The Winning Price

Drue Aman

Drue Aman

Ritchie Price gathers equipment at Erv Huether Field minutes before his team’s practice while players scatter throughout the dugout talking anything but baseball.

Price makes several trips. congregating shin guards, baseballs and helmets while interjecting commands and joking retorts to players, who do light stretches amid the ongoing banter. When practice time arrives, Price’s tone moves from friendly to authoritative, commanding but not condescending.

“All right, listen up,” Price says to a huddled roster of players representing 11 states and three provinces in a semi-circle before elaborating team drills on a cloudy and windy day – March 26 to be exact – customary to early spring.

The Jacks are 10-6 on that day, about to embark on a lofty road trip during which they will play 15 of their next 16 games on the road in 19 days.

They have won seven of the first ten of those games, including a sweep of IPFW to open Summit League conference play. IPFW entered the series at 4-22, but Price knows better. He knows four conference wins after a 13-hour bus ride are important.

“It’s hard to beat any baseball team four times, let alone on the road,” said Price, who notes that the Jacks made the trip without their number one starting pitcher, junior Blake Treinen, due to sickness. “To still go out there and find a way to sweep the series is a great accomplishment.”

Price – the youngest head coach in Division-I – understands because he has been around college baseball his entire life. His father, Ritch Price, has coached in the college ranks for 27 years, including the past eight years at Kansas University. Growing up in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Price watched his father coach baseball at Cal Poly, gaining knowledge of baseball’s nuances along the way.

“I’d go on all the road trips; I’d sit in the dugout,” said Price. “I think it’s given me more experience of seeing live game action. … I’ve seen a lot for my age and have been able to learn what’s good to do in certain situations.”

Price understands because he has played college baseball. He played infield at Kansas University – where his father coached – for four years, holding the team record for career hits and games played. He was drafted in the 18th round of the MLB June Amateur Draft and spent a summer in the New York Mets farm system before going back to school and getting his college degree. The professional experience shows in the way his team plays.

“We try to do everything on our team like a professional team,” said Price. “If you watch us play a game, we don’t go out to home plate and circle home plate when a guy hits a home run.”

Players exchange jokes with Price before practice, but the tone shifts immediately when Price demands it. Respect from players make demands easy to accept.

“He really relates to us,” said sophomore Eric Cain, who has started all 26 games this season. “He knows what’s going on through our minds, he knows how the game is played today.”

Third-baseman Jesse Sawyer has flourished on the field under Price the last two seasons, hitting 27 career home runs.

“He’s a little bit more laid back than some other coaches,” said Sawyer before the team’s practice. “I think that helps us because we have a young team.”

Thinking three to five pitches ahead at all times like Price does helps, too. So does talent. Price sees several players with the capability of playing professional ball, playing hard and determined the way Price says he used to play.

“I love the types of kids this school attracts, the blue-collar, hard-working kids that don’t have a lot of ego or arrogance to them,” said Price. “That kind of have a chip on their shoulder and have something to prove.”

Through the first two weekends in April, the Jacks have proven themselves as a team with prodigious offensive power and solid defense. They rank seventh in Division I in home runs hit per game as of April 4 and rank 37th in team batting average, hitting .334 for the season. Defensively, they are first in the Summit League in fielding percentage while the pitching staff ranks third in the conference in team ERA. They sit tied atop the Summit League conference standings at 4-0 with twelve-time defending conference champion Oral Roberts.

The statistics and record show a team capable of accomplishing a conference championship, a goal Price says the team has set and hopes to achieve.

“I think people all around the baseball community and within South Dakota State athletics have taken notice to the success we’ve had,” said Price.