Eric Wedge has been a busy man since being hired in late May to take over the Wichita State baseball program.
He hired a complete staff, including Loren Hibbs with his 27 years of head coach experience as WSU’s director of operations, ensured all of WSU’s returning foundation stayed in place, convinced heralded pitching recruit Jake Hamilton to pick the Shockers over signing in the MLB Draft and launched his own recruiting for 2021 and beyond.
For a coach with no coaching experience at the Division I level, Wedge is off to a busy — and productive — start for the Shockers.
“I’m confident with the staff we’ve put together, I’m confident in myself and I’m confident in our athletic department,” Wedge said. “I understand what it takes to win a baseball game and that’s something that does take experience. The mindset that you carry, that’s something you can control. The culture you create, that’s something you can control. Ultimately the kids are going to be the ones in charge of this, but we’re going to help show them the way.”
Wedge has made it clear he wants to restore Shockers baseball to its previous heights.
For much of the last decade, attendance for WSU baseball games has dipped with the Shockers not playing in an NCAA Regional since 2013, a Super Regional since 2008 and a College World Series since 1996.
The good news is that Wedge (a standout catcher for WSU from 1987-89), pitching coach Mike Pelfrey (a star pitcher for WSU from 2003-05) and Hibbs (a star outfielder for WSU from 1982-84, then an assistant coach from 1985-92) have all experienced WSU at its best.
Wedge made it clear that he’s not coming in looking to be Gene Stephenson 2.0, but his staff will certainly draw on those experiences under Stephenson.
“Obviously Gene built a great tradition here and we’re going to lean on that, but ultimately we’re going to look to create our own path,” Wedge said. “We want to draw from all of those positive experiences over the years that we all had here at Wichita State, but we’re also going to draw from those experiences since leaving Wichita State. We want the best of both worlds.”
While Wedge does not have any collegiate baseball experience, his name is still familiar at the MLB level following a 10-year career as a manager with the Cleveland Indians (2003-09) and Seattle Mariners (2011-13). He guided the Indians to 96 wins and the American League Central Division title in 2007, which earned him the AL Manager of the Year award.
He’s not familiar with the day-to-day grind of the job, so that’s why he hired Hibbs, someone who has spent most of the last three decades perfecting that grind.
Some point to his lack of recruiting experience, but Wedge counters that he’s been evaluating talent his whole career and has spent the last three years as a player development advisor for the Toronto Blue Jays. While he had not given a college-based recruiting pitch, he knows how to spot talent.
That means he will recruit a different way at WSU.
“We’re going to build a culture and a mindset here of learning and toughness and consistency and the way we approach our day,” Wedge said. “There has to be a sense of pride in this program. We’ll go anywhere and everywhere for guys, but we’re not just going to bring in mass numbers. We’re going to bring people in strategically. We’re going to make sure everybody has the time and attention they need to build a program we feel like we’re capable of building. We’re going to do the work the way we feel we need to do the work with not necessarily the best guys, but the right guys.”
So what is the kind of player Wedge is looking for?
“We want to play smart baseball,” Wedge said. “We want to be students of the game. I expect them to be great teammates, respect the game and show up and compete every day. That means there has to be work ethic in practice. Those have to be absolutes. There are certain absolutes that just have to happen. They’re non-negotiable. Everyone has to get on board with them.”
Wedge knows that transition will take time to lead to the type of winning on the field that WSU fans yearn for. But he’s confident that the Shockers returning to a national power is not only possible, but the goal.
“We’re in a better conference now in the American and now we’re going to have one of the top facilities in all of college baseball,” Wedge said. “We have all the resources we need to go out there and succeed. I couldn’t be getting here at a better time.
“I’m not just here for the baseball program. I’m here for the athletic department, for the university, for the city and for the state of Kansas. I’m passionate about all of them. For me, this is a life move. It’s a big move and not something I take lightly.”