Originally published Thursday, March 18, 2004
To most, 1,000 career victories as a college baseball coach would signify a substantial achievement. But not to Skip Wilson.
“It means I’m old,” said Wilson, 76, who on Sunday joined the elite class of 1,000-win coaches when his Owls topped Manhattan College, 10-9, in dramatic fashion. Shortstop Jason Connor scored the winning run after designated hitter Jason Adamek’s ninth-inning single, helping his coach reach a milestone only 29 other NCAA coaches have reached.
It seemed everyone had been anxiously waiting for the moment, except Wilson.
“I had a feeling that it would come eventually,” he said. “I never looked at it as a must-win game, but the kids seemed to want to win it more than I did. I knew it would happen sooner or later; we play 56 games, so I knew we would win at least one of them.”
The win had practical significance, too, as the Owls are off to a 6-5 start. Last year they opened the season with 10 consecutive losses.
The Owls returned from their season-opening 11-game road trip earlier this week, and were supposed to host Pace University today for their first home game, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather. The game would have christened Temple’s new field in Ambler, where the Owls hope to display the offensive firepower on which this season’s success is riding on.
“I think we can hit the ball,” Wilson said, who is in his 45th season with Temple and has compiled a record of 1,000-770-25.
Through 11 games, the Owls have smacked 132 hits and clocked 11 home runs. “So we have power and we can hit and run, but pitching I’m a little concerned about,” he said.
Temple is in need of big contributions from its young pitchers. Gone are Mike Caron and Matt Powell, who combined to register nine of the team’s 20 wins last season. Juniors Chris Kurtz and Justin Mendek, along with freshman Eric Lovelace are three possible contributors.
Wilson also downplayed the loss of Rob Cucinotta, the school’s all-time leading home run hitter who signed a free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox during the off-season. The middle of the order is in capable hands, Wilson said, with returning seniors Al Roach, John Quigley, and junior Pete Colon wielding their bats and patrolling the outfield. Wilson considers the outfield one of the top units on the east coast.
With No. 1,000 behind him, Wilson hopes the fuss it has created will die down as well.
“I was very happy to get it over with,” he said. “Now the boys can just go about playing ball and becoming better people. Baseball is a part of life. It’s a learning experience: teamwork, how to get along with people. That’s the way it is in life.”
In all, Wilson said the number he is most proud of is not the victories, but the young men whom he has taught.
“I must have had 50 to 75 phone calls from ex-players… kids that are lawyers now, professional people, called me, congratulating me. It’s something,” said Wilson, marveling at the mutual lessons he and his players have shared over the years.
Wilson has maintained strong attachment to all of the players who have passed through his ranks.
“I think I have a good rapport with the boys, but that’s my opinion; I’m biased,” he said.
Wilson revealed the most crucial life lesson he could impart: “I always tell all the kids I’ve coached that if they ever see me out and about, I drink Beck’s.”
Ben Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.