TERRE HAUTE —
Approaching the start of his 25th season as Rose-Hulman’s baseball coach, Jeff Jenkins remembers some of his 601 victories, most of his teams’ highlights from five NCAA Division III tournament appearances and pretty much all of Art Nehf Field’s significant upgrades.
He also can count on one hand how many times that umpires have tossed him from a game — two.
“I went about 22 years between ejections so that’s not bad,” Jenkins told the Tribune-Star over the weekend. “I found that I like to hang around and watch the games. We want to keep the game moving and keep the focal point on the players and not on me.”
But what Jenkins, now 54, enjoys pointing out more than anything else when he reflects upon his career is the off-field success of his players after they leave the program.
“I wouldn’t trade it for any other job,” Jenkins emphasized. “It’s been great. The quality of young men I get to work with has been great.”
Few of his former athletes have gone on to play pro baseball like Eric Tryon and Derek Eitel have. But when you graduate from Rose, plenty of other options exist.
“I think one of the most impressive things is when they come back as alums and you hear the things that they’re doing,” explained Jenkins, who doubles as the engineering institute’s athletic director.
“It makes baseball seem very trivial. I’ve got a nuclear sub commander. I’ve got a young man who has nine patents. I’ve got one in med school. I’ve got one who is a doctor. I’ve got one who designs weapon systems for the U.S. Navy. I could go on and on, but it’s really remarkable to see what they’ve accomplished.”
On the field, most of these young men — at least they were young when they attended Rose-Hulman — achieved success on the baseball diamond as well.
Over the years
Jenkins took over a Rose program that had been guided by the popular Jim Rendel for most of 13 seasons prior to the 1990 campaign.
“One of the goals I had when I came in was to play schools that are our level of competition,” said Jenkins, who recalls shoveling dirt at Art Nehf Field by hand to even the playing surface during his first season at the helm.
Since then, there have been three losing seasons sprinkled around 21 winning seasons.
One reason Jenkins offered for Rose-Hulman’s recent consistency is the addition of Sean Bendel, who’s beginning his 15th season as an assistant on the coaching staff.
“He’s been great,” Jenkins stressed. “We were doing well before he got here. But when he got here, that really elevated us. That’s when we became a nationally known program. We’ve been much more consistent. Sean does a great, great job. That’s been a big part of our success.”
Jenkins made sure he didn’t leave out another reason for the program’s success.
“Good players,” he continued. “Behind every coach with a good record, I’ll show you a coach with a lot of good players.”
One of Jenkins’ rare losing seasons, strangely enough, occurred in 2013 when the Engineers finished 15-24.
“We were young,” noted Jenkins, who added that he used 39 different starting lineups in 39 games last season. “We had a lot of freshmen who got playing time. … It was one of those things where we just didn’t play well.”
With the 2014 Engineers debuting Sunday against Coe at Winter Haven, Fla., Jenkins is determined not to have his first back-to-back losing seasons.
“We’ve got a small class of seniors,” he mentioned. “We’ve got two seniors who have been great players for us [Hank Akard and Andrew Benitez]. Then there’s [pitcher] Kevin Farley, who had ACL surgery two years ago. We’re looking forward to him having a good year this year.”
Jenkins said Akard, a center fielder who hit .333 with 12 doubles and 14 stolen bases last season, most likely will bat third in the lineup and Benitez, a second baseman who may see some action at third base as well, probably will bat fourth.
“Hank’s been a great player for us,” Jenkins assessed. “He’s not real big [5-feet-10 and 170 pounds], but he’s the fastest guy on the team. He came out of [Ben Davis] high school as a shortstop/pitcher … but he’s turned into a great center fielder for us.
“Andrew pulled a muscle last year against Mount St. Joseph and he ended up missing several games for us. … He’s a great hitter and a great player, so not having him really took a lot out of us.”
Jenkins also hopes to get significant offensive production out of junior right fielder Josh Hoeing this season.
“The rest of the lineup will be a whole bunch of sophomores,” he continued. “We’ve got some potential to have several .300 hitters in our lineup. I think we’ve got a lot of depth. I think we’ve got some talent. Now it’s just a matter of getting in games and executing.”
Pitching-wise, three sophomores and one junior are expected to join Farley in the starting rotation.
As a team, Rose was picked to finish fifth in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference’s annual preseason coaches poll. Anderson was tabbed as the favorite to capture the title.
“The conference doesn’t have a 2013 Manchester this year,” Jenkins said, referring to an HCAC team that won four games in the Division III tournament last season. “It doesn’t have anybody like that.
“I think everybody’s got some strengths and everybody’s got some weaknesses. Honestly, I think six teams can battle for that top spot … and I definitely think we’re one of those six.”
Regardless of where Rose-Hulman finishes in the HCAC standings or how many victories it piles up in 2014, Jenkins doesn’t sound likely to be stepping away from the field anytime soon.
“I enjoy doing it,” he insisted. “If I ever stop enjoying it, I’d consider being an AD only. And I’ve got a son [Justin, a sophomore baseball standout at Terre Haute South High School] who I’d like to see play a little more.
“But for now, I’m certainly dedicated at getting our program where it needs to be this year and years to come.”
As Jenkins gets ready for Season No. 25 at Rose, he was asked if he has any regrets from the first 24.
“Every time you lose,” he admitted, “you always look back and think ‘there’s something I could have done different.’ ”
Overall, though, there’s not much Jenkins would have done differently regarding Rose-Hulman baseball.
“I think our program exudes pride and class,” he summarized. “Our kids take a lot of pride in doing things the right way.”
Jeff Jenkins year by year at Rose-Hulman
24-year total 601-368-1
27-year total counting other schools 646-423-2
* — denotes NCAA Division III tournament appearances
Rose-Hulman 2014 schedule
(All times Eastern)
Sunday — vs. Coe+ at Winter Haven, Fla., 2:30 p.m.
Monday — vs. St. Vincent (Pa.)+ at Auburndale, Fla., 11:30 a.m.
March 4 — vs. Mount Union+ at Winter Haven, Fla., 5 p.m.
March 5 — vs. St. John Fisher+ at Auburndale, Fla., 10:45 a.m.
March 6 — vs. Trine+ at Auburndale, Fla., 2:30 p.m.
March 7 — vs. Rockford+ at Winter Haven, Fla., 3 p.m.
March 8 — vs. Milwaukee School of Engineering+ at Winter Haven, Fla., 9 a.m.
March 14 — Concordia in Rose-Hulman Invitational, 5:30 p.m.
March 15 — Alma in Rose-Hulman Invitational, 11 a.m.
March 16 — Illinois Wesleyan in Rose-Hulman Invitational, 11 a.m.
March 16 — Carthage in Rose-Hulman Invitational, 3 p.m.
March 21 — Bluffton*, 6 p.m.
March 22 — Bluffton (2)*, noon
March 28 — Hanover*, 6 p.m.
March 29 — Hanover (2)*, noon
April 1 — Franklin*, 6 p.m.
April 2 — Washington (St. Louis), 6 p.m.
April 5 — at Manchester (2)*, noon
April 6 — at Manchester*, noon
April 8 — Anderson*, 6 p.m.
April 10 — Illinois Tech, 6 p.m.
April 12 — Mount St. Joseph (2)*, 2 p.m.
April 13 — Mount St. Joseph*, noon
April 15 — at Franklin*, 4 p.m.
April 18 — Earlham*, 6 p.m.
April 19 — Earlham (2)*, noon
April 22 — at Anderson*, 4:15 p.m.
April 23 — at DePauw, 4 p.m.
April 25 — at Transylvania*, 4 p.m.
April 26 — at Transylvania (2)*, noon
April 30 — at Washington (St. Louis), 5:30 p.m.
May 2 — at Defiance*, 4:15 p.m.
May 3 — at Defiance (2)*, noon
May 8-10 — Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament at No. 1 seed
May 14-18 — NCAA regional at TBA
+ — denotes annual spring trip to Florida
* — denotes HCAC games