An interview with legendary Baylor baseball coach Steve Smith was one of the high points of the trip from Wichita Falls, Texas to the Brickyard to watch the Big 12 Baseball Postseason Tournament last week. Fellow Wichitan Bob Balch was conversing with Baylor baseball play-by-play announcer Tom Barfield when he said, "There goes Steve Smith!"
Barfield confirmed that it was indeed Smith who was walking briskly down the aisle between the bleachers at the minor league baseball park in the middle of the tournament.
"Coach!" Barfield shouted. "This man needs to talk with you."
So it was an interview was set up on the spot even though Smith was busy planning his team's strategy for the upcoming game against West Virginia.
Smith's handshake was firm, but not bone-crunching.
"Who do you write for?" he asked.
"Examiner.com. An Internet publication."
He looked far too young to have been the head coach at Baylor for 20 years..
"Where are you from?" he asked politely, even though he needed to be conferring with his assistant coaches.
"I know some good people in Wichita Falls. Bill Jeter was a good man."
He was referring to former Wichita Falls High School coach Bill Jeter who is an icon in North Texas. Jeter recently passed away.
"And Gage Green is a good guy," he said pointing out to the field where the Oklahoma State star was warming up for the next game.
Green, a Wichita Falls native, led the Rider High School baseball team to its first state championship under the direction of his dad Coach Scot Green.
Smith may have done his best job of coaching this year with four pitchers going down with arm injuries and young players at many of the positions. When asked about the inexperience and rash of injuries, Smith refused to use it as an excuse.
"Everybody deals with injuries," he said matter-of-factly.
Smith's resume is impressive at Baylor. He has guided the Bears to their most successful 10-year run in the school's history. One of his biggest achievements was the 2012 team. It was ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in school history. The April 23, 2012 publication of the Collegiate Baseball poll rated the Bears at that top spot.
An outstanding pitching coach, Smith has mentored eight pitchers in the last 17 years who were selected in the first round of the Major League baseball draft. He also coached at least one all-conference pitcher in each of the past 19 seasons.
In 1999 Jason Jennings won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college baseball and was the 16th overall pick of the Colorado Rockies in the major league draft.
The record-shattering 2012 team won 24 consecutive games and achieved an 18-game conference winning streak. That powerhouse team was one game short of making the College World Series under Smith's direction.
Smith was named Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year for the fith time and also picked as the Midwest Regional Coach of the Year as the Bears ranked in the top 10 in every national poll.
Smith's record also includes 13 NCAA Regional appearances from 1998-2003, 2005-2007 and 2009-2012. He has compiled an impressive 695-460-1 career record at Baylor. Baylor and Oklahoma University are the only two schools to have qualified for the Big 12 postseason tournament every year.
Also attending the game at the scenic Chickasaw Brickyard Stadium in Oklahoma City from Wichita Falls were attorneys Bob Balch, Gary Southard, James Rasmussen and Ed Lane. Rancher Don Taubert of Wichita Falls and Commerce attorney Charles Perry were also in attendance.
Douglas Raine, a missionary from Commerce, was also present.
The injury-plagued Bears went on to defeat West Virginia the day after this interview to claim two victories in this competitive tournament. Their first win was against nationally-ranked Kansas the day before, according to Big 12 Sports.
Two losses to eventual Big 12 tournament champion TCU ended the Bears' season in the double elimination tournament but Smith said he was proud of this Bears' team effort.
"At one point our goal was just to make the tournament. We did that and I was proud of the effort our players gave. We'll be back," the winningest coach in Baylor baseball history said.
While coaching baseball is one of the most difficult jobs in college because the NCAA allows only 11.7 scholarships per team, Baylor is definitely in good hanads with one of the most decorated baseball coaches in America at the helm. The baseball future for Baylor is bright.
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