MEYERS AS A MONARCH
In between stints as the USC pitching coach, Jerry Meyers served as the Old Dominion head coach from 2005 to 2010. His record:
Jerry Meyers will watch familiar faces and a familiar program when Old Dominion plays in the Columbia Regional baseball tournament this weekend at Carolina Stadium.
Meyers understands the plight of the Old Dominion program, having served as its head coach from 2005 through 2010 before returning for a second stint as South Carolina’s pitching coach.
“I was glad I could take advantage of the opportunity,” Meyers said of his Old Dominion stint. “I had no regrets, other than missing out on a lot of winning baseball (at USC) during that time. That stuck in my craw a little bit.”
While Meyers was away, USC won 40 or more games every season, culminating with the 2010 national championship run. Upon his return, Meyers was part of USC’s next national title in 2011.
It is not as if Meyers and Old Dominion suffered through poor seasons. After a transition year in 2005 when Old Dominion went 22-33, the Monarchs rebounded in 2006 for one of the program’s finest seasons. Old Dominion climbed as high as No. 15 in the polls and finished with a 39-17 record that included 21-9 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
By then, Meyers had learned about baseball life in what is considered a mid-major conference. A second-place finish in the regular season for both the 2006 and 2007 seasons did not merit an NCAA tournament bid because the Monarchs did not win the conference tournament.
Mid-major programs also tend to have success on a cyclical basis because they generally develop talent over a four-year period, rather than losing more talented players to professional baseball following their junior seasons.
That helps explain how the Old Dominion program leveled off over Meyers’ final three seasons , unable to break the .500 mark. Among Meyers’ recruits who have developed since his departure are senior first baseman Josiah Burney, who is hitting .290 and leads Old Dominion in home runs with six and RBIs with 41; as well as redshirt senior pitcher Brett Harris, who is 1-1 primarily as a reliever.
Recruiting such players to a mid-major program can be a little bit of a gamble, according to Meyers.
“You’ve got to almost be ahead of the game on one end, get some kids to commit real early that are maybe ’tweeners’ and roll the dice a little bit,” he said. “We had to do a little bit of that to beat some of the bigger schools and get a guy like Dan Hudson ... before the bigger schools and bigger opportunities came up.”
Hudson committed early to the Norfolk-based school out of Virginia Beach, and three years later the right-handed pitcher was a fifth-round pick by the Chicago White Sox. He left Old Dominion with the second-most strikeouts (292) in program history, three shy of Justin Verlander. Hudson has pitched four seasons in the major leagues, winning 16 games with Arizona in 2011.
Of course, Old Dominion’s recruiting is likely to change since it jumped this season from the Colonial Athletic Association to Conference USA. Already, Old Dominion has reaped the benefits of playing in a stronger baseball league by earning an NCAA tournament bid despite not winning the league tournament after finishing in a fourth-place tie during the regular season.
For Meyers, the sojourn to Old Dominion made him an improved pitching coach once he returned to USC.
“It made me look at the game differently,” Meyers said. “It put a whole new perspective on some things, made me look at a broader picture as far as preparation, organization, all the things that come along with it.
“It means being more in tune to how everyone works together. What we’re doing defensively, what we’re doing offensively, how it plays into things ... where it’s not a separation between pitches and hitters, just playing together as a team.”
Since his return, Meyers has re-established himself as one of the top pitching coaches in the country, and he very much likes the dugout he now sits in, although he can better appreciate what Old Dominion has accomplished when he looks into that dugout this weekend.