson said. “It takes a while to get the need out of your system. As long as it’s fun you have something to offer, and he has a lot left.”

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