Incaviglia Following In Ward's Footsteps

Tape-measure home runs and Oklahoma State baseball in the same sentence always bring one name to mind - Pete Incaviglia. Who could forget the big guy bringing out the whooping stick on a regular basis at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium in the mid-1980s? Incaviglia was college baseball's all-time home run king and considered one of the sport's greatest players ever by the time he left OSU.

But that was only the beginning. After being selected eighth overall in the June 1985 amateur draft to Montreal, he was traded to Texas. Incaviglia never spent a day in the minors and made his big-league debut with the Rangers on April 8, 1986.

All told, he spent 12 seasons in "the show" before playing his final game on Sept. 27, 1998. Since then, he has dabbled in coaching and is now in his first season managing the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs. Go Pokes caught up with this Cowboy legend by phone during a recent homestand and here's what he had to say.

When asked to reminisce about his time at OSU, Incaviglia came alive.

"Those are some of the best times in my life," he said. "We had a great baseball program with a lot of great players and a great manager in Gary Ward. We had a tremendous following from our fans and were one of the top five teams in the country every year. You knew you had to be accountable and responsible every day for the emblem you wore on your chest, which was Oklahoma State.

"We had a good group of guys every year I was there who wanted to win, get to the World Series and become a national champion," Incaviglia recalled. "They never wanted to go out there and disrespect the coaching staff, teammates or the emblem you wore on your hat, which was the big OSU. I have a lot of fond memories, made a lot of great friends and played on a lot of great teams. I don't think I would change anything. The three years that I spent in Stillwater were a very big part of my life."

Much like many who have learned under him, Incaviglia credits legendary OSU baseball coach Gary Ward for playing a critical role in his development.

"He had a huge impact on me as far as preparation, giving extra ounce of energy you had on every pitch of every game you ever played," he said. "He made me understand that there were a lot more important people than me on the field. I learned how to be a good teammate and a good team player from him. I learned the importance of believing in your teammates and playing for the ultimate prize, which was to be a national champion.

"Coach Ward lived, breathed and walked being a national champion every day of his life," Incaviglia said. "That's why we all believed that we were going to be national champions. I took that work ethic, belief and preparation with me to be a champion, good teammate, play hard, play hurt and to play for your coaching staff, teammates and whatever emblem you were wearing on your chest."

Incaviglia, a 2007 inductee into the College Baseball Hall of Fame, played for a number of teams in the majors, and in 1993 played in his only World Series with Philadelphia. While some might say that his career wasn't as successful as it could have been, he begs to differ.

"I played with tremendous intensity and with every ounce of energy that I had on every pitch," he said. "So, when I look back on my career, I feel fulfilled. I look in the mirror and know that I never left anything in the locker room. I left everything out on that field.

"Whether I was 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, I ran the bases hard, ran into walls, broke up double plays and did the little things. Those were very important to me because I knew that those were what led to teams winning. The whole object of my career was to be available and to help my team win. I feel like I did that very well."

Every player knows when his playing days are coming to an end. While some do everything they can to hang on, even if it means playing at anything less than their best, Incaviglia knew exactly when it was time to retire.

"I had reconstructive surgery on my shoulder, which took three years of rehab," he stated. "I tried to come back and wasn't the same. I didn't create the same amount of bat speed, couldn't throw the baseball with the same amount of force and just couldn't compete at that level any more. So, it was easy for me to walk away from the game.

"I was one of those guys that never wanted to cheat the game that had been so good to me or wanted to disrespect the game. I think there were some people out there that might have signed me or given me a job but if I couldn't compete at that level, I'm not going to go out there and embarrass myself or the organization taking a chance on me."

That was when becoming a coach or manager entered his thoughts. "Mitch Williams, an old friend of mine, asked me to come to Atlantic City and be his hitting coach," Incaviglia said. "It intrigued me and I thought that would be a good place for me to see if I could and would enjoy doing that. I didn't really want to take a job with an affiliated club in the minors and after a month realize I didn't like it and go home. That was a good opportunity for me to go somewhere for five months and coach. I really loved and enjoyed it. In 2004, I took a hitting instructor's job with the Detroit Tigers for a few years and also managed instructional ball for them."

But his role with the Grand Prairie AirHogs is a bit different since independent-league managers also have final say in all player personnel matters. Incaviglia even added TV star to his résumé when earlier in the year he starred in an entertaining commercial showing him in a press conference alongside the team mascot, who just happens to be a pig.

"I really enjoy it because I'm in charge of all player personnel," he said. "I bring in who I want and release who I want. I pay them what I see fit and manage on the field. I recruit players, work them out, bring them in and work the salary cap.

"Actually, the managing on the field is the fun part of the job. I love putting on the uniform every day, going out in the field and seeing the fans. It's something that I've been doing my whole life. I feel at home on a baseball diamond in a uniform and in a dugout. It's what I'm supposed to be doing. I know that."

Essentially, his baseball career has come full circle since Grand Prairie is just a few short miles up the road from Arlington, where Incaviglia made his big-league debut with Texas back in 1986.

"I've been in the Metroplex since 1985," he said. "This has been my home for the last 22 years and it's really nice to be back here doing what I love to do. I'm grateful every day that after a home game, I'm able to go home, hug my wife, kiss my kids and be with them instead of being in Erie, Pennsylvania for eight or nine months.

"It's a great fit for me and I'm so grateful to Grand Prairie for giving me this opportunity."

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