Covering His Bases
How do you replace a legend?
That is the question surrounding Blue Raider athletics following the announced retirement of baseball coach Steve Peterson.
It is difficult to measure the impact Peterson– known as Coach Pete– had on the school’s baseball program in his 25 seasons at the helm. Really, it is difficult to measure the impact he had on the entire campus and Murfreesboro community.
Peterson delivered more quality baseball on a consistent basis than any coach before him at MTSU. Nearly 800 wins, nine conference championships and dozens of success stories from his many student athletes brings that much to light.
He also set in motion a fund-raising apparatus that is nearly unmatched in any collegiate athletic program in terms of sheer individual determination. A thoroughly-modern baseball stadium and training facility are the obvious results of that effort.
All that being said, those accomplishments still fail to measure Coach Pete as the human being that he really is.
In an age when flash and personality are often as important as actual results, Peterson brought an easy-going honesty and an unassuming manner that, as the years crept into decades, became more and more valuable and refreshing.
He never refused an interview, and he never ducked a question. Pete was much too straightforward for that.
The first time I interviewed Peterson as a young student journalist with no baseball-writing experience, I gorged myself on every piece of information I could find, not wanting to appear foolish in front of someone I already knew to be legendary.
At the end of the interview, which was more like backyard banter on the ins and outs of baseball, Pete said, “It sounds like you really know your baseball.” And that was Pete at his best; no one is ever out of reach for him.
The generosity and enthusiasm Pete brought to his job did not stop at baseball.
In an interview after a Tuesday night game last March, just prior to the basketball team’s home contest with Minnesota in the third-round of the NIT, Peterson quickly moved through the finer points of his team’s performance before embarking on a praise-filled narrative of Kermit Davis’s squad, and insisting that everyone should drop everything to attend the historic basketball game. His pure excitement was palpable, and it was obvious that his sense of history overwhelmed what his team had done in that game.
Here was a man, standing in the middle of what is essentially his baseball field and stadium, trumpeting the accomplishment of his colleague more gleefully than his own, all for love of school.
The crowds who came each spring to see Pete’s coaching efforts on the field are reminders of the connection he held with the community.
Doubtless for most students and many alumni, football is top dog, but MTSU’s baseball fans were something different—not so much just an MTSU derivative, but an interesting cross section of Murfreesboro, from children just learning the game to old timers who have known it for half a century.
They all came to see a team play the game the way it should be played, coached by a man who knew how it should be done, but more importantly, who knew how to be a good human being.