[Image courtesy of gobonnies.com]
By Ryan Lazo, Editor in Chief, @RMLazo13
St. Bonaventure University pitcher Billy Urban stood tall on the mound with runners on first and third with one out. His team had just taken the lead in the top half of the ninth inning, putting head coach Larry Sudbrook just two outs away from a career milestone.
Urban, the team’s starting third baseman with all of 39 appearances on the mound under his belt, struck out the first Saint Joseph’s University batter on a high fastball and recorded a fielder’s choice to close out the game, sending the Bonnies to their third win in four games and handing Sudbrook his 600th career win.
It’s a feat that is even more special when realizing Sudbrook, in his 28th season at the helm of St. Bonaventure, has done it with a shoe-string budget and a no-nonsense approach.
But while 600 wins is a mark that no other St. Bonaventure head coach has come close within earshot of, Sudbrook has not yet taken the time to appreciate what he has accomplished.
“We’re in the midst of a season that we had high hopes for and we are not playing well,” Sudbrook said as he focused on the team’s next opponent. “Maybe in the Fall when I’m sitting in a tree bow-hunting, I’ll get around to thinking about how neat it was.”
The Bonnies are currently sitting in 12th place in the Atlantic 10 Conference standings with a 13-20 overall record, surely a far cry from the circumstances surrounding the program when Sudbrook nabbed his 500th career win.
St. Bonaventure was in the midst of making the A-10 postseason Tournament six out of nine years with one conference title and a second-place finish in the mix.
“The last four or five years, we’ve been mediocre,” Sudbrook said. “That takes away a little bit of the overall enjoyment of winning the 600.”
The honesty in which Sudbrook discussed the state of the baseball program does not surprise his team’s starting third baseman since his freshman season. In fact, Urban who has compiled 220 hits in his career — good enough for a career average of .333, said it would not have happened without his coach.
“I could tell you countless stories about him being brutally honest and it may not always be what you want to hear, but it’s what you need to hear,” Urban said of Sudbrook. “You always know exactly where you stand and that honesty goes a long way. He also relates to all of his players really well.”
Relating to players is something that has set Sudbrook apart and has helped him complete 12 winning seasons at St. Bonaventure, including being named the 2004 Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year Award.
Baseball is a sport that is littered with failure no matter how one tries to decipher the small army of numbers available in the stats. The greatest players are considered hitters who compile a batting average of .300, meaning they actually are failing at their job 70 percent of the time.
But starting first baseman Austin Ingraham says Sudbrook understands that some situations call for a humorous environment.
“Baseball is a long season of ups and downs, and coach having the sense of humor that he does helps us all get through it with our sanity,” Ingraham said. “Guys may take it the wrong way sometimes if they’re having a bad day, but you’ll never be successful in this game if you can’t learn to laugh at yourself. Coach definitely encourages that. And for others to laugh at you as well.”
And it’s the old-school approach to the game, always focusing on the task at hand and helping keep the mood light that has led to Sudbrook developing 30 Atlantic 10 All-Conference Selections, 10 Major League Baseball draft picks and 14 Professional Players.
He’s accomplished all this at a school where his program is not fully funded and deals with constant game cancellations due to weather even with McGraw-Jennings Field being completely turf.
“How many programs do you see going through a new coach every four years? That’s a real testament to what coach is and what he’s been for this program and school,” Urban said. “It’s an incredible feat to be coaching for that long.”
“For him to be able to stick with this program and bring it to the top tier of A-10 baseball for as long as he has says a lot about his attitude and work ethic,” Ingraham added.
Because even with the miniscule budget and a coaching staff not even half the size of the institutions St. Bonaventure faces, Sudbrook keeps the Bonnies afloat in the A-10 using smoke and mirrors.
“Sr. Margaret always likes to talk about the David versus Goliath aspect, so there is that satisfaction when you get wins against schools that have twice the scholarships that we do, bigger coaching staffs and facilities,” Sudbrook said. “But when you’re David, you don’t take a whole lot of time to enjoy beating Goliath because he’s going to get back up.”
While Goliath does get back up, St. Bonaventure’s baseball team continues to fight back, knocking down Goliath with more and more frequency as the man at the helm continues to put his team in the best position to succeed — a total of 605 times and counting.