With Angelo State University becoming a part of the Texas Tech University System in a few months, it’s time we really start to pay some attention to what is going on down there in San Angelo.
One incredible story is that of the Rams baseball team – in its third year of existence and headed to the D2 College World Series.
3rd season’s the charm
Rams reach national tourney in remarkable time
By Nathan Wright
Saturday, May 26, 2007
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Angelo State University baseball coach Kevin Brooks expected the Rams to be playing in the NCAA Division II College World Series two years ago, in the program’s first year.
It took two years longer than he planned, but the fact that the Rams are at this year’s World Series in just their third year of existence is still quite a feat.
The Rams open bracket play at the 2007 World Series today at 1 p.m. against Franklin Pierce at Riverwalk Stadium.
It caps off three tough years of getting the program started, making it successful, then earning regional and national recognition.
It all started with that first recruiting class for the first year of the program in 2005.
“The first year was hard because I didn’t get hired until Dec. 22, and then school didn’t start until Jan. 10,” Brooks said. “We already missed the fall, and that is when I go out and evaluate everybody. We were sort of behind the 8-ball, and at that time we didn’t have any assistant coaches either.”
Brooks found out the hard way that getting high school players at that time of year was impossible, as they had all either committed elsewhere or were playing somewhere.
He went the junior college route and found a gold mine at Temple Junior College, where he convinced several players to join the young program at ASU. By word of mouth, some of those who had committed to join Brooks told other players, who decided to come to San Angelo as well.
One of those Temple transfers was Nate Hemm, a three-time first-team all-conference selection for the Rams and one of only a few left on this year’s team who were a part of the program’s first team.
“I was in my freshman year at Temple, and I had planned on staying there,” Hemm said.
“There were a few players there that had signed with ASU. I really liked playing with them. I talked to coach Brooks, and it kind of worked out. He gave me the opportunity.”
Brooks had a tough task convincing players to come because it was a new program — no history and no returning starters.
Hemm can’t even recall exactly how Brooks pitched the program to the recruits. Hemm knew some high-quality players were coming to ASU, so he decided to join them.
“He just said there was going to be good baseball,” Hemm said.
With Brooks’ background in baseball — he was an assistant at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene — some players didn’t hesitate when he called.
One of those players was Drew Caraway. Being from Merkel and originally signing with Incarnate Word, Caraway had known Brooks and worked with him for several years prior to the start of the program at ASU.
“I played for coach Brooks in the summer in San Angelo,” Caraway said. “He told me before I left to go to Incarnate Word that he was going to get the program started at Angelo. I told him I was all about that and I would be there in a heartbeat.”
From Day 1, Brooks knew his team was going to be a winner, and he did nothing to hide the fact that he thought so.
Eventually, he had his players thinking the same way. Brooks expected his team to be in Montgomery two years ago, when the team went 30-25. There was no conference tournament that season.
“That first year was awkward because there was nobody returning,” Caraway said. “Nobody was set in stone for positions. There was a lot of competition. It was a fun year. We had a great time, but I don’t think we were as focused as we were this year or last year.”
Last year, the Rams made a huge stride, winning the Lone Star Conference South Division title but not the conference tournament. They were not selected to the South Central Regional Tournament despite thinking they’d be a lock with their 41-16 record.
They weren’t, and that lit a fire somewhere in the returning players, who set out this year to right what they considered a wrong in not being selected to the regional tournament and not getting an opportunity to compete for a berth in the College World Series.
“I think that first group was real important to this group,” Brooks said. “They did sort of set the standard because they improved so much. I still feel bad because I think that if they had gotten the opportunity, they would have been here last year. We will see if we can’t go get it for them.”
The confidence of their coach played a big part as well. All season long, the team believed that it could get here, to the pinnacle of Division II baseball. Caraway said the team believes it can beat any team in the country nine out of 10 times.
That kind of confidence — and the fact that the team has done just what it set out to do — is the reason the team got to where it is in only three seasons.
Good luck to the Rams!