Coach Sam Piraro recently gave me 30 minutes of his valuable time to ask a few questions about Spartan baseball.
It turned into about 1 hour of talk about where the program is headed and gave me a more polished look at college baseball in general and Spartan baseball in particular.
Of course, on some things he chose not to comment but, he was very forthcoming in most of his comments.
The following is the short version.
ME: Where does money come from to keep Spartan baseball operating?
COACH: Spartan Foundation pays for scholarships and scholarships only so money for operations and bats and whatever must come from fundraising. We do receive some money from the university to help in travel, equipment, and operations.
The Foundation does a good job helping us with scholarships so it's only fair that we get other monies elsewhere. The golf tournament raises a good amount of money for us as does First Pitch Dinner and such.
To give you an idea how important the golf tournament is, it generated about $50K last year. Individual donations are always welcome and those go to equipment, travel, etc.
ME: How can individuals help?
COACH: If you're talking donations, then when you write a check make it out to SJSU Baseball and it will be used by baseball only.
ME: How many paid staff to you have (besides yourself)?
COACH: Two fulltime and we fundraise for one. If you ask me about dreams for the program they would include competitive pay for the staff and to add a staff member or two.
ME: How many scholarships are you (and any program) allowed and are they filled?
COACH: A program is allowed 11.7 scholarships TOTAL (my emphasis). That means they have to be divided up so I can help as many players to attend school as possible. Again, the Foundation helps us keep this portion afloat.
ME: You and I are about the same vintage, can you give me (and us) a little history?
COACH: I started as SJS Freshman Coach in 1974, moved to Mission College in 1980 and returned to SJS in 1987.
ME: With all these years at State do many of the former players still keep in touch?
COACH: Yes, mostly through the golf tournament. Of the 144 signups for golf, about 100 are former players. I think it says a lot about loyalty to the program.
ME: I notice that there are no out-of-state players on the roster (last I looked). Is this due to expense of tuition?
COACH: Yes. However, we used to do some recruiting out of state such as Arizona. As you may remember, a few years ago I had to take some time off because of my own personal battle with cancer.
That year and a half or so put recruiting on hold for the most part. As you can imagine, a lost year or two in recruiting can disable a program for four years or more.
Besides developing incoming freshmen which aren't there, you have to recruit juco players to fill holes. It's hard to convince a kid to come to State when the future of the program is unknown.
Up until my illness we routinely won 40 or more games a year. We then hit a low and are only now coming out of it. We've had two good recruiting years in a row and with football and basketball showing healthy growth that can only help our recruiting.
ME: What is your philosophy on recruiting? I guess what I'm asking is freshmen or juco?
COACH: I guess I'd say I like to see about 70% high school and 30% juco. The juco player needs to make an immediate impact (ME: such as our outfield this year, two starting pitchers, and a shortstop) and the high schooler will need to take time to develop, learn the program, and will be ready to deliver by their junior year. Freshmen take time and juco is now. Of course you get the pleasant surprises like Kyle Bellows once in awhile.
ME: This is sort of an aside but where do you think the baseball in the nation is played? I like to think California.
COACH: In terms of recruiting I can rank them like this: Orange County, San Diego, Texas, Florida, and Northern California. We have good players in our own back yard but the Orange County juco leagues are loaded with ready to contribute D1 caliber players.
ME: In following the program I try and follow the players during the summer. Do all players play on summer teams?
COACH: Mostly, yes, However, if a pitcher had a lot of innings or someone is healing from an injury, then I may not ask them to play in the summer.
ME: Here's one that's been bugging me for years; what do you or any coach mean by under the radar? How could Kyle Bellows be under the radar? The kid's great!
COACH: Simple. When they don't play on competitive summer or travel teams they don't get seen as much so they're "under the radar". Kyle didn't but we knew he could help us.
ME: Coach, thanks a ton for your time. Do you have any last thoughts or comments before I let you get back to work?
COACH: Yes. I'd like to see Blethen Field upgraded to a first class D1 baseball facility. We figure that would take about $2-4 million which is attainable with fundraising work.
The Blethens got the ball rolling to get the field built as it is now, but it's time to move up.