O’Brien changes vibe at Santa Clara
First-year head coach brings old-school mentality to Broncos
One of the allures of baseball is the rich history and tradition, and Santa Clara certainly owns a long and storied one since the first team was fielded in 1883.
In his first season at the helm of Santa Clara’s 120-year-old program, head coach Dan O’Brien is putting that legacy in the spotlight as he looks to honor Bronco baseball’s past while aiming to build a successful program in the present day and future.
O’Brien played at UC San Diego in the mid-1990s when the Tritons were a Division III program. In 1998, he was named interim head coach and then earned the permanent job at the end of the season. He guided his alma mater through a transition to Division II in 2001, building UCSD into a perennial contender in the highly-competitive California Collegiate Athletic Association. The Tritons also advanced to the Division II World Series in 2009 and 2010.
On the flip side, Santa Clara has not posted a winning season since 2008, nor advanced to the NCAA Tournament since 1997. The Broncos were in need of a new way of thinking -- a different philosophy -- that would infuse energy into the program.
|Friday||Santa Clara at Texas St.||Noon|
|Saturday||Santa Clara vs. ULL||4 p.m.|
|Sunday||Santa Clara vs. Wichita St.||11 a.m.|
|Hosted by Texas State in San Marcos, Texas|
O’Brien’s hiring brought a fresh perspective to SCU, while relying heavily on the traditions of the past.
When O’Brien took the helm of the program six months ago, he was flipping through a coffee table book about SCU and found a picture of some students playing baseball in the late 1890s.
“The quote underneath is by a student essayist saying, ‘Baseball is really alive again,’ ” O’Brien said. “That’s kind of the catchphrase that we’ve embraced … we’re trying to create that vibe.”
O’Brien and his staff want to create a culture that focuses on respect for the game and the people that have played throughout the school’s history.
“I have been frustrated at times with the way the game is played by professional athletes and by other programs,” O’Brien said. “Whether it is lack of hustle, or how the uniform is worn or the way players disrespect their opponent or umpires … those types of things motivate me to emphasize integrity and respect in our program.
“Back then, it wasn’t about money or ego or individualism. It was about the team, and guys hustled and played hard.”
To help create that old-school atmosphere, the team is going to wear vintage-inspired baggy uniforms and will be burning corks to apply eye black -- the method players used years ago.
“The players are motivated and energized by it and having a lot of fun with it,” O’Brien said. “At the same time, it helps us focus on playing the game hard and with respect,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien and his staff have helped remind the players of the program’s long tradition by lining the halls of the stadium with old photographs of past Bronco teams and players. In January, the school honored Santa Clara’s 1962 College World Series team with a 50th anniversary celebration.
“The players walk through those hallways every day and they feel the tradition and feel honored to be a part of a program that a lot of great men worked hard to build,” O’Brien said. “While it has been a couple of tough years, it is a storied program and we have a lot to be proud of and we want to recreate that culture of pride.”
“Just learning how great baseball once was at Santa Clara and having a sense of tradition that I didn’t know about personally, it is something to shoot for … to be as great as that team was that made it to the College World Series … that’s something special,” redshirt sophomore outfielder Pat Stover said.
Santa Clara boasts one of the best facilities on the West Coast -- Stephen Schott Stadium -- that hosted last year’s NCAA Super Regional between California and Dallas Baptist, and the Broncos are looking to create an old minor league ballpark feel with all the sounds and smells that fans adore.
“We want to have popcorn popping and roasted peanuts and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs,” O’Brien said. “One of the players came up with the idea that maybe we should build some of the old-school turnstiles that are made of wood, and we’ve talked about having a guy in some knickers out there selling the game day program. You need to pay close attention to detail and make it a great experience.”
On the field, O’Brien and the Broncos are also concentrating on the little things than can make the difference in a game.
“Our guys are going to get dirty and try to out-work the other team,” O’Brien said. “No one is going to out-hustle us. If there’s something we have control over, we’re going to max that out. We’re not going be as consumed with the scoreboard as other people are. We have a scoreboard of our own in the dugout where we keep score of the things we need to do to win games. It’s taking a group of guys that things haven’t gone well for and almost reprogramming their efforts on the field.”
While the Broncos were picked to finish last in a preseason vote of the West Coast Conference coaches, the program is still brimming with hope for improvement.
"We have the talent on the roster to compete in the West Coast Conference this year but we need to come together as a team," O'Brien said. "The college model is all about team, it's all about the guy to your left and to your right and that's where we're going to spend a lot of our time. Our team chemistry is going to be as strong, if not stronger, than anybody in the country. That college model is going to be in the heart of everything we do."
“It’s not something we’re going to be able to do overnight but we’ve accomplished an unbelievable amount in the last six months. You can’t ignore the energy around the program right now.”
“Coach O’Brien brings a different style of play, and that’s refreshing to the guys,” Stover said. “It’s going to be fun to watch us play.”