“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Rogers Hornsby
When it comes to Angelo State baseball, the feeling is mutual every year. At least for the fans anyway. They go to the games, wave their towels, chant: “ASU! ASU! ASU!” and cheer the groups of young men/old boys that Head Coach Kevin Brooks has gathered into a team. Win or lose, they have been consistently there for the Rams.
Only lately, the Rams have only been succeeding. In the last five seasons, the Rams have won the Lone Star Conference twice, won the LSC Conference Tournament twice, and compiled a 185-104 record in one of the harder conferences in D-II baseball.
Beyond winning, ASU has improved itself in other areas and has generated the one single reason that any baseball team has continuous success.
Stability. There is a resonance of stability that echoes throughout the Rams from the team to the coaching staff to even the hierarchies of the university itself.
Starting with the very top, so much of ASU’s recent success in sports (not only baseball) has coincided with the selection of Dr. Brian May as the university president. An affable man with ties to the stock show and rodeo, he looks more distinguished wearing a ball cap than he does a suit. May took over the job in late 2012 and even flew out to Grand Junction in 2015 to see the Rams be crowned South Central Regional champions and hoist the trophy.
ASU takes considerable pride in the fact that it was one of the best D-II schools when it comes to athletic success and May only intends to continue that during his tenure. To help Brooks on the recruiting/quality of equipment end, ASU gathered the funding to lay down a brand new field this past season. A field so stunning that it is, without a doubt, a convincing recruiting tool. ASU ended up hosting the conference tournament as well and showed their rivals that, “Hey, we’re not going anywhere.”
But perhaps the core of the team’s success comes down to its four-man coaching staff. Each a unique genius and integral cog to make a unit that not only wins, but also have an enormous amount of fun in the process. They are the heart and soul of it because players graduate out yearly while they have stayed adding stability.
The man in charge is Brooks or “Brooksie” as Assistant Head Coach John Anderson calls him. The two men are the diamond’s version of Maverick and Goose with more hoots, hollers, and laughs than a “Who’s on first?” routine.
The Baylor graduate Brooks is a self-professed jerk, but he’s ASU’s jerk and has decades of experience with hitters including NL All-Star Lance Berkman. His eyes and ears extend into and beyond the borders of Texas as he’s included players from Florida, Arizona, and even Jarryd Klemm from “Down Under” onto the roster.
Anderson, the Costello (or is he Abbott?) of the duo is a former White Sox minor leaguer and has never taken a picture with anything less than a grin. His infectious jovial personality is impossible to dislike and his contacts in his original home state of Minnesota have led to gathering players from all over the northern region of the United States and parts of Canada to come to San Angelo to play baseball. He’s the yang to Brooksie’s yin, and his knowledge of hitters is either just under or parallel to Brooks. Over the years, the players have responded to their routine of “rough coach/smooth coach,” to great success.
The third corner of this coaching square is Travis Lawler, who resembles a statue until given reason to smile. His stoic demeanor gives an element of seriousness that not even Brooks possesses and his ability to work with and improve pitchers speaks for itself. ASU had three pitchers drafted last summer and now Jayden O’Dell was drafted in the 2016 draft by the San Francisco Giants. One of Lawler’s greatest attributes is he’s an easy teacher to grasp. He passes on his profound knowledge of the game in short yet loaded sentences such as, “He’s got the one thing you can’t teach. Height!” and his background as a minor leaguer for the St. Louis Cardinals speaks for itself.
The fourth and final member of the entourage is Rex Scofield, or “Godfather” as Brooks calls him. What Scofield adds to the equation is experience at every level. He has been a player, a coach, and was SAISD (San Angelo Independent School District)’s athletic director from 1998-2008. He is a man of unreal energy. In his 70s, he outwalks the entire team, and often gets a head start while they are still asleep or having breakfast. When they check the step recorder function on their watches, the results sometimes are a 3-1 ratio in his favor. He says he loves being around the team because they keep him young. Throw in the fact that he is a great listener for any student or fellow coach to talk to and the dynamic is that of a philharmonic orchestra.
Not only is there stability on the baseball field during season, but in their offices during the recruiting offseason. Brooks has his own personal charm that is genuine and honest, which is refreshing to players and parents. The amount of research these men do is unknown because even at night on a road trip, Brooks and Anderson can be seen bantering with each other like an infinitely smarter Seinfeld and Constanza while their eyes peel over raw stat sheets or look at a clip of a player on a computer screen. Their methods have managed to create wins and fantastic results in the locker room.
While the Rams, like every school, have had to rotate seniors out and freshmen/transfers in, there is a sense of stability that is reflected and in the players’ personality groups. Whether they are outspoken jesters or the quiet cowboy/fisherman type, the players are universally congenial and delights to be around.
Whether it’s Quaid McKinnon, Brett David, or Jay Gonzales at first, there is this grinning guy who is a good guy to have a drink with (soda if he’s under 21 of course). Or whether it’s the analytical Doug Snover or the sheer awesome and laidback Sam Kohler at second, it’s a blast hanging out with them.
Other names over the past five years that ring out: Ryan Greer, Steve Naemark, Brandon Bass, Bryce Zak, Paxton De La Garza (who was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016), David Goggin, Andrew LaCombe, Lee Neumann, Zack Cohen, etc. etc. etc. apologies given to anyone excluded. All of these men are quality people, not just players.
For example, Goggin had a 3.98 GPA in chemistry as a student athlete and is a two-time Elite 90 award winner (translation: he’s very very smart). He’s also the guy most likely to win the Nobel Prize, but he’s too modest to admit it.
Cohen is on his way to becoming Dr. Zach Cohen. LaCombe is married and building a career in San Angelo. Neumann is currently with his lovely newlywed wife Kourtney in the Dominican Republican working on their honeymoon tan. Quality men graduate from Angelo State University.
Furthermore, mirroring the players’ personalities is the quality of talent that compounds the stability. Players not yet seniors include Gonzales, Kenton Schroter, Tyler Coolbaugh, Nathan Ruane, Christian Abilla, etc. who are a solid core to build around. While several seniors like Goggin, Kohler, Zak, Graylon Brown, and Hunter Spear to name a few, will be gone, their shoes will be filled. It’s not impossible because the Rams have done it before.
In short, the Rams have found the scientific formula to make themselves into a stable team with genuine, heartfelt camaraderie around quality people that continues year in and year out. They coordinate together like the crew of a ship at sea, infectious to be around, and the laughter almost never stops. Combine that with talent and it’s no wonder that they’re the first ever Texas team to go to the D-II World Series in back-to-back years.
These coaches, this new field, and the history with players is a winning combination. That’s all the reason needed to believe that Angelo State baseball is only looking up from here. All that’s left is to stare out the window and wait for spring to come back around.