Given the all-you-can-eat buffet of dismal statistics the hardscrabble program served this season, it’s easy to wax negative on Red Wolves baseball. Don’t worry, A-State Neganistas! This post will take all the easy shots at a program that delivered exactly 5 conference victories this season – the first time the program recorded a single in-conference win total since the 8-21-1 Red Wolves of 2008. This was, in fact, the worst season of baseball Arkansas State has recorded in 17 years, when Arkansas State clocked seven conference victories (22-30 overall).
So what next, Red Wolves baseball?
Already emerging as an elite baseball conference, the Sun Belt adds nationally ranked Southern Miss to the fold in 2023, along with better-than-solid JMU and Old Dominion programs. The SBC rolls into next season as a perennial multi-bid NCAA tournament conference, a powerhouse with the potential to raise all programs. What is Arkansas State’s place in this expanding solar system? As it stands now, somewhere outside of Uranus.
The 2022 Red Wolves finished the season with the Sun Belt’s worst fielding percentage, the most errors and the highest ERA. The program also concluded the season with the lowest team batting average, the fewest hits, and the second most walks allowed. While ten of the conferences’ teams will be playing in the SBC Tournament, the Red Wolves will be comfortably watching the new season of Stranger Things (which maybe was the objective all along).
So what next, Red Wolves baseball?
In February, Arkansas State University unveiled some new renderings of proposed improvements for the Red Wolves’ woefully underserved facilities. Since then, the University has lost its Chancellor and lost and acquired its
athletic director Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics. What happens next for Red Wolves baseball is now a decision to be made by Jeff Purinton, a Crimson Tide insider who’s here not to drink wine, but to rebuild a number of struggle programs in Jonesboro.
Wait, rebuild Arkansas State baseball? How often has it been uttered in message boards and Twitter feeds that A-State Baseball has never been good? A: Often! While the Red Wolves have never enjoyed successes like the Cajuns or Chanticleers, there was a time when you could count on Arkansas State to deliver a decent season on the diamond. For example, between 2010 and 2014, the Red Wolves supplied three seasons of above .500 conference ball and more than 30 victories overall. Since 2014, we haven’t had a winning SBC season, but we’ve had a pair of overall winning seasons. I don’t make the rules, but that’ the benchmark, y’all: more wins than losses.
So What’s Next, Arkansas State Baseball?
With the Sun Belt building a college baseball super conference, how does Arkansas State acquire a role other than punching bag? For starters, Purinton has the Herculean task of raising money for facilities improvements. If I were him, I’d approach boosters and deep pockets by leading with the Sun Belt’s glowing position as a national College Baseball power and envision Arkansas State occupying the conference’s bodybag season after season.
Next, I’d shakeup the leadership. Coach Tommy Raffo is a campus institution who has heroically worked with the dry clay given to him every year. But he’s not the coach to lead a resurgence. We need vision. We need a winning perspective. We need energy.
Lastly, we need a recruitment strategy. Money placed in facilities helps, as does a fresh coaching staff. Recruiters should position their pitch as Jonesboro becoming the launching point for playing meaningful innings in a nationally celebrated baseball conference.
We can make baseball a winner in Jonesboro. The fans have the appetite, they need only to see some dedication applied to the program to believe.
Photo Credit: just a crap graphic I made, calm down