TERRE HAUTE —
Baseball may not be on the minds of too many Wabash Valley sports fans yet, but the Rose-Hulman program is prepared to commemorate an upcoming milestone.
The Engineers’ 2012 season is slated to begin Feb. 25 against Farmingdale State at Auburndale, Fla., and their next victory will be the 1,000th in the history of the NCAA Division III engineering institute, which started playing baseball in 1888.
“I think that says how many good players have been through the program,” reflected Rose athletic director Jeff Jenkins, who’s beginning his 23rd season as its baseball coach. “We’ve been able to replace good players with more good players and maintain a high level of competition.”
Jenkins, who has guided the Engineers to 559 of those wins (along with 331 losses and one tie), mentioned four former Rose-Hulman standouts — Eric Tryon, Matt Sims, Derek Eitel and Keenan Long — who went on to play some form of professional baseball during his tenure. Eitel, a native of Marshall, Ill., and a pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization since being drafted in the 17th round in 2010, is expected to play at the Class A or AA level in 2012.
Eitel and Tryon, a former Terre Haute North High School standout, are tied for the most pitching victories in Rose history with 29. Tryon accumulated the most strikeouts with 331.
Back in the early 1900s, three graduates of Rose Polytechnic (the former name of the institute) ended up in the major leagues — Art Nehf (after whom Rose’s field is named), Lester Blackman and Charles Ray Demmitt.
In a major-league career that spanned from 1915 through 1929 with the Boston Braves, New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs, the left-handed Nehf compiled a pitching record of 184-120 with 833 strikeouts. He was the Giants’ winning pitcher in the clinching Game 5 of the 1922 World Series and his career World Series record was 4-4.
Blackman pitched for St. Louis in the National League in 1909 and 1910 and for Toronto in the East League in 1911 and 1912.
Demmitt played outfield for the New York Yankees, St. Louis Browns, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox at various times from 1909 through 1919, racking up a .257 batting average with eight home runs, 165 runs batted in and 42 stolen bases.
In 1929, Rose Poly dropped baseball as a team sport and did not reinstate it until 1948. The program has had only four head coaches since — Jim Carr (1948-63), John Mutchner (1964-76), Jim Rendel (1977-89) and Jenkins (1990-present).
Under Rendel in 1986, Rose-Hulman baseball received coverage in Sports Illustrated and the New York Times after it defeated Indiana State 6-5 in strange fashion. Three members of Rose’s starting lineup had to leave during the game to complete a mechanical-engineering exam. Even with several reserves playing, the Engineers held on to preserve the victory. Later that season, ISU reached the College World Series at Omaha, Neb.
Since Jenkins assumed head-coaching duties, Rose-Hulman has qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament five times (1992, 1996, 2008, 2009 and 2010).
Rose also captured regular-season conference titles in 1975, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1994 and 1996 in addition to conference tournament championships in 1995, 1996, 2009 and 2010.
Jenkins said one of his proudest moments occurred in 2008 when his squad rode the three-hit, 13-strikeout pitching of Eitel to blank Calvin 4-0 in the Division III tournament.
“We had a great home crowd,” Jenkins recalled. “We were hosting the regional that year. That’s the one [game] I think I’ll remember the most.”
Jenkins wouldn’t try to predict whether the 2012 Engineers can add their names to any of the above-mentioned lists.
“We’re going to be extremely young,” he pointed out. “We’re going to count on a lot of different guys.”
One thing still on Rose-Hulman’s side, Jenkins emphasized, is the presence of respected assistant coach Sean Bendel, who joined the staff in 1999. Jenkins said the Engineers are 353-197-1 since Bendel arrived.
Also on the program’s side is the continued intelligence of its players.
“It amazes me to see what they’re doing with their careers after they graduate,” Jenkins said, referring to some who have gone on to become nuclear submarine commanders, doctors, stock traders, automobile designers and NASA employees.
And, of course, professional baseball players.