On Deck with SFA Head Baseball Coach Donnie Watson
Oct. 14, 2004
Q: On July 9, 2004, SFA announced the return of baseball as an NCAA Division I sport. On Sept. 24, 2004, SFA Athletics Director Steve McCarty announced Donnie Watson as its new head baseball coach. How special of a day was that for you and your family?
A: I've said from day one that the "BIG" day was when they announced the return of the program. It was a "BIGGER" day when SFA announced that I would be the head coach but the "BIGGEST" day is going to be that first game, in a new state of the art baseball stadium, and we have 2,500 screaming Lumberjack fans there. It is going to be a great event.
Q: What made Stephen F. Austin the right fit for you and your family?
A: Stephen F. Austin to me is a dream come true. I've always wanted to be part of something great, something historic and building a baseball program from the ground up - with the right kind of people - in the right way, what a great opportunity! I think one of the things that made SFA the right fit was getting to talk with University President Dr. Tito Guerrero and Vice President Dr. Baker Pattillo and getting to see the commitment from the university. I think Steve McCarty, SFA Athletic Director, has a great vision for the program and I believe he made the dream of rebuilding the program easy for me to catch. I am positive that he made the right decision to bring me to SFA to rebuild the program. My family loves baseball and Ileeta, my wife, will be a fixture at SFA baseball games. I just hope she's not too tough on the umpires!
Q: As of right now, you are the SFA baseball program, so I know you have a lot on your plate in terms of recruiting, hiring, etc. So what is your plan of attack as you ready for the 2005-06 season?
A: It's a two-fold plan. I want to put a 75-mile net around Stephen F. Austin. We want every baseball player within a 75-mile radius to know about SFA and our program. Then we need to educate that entire area as to what it takes to develop kids who want to play at the NCAA Division I level. I want every kid that has aspirations to play at this level, is willing to develop the skills to play at this level and knows the importance of taking care of business in the classroom to know that Stephen F. Austin State University is a great academic institution and a great place to play baseball. The second thing is to educate the community on what it takes to make SFA Baseball an event. I believe the entire community needs to take an active part in developing a Lumberjack Baseball tradition. The key to building a nationally recognized and nationally prominent baseball program with great community support starts with great leadership at the top, a fundamentally sound and exciting baseball team on the field and a stadium environment that inspires people to be a part of the action.
Q: What is your recruiting theory in terms of building this program?
A: We will work to identify players that have NCAA Division I skills. SFA sits in the middle of some of the best baseball talent and best High School and Junior College programs in the country. I know East Texas, Houston and the Dallas - Ft. Worth metro areas very well, but we will recruit any player in the country that wants to be a Lumberjack and can help our program. Every NCAA Division I program, including SFA, is looking for five-tool position players - can hit for average, hit for power, can play defense, has a plus arm and can run - and pitchers with sound mechanics that can throw 3 pitches for strikes. At Stephen F. Austin we will be recruiting a different kind of player. A student/athlete that wants to be a part of history and a student/athlete that gets excited when you talk to them about setting the academic and athletic standards necessary to build a championship program.
Q: What do you expect from your athletes, not only on the field, but in the classroom?
A: I believe in the student part of student-athlete. I believe there are two main things that student-athletes look for when choosing an institution. 1. Is the degree worth the paper it is written on? At Stephen F. Austin the degree matters. You will be able to compete in the global community with a degree from SFA. It is the reason you enroll in an institution of higher learning. The greatest contribution our program can make to this university is to have a high graduation rate among our players. 2. Can you develop your skills and talents to become the best baseball player you can? Yes, Yes and Yes, but I believe you can better develop your skills on the baseball field when you are taking care of business in the classroom first. A dud in the classroom will become a dud on the field. Our faculty deserves our best in the classroom. They are experts in their fields of discipline. SFA Baseball players will work hard to earn respect in the classroom.
When we evaluate a high school or junior college transcript we will look for kids that have solid grade-point averages in the classroom, are good citizens and when you ask people about them they say good things about them. Some kids don't test well but is a good indicator of how they respond under pressure in a timed situation. We must recruit kids that have the ability to manage their time in a positive manner, know where they want to go, want to become the best student and athlete they can become and when they walk out the SFA door into the marketplace or into pro ball they are ready.
Q: SFA will be competing in the Southland Conference, a conference where there are a couple of teams every year that make some noise on the national level. How tough will it be to build a program in the SLC?
A: In the Southland Conference you have nationally prominent and nationally recognized programs. I have recruited against and scheduled many of these conference teams in the past. The Southland Conference is very tough, from top to bottom. I know most of the coaches in the conference and respect them for the great job they do, year after year. My goal is to not just be a member of the Southland Conference but to improve the competitive level and stature of the conference. We want to quickly become a viable competitor for the Conference Championship and put more Southland Conference teams in position to play for Regional, Super Regional and World Series Championships. We will put together a nationally respected non-conference schedule against teams from the Big 12, Conference USA, Sun Belt and Western Athletic Conferences.
Q: What can fans expect from a Donnie Watson coached baseball team?
A: A fundamentally sound and exciting baseball team that will revolve around solid pitching, great team defense and speed and power on offense. We will push the envelope offensively. We think the only way to exploit the weaknesses of an opponent is to play a running power game. We want to try and get in counts where the other team is vulnerable. We will make the routine play but don't be surprised when our kids make great plays, too. Great defensive plays happen because we have great athletes.
Q: At this point there is not an on-campus baseball facility but steps are being taken in that direction. What stage of the process are we in that area?
A: We have met with architects and we put together a schematic of the facility. It is going to be a state-of-the-art facility with 1,500 seats. It is going to have NCAA Division I lights, division I scoreboard and a division I sound system. We truly want Stephen F. Austin baseball to become an event, an event that fans and the community can be proud of and one where players will be proud to showcase their skills.
Q: Speaking of events, let's look ahead to opening day 2005-06, what kind of event is that going to be for this campus and Nacogdoches?
A: We, the University, our student body, the whole community and an exciting baseball team are going to make it one of the most exciting events to hit campus in the past decade. I'm really sensitive to a community that has been without baseball for that long as well as a campus that has been without NCAA Division I baseball. I'm really sensitive to those great players that played SFA baseball in the 70s, 80s and early 90s before they dropped the program. SFA hasn't had baseball in 10 years so I want to bridge the gap between the new guys that we will have coming in and the players from the program when it was originally here. The original players are the most important part of that puzzle. I really think that day will be the "completion of the Gold Gate Bridge," so to speak. All the pieces of the puzzle come back together for one big event. I wouldn't be surprised if we have 3,000 people in the stands for that game. I know we are going to have a fundamentally sound team on the field and we are working on bringing in a very competitive team.
Q: You have mentioned a lot about the former letterwinners that came through this program before it was shutdown. How important is it to you to have them get back involved with the new program?
A: One of the difficult things to do when you're bringing a program back is that you don't have people from the past to help us sell the opportunity. I want to find a majority of those guys and get them back involved as soon as I can. I want to reconnect with them and let them know how important they are. In my opinion, they are just as important a piece of the puzzle as the little league, the high school and the junior college coaches. They could really help us get up to speed quicker and are going to be an integral part of what we do. I'm going to do everything I can to find them. I want them to know that this program is here for them.
Q: You are also heavily involved with the National Pitching Association. What is NPA and how does it help players?
A: The National Pitching Association was started 20 years ago to try and put baseball theory, baseball mechanics, fundamentals, sports science, nutritional science as well as psychological science together to build a better baseball player. NPA is dedicated to the education of baseball pitchers, their parents, and their coaches, so that they can pitch more effectively, stay healthier, develop a positive mental attitude, and a greater love of the game. I'm very proud of it and I think is going to be a long-term relationship. I also want to make sure that all the benefits of NPA are weaved throughout the community to support the youth league's, high school's and junior college's and to make SFA Baseball known as "Pitcher's U". Those parents and players that are interested can find out more about NPA on the web site, at www.nationalpitching.com.