When Randy Mazey took over the Mountaineer Baseball program in 2013, he was inheriting an aged stadium, a roster full of players recruited by a previous regime, and the difficult task of leading a program into arguably the best college baseball conference in America.
It was also during that time when Mazey introduced the program to the inaugural Leadoff Dinner banquet, which was held, at that point in time, from the WVU Alumni Center.
“If you remember in that first year we had 150 people and we were in the Alumni Center over there. We had a power outage and the lights went out. So we did the whole thing in the dark,” Mazey shared with a sense of humor.
“Now, we’ve got a full house,” he continued. “We’re literally turning people away. We had to tell some people that called in the last couple days that wanted tickets that we were sold out. It’s just a pretty good synopsis of where West Virginia Baseball is at right now.”
Fast-forward the clock to 2016 and the perception of Mountaineer Baseball has changed drastically.
The program has moved into the new Monongalia County Ballpark. It has seen a major boost in successfully recruiting higher quality players. It has also grown the Leadoff Dinner to such extremes that one of the game’s greatest players found it appealing to pay a visit.
Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s All-Time Hits Leader, served as the keynote speaker at Saturday night’s event.
According to Mazey, who cares how you perceive him, rather, focus on Rose’s greatness as a former player, along with his decision to carve out time solely for the good of the WVU Baseball program.
“It came to my attention that he and coach [Bob] Huggins were good friends,” Mazey explained. “I called Huggs’ and I can’t take credit for it because it was Huggs’ connection. He put me in touch with Pete and it’s been great talking to him. I mean, how often do you get a chance to talk to your boyhood idol on the telephone? We talked about coming to Morgantown and meeting people, joining our community and talking to our team.
“I don’t know how everybody else feels about it,” Mazey added, “but I’m tickled to death to have him here.”
And Rose was glad to spend his time with Mazey’s program.
“It’s fun,” he admitted with a level of honesty. “Here we are in January. It’s cold outside. There’s eight inches of snow on the ground. And we’ve got 850 people talking about baseball tonight. So that’s good.”
Rose has become a polarizing figure in the world of baseball because of his battle for Hall of Fame recognition.
Major League Baseball has denied Rose’s eligibility for Hall of Fame consideration due to accusations of gambling on the sport during his time as a player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds. Regardless, Rose remains the All-Time Hits Leader in the sport with 4,256 during his playing career from 1963-1986.
Although he did not answer questions about the Hall of Fame dilemma, he did, however, share his insight on the current state of the game at the major league level.
“Baseball’s good. Obviously, there are some bad teams out there. There are some good teams. I don’t think there are any great teams. There are a lot of really good, young players. The players have got to be happy because they’re making millions and millions of dollars. If the players are making millions and millions of dollars, then that tells you one thing: The owners are making millions and millions of dollars.
“Based on that, baseball must be doing pretty good right now,” Rose added. “I know there are certain towns that it really excels in, and other towns don’t do so well. But why do the [St. Louis] Cardinals sell out every game? Why don’t the [Cincinnati] Reds? Why do you [West Virginia University] sell out every football game? Why don’t the Cincinnati Bearcats? Some people do it right and some people do it wrong.”
On Saturday, Rose did it right. Prior to the actual event, he met with the entire WVU Baseball team. Not only did he offer motivational support during his speech to the group, but he also met with players and coaches individually and talked specifics.
His speech did not fall on a single deaf ear, especially for WVU sophomore Kyle Davis. Coming off a stellar freshman campaign, Davis was looking to soak up any knowledge he could from one of the best to ever do it.
On top of that, Davis is a Cincinnati native who found it fairly easy to pay attention to Rose’s presentation. After all, the two share ties to the same city where one is a legend while the other is simply another student-athlete with the dream of one day playing in the big leagues.
“I was able to relate really well,” Davis articulated. “It kind of put me in a nostalgia a little bit. He was telling me about Western Hills and I was like, ‘Wow, that resonates so well with me.’ I know exactly where that is. I was able to tell him I was from Loveland. He was like, ‘Oh, Loveland High School?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, right around there.’ So it kind of put us on a different level than I guess the other guys that weren’t from there.
“Growing up, he was one of my favorite players – The Big Red Machine,” he continued. “It’s really, really interesting to be able to see one of the all-time greats, a guy that I’ve followed for so long just sitting there right in front of me answering my questions.”
As it turns out, Rose recalled Davis mainly because of his Cincinnati roots.
“The one from Loveland?” Rose asked the reporter. “Oh yeah. Like I told them, everybody has an expertise. Just go in, find out what your expertise is as early as you can, and just dominate them and try to get them to excel everyday. Some guys can hit. Some guys can’t. Some guys can pitch. Some guys can’t. Some guys are pinch hitters. Some guys are defensive guys. Some guys are short relievers. Some guys are long relievers. Some guys are starters. Everybody has a role. You put all the roles together for one thing: Trying to win the game.
“That’s all you play for is to win the game.”
Along the lines of winning, Rose did not shy away from that focal point, drawing comparisons to the other major sports programs at West Virginia University.
After all, he did win three World Series rings with the Reds.
“It’s all about winning, man,” he reemphasized. “You know about that here in West Virginia. You’ve got a good football program. You’ve got a good basketball program. The baseball program is trying to catch fire. That’s why I’m here – to try to kick off the 2016 season.”
And following a showing from the great Pete Rose, it begs the question: What will Randy Mazey think of for next year’s fifth annual Leadoff Dinner?
“I’m up for suggestions on that one,” Mazey said with a laugh. “That’s going to be hard to do. I’ve told a lot of people because it’s so big right now and he’s drawing such a crowd, I don’t know where to go from here. But hopefully if we have a great season and maybe play in the College World Series then people will get as excited to see our team and learn about WVU Baseball as they are to hear a legend like Pete Rose speak.
“So hopefully the program is what will excite people from here on out,” Mazey concluded.
Mazey and the Mountaineers will get the 2016 season underway Friday, February 19 at Charleston Southern.