WVU baseball coach Randy Mazey will retire after this season.
EDITOR’S NOTE: West Virginia opens its baseball season on Friday at Stetson with high expectations. It is the final season coaching the team for Randy Mazey, who is retiring after the year, and he has a team led by perhaps the best college baseball player in the country. We take a look at it all the next three days with stories about Mazey, his achievements, why he is retiring and what’s ahead, and also on shortstop JJ Wetherholt, his game and his relationship with Mazey.
MORGANTOWN — It was one of those spring days that started cold, warmed up through the morning and seemed to be offering a hint that baseball season was creeping up on Randy Mazey, his last baseball season as West Virginia’s coach.
He had authored an intriguing story in his 11 years of running the program, taking it from nowhere to a Big 12 regular season championship last year, to a couple of NCAA tournaments, from the squalor of Hawley Field to the first-class facility that is Monongalia County Ballpark.
It was a week until opening day at Stetson and, as he began the final preseason press conference, he was asked about the emotions, the memories, all that he was feeling at the moment.
“I knew someone was going to ask me that,” he joked. “I try not to think about it that way, but my wife makes me think about that way. Every time I get home from something, she says ‘Do you realize this is the last time you’re ever going to do that?’”
He says that’s not the way it is right now. Too early.
“I don’t think it will hit me until the last home game,” said the man who opted to retire early and turn his team over to his associate head coach, Steve Sabins, next season. Sabins has been with Mazey at WVU for nine years.
Why did he choose early retirement?
“The community has been so good to me and my family. We’ve kind of engrained ourselves into this community. All I’ll tell you about my decision is I did it in the best interest of this baseball program, this university, this state. All the things I’ve come to love so much had I not decided to do it while I did it, I don’t know how the next two or three or four years would have gone here.
“I did it for the right reasons. I feel good about it.”
You don’t know what was running through his head as he said those words, but you know the philosopher inside him was begging to come out.
“Retirement is easy to talk about, but when you actually pull the trigger on it things change a bit. “We’ll see how it goes when I get into it. You know, in this profession, you miss so much of life, so much of your family. I wanted to spend more time with them than I’ve ever been able to do.
“I feel like we’ve gotten this program to a place now where it’s not just successful, but it’s sustainable, too. I didn’t feel somebody coming in from the outside who didn’t know anything about this community or this state would be the right thing for the program.
“Sabs has been with me for a long time now and he kind of knows how to do this thing. That’s important to me. All I can say about Sabs is I’m entrusting him with my son. He’s going to come here to play, so that should speak volumes about how I feel; the fact I’m perfectly happy that my son will be under his guidance while he is here.”
Of course, by retiring now, Mazey passes up a chance to coach his son, Wammer, who came to town as that cute little bat boy, survived a scary head injury while playing ball, and is getting close to attending WVU.
“I want to coach my son, but I don’t want my son to be coached by me. There’s a difference,” he said, displaying rare insight into the potholes that such a relationship can create. “I’d love for him to be out here and me be out there on the field with him.
“So, it was never that I didn’t want to coach him. I just didn’t want him to spend four years on a college baseball team and go back to the dorm and listen to his teammates telling everybody what a rotten piece of crap his daddy is. That’s tough on a kid, being coached by his dad and I wouldn’t have done what I did if I didn’t feel good who was going to coach him.”
This played a stronger role in his decision to step down after this year than you may have imagined.
“I always wanted to coach him, but I really will enjoy watching him play. I’d always thought about retiring when that happens, and the kicker for me was we were playing Texas Tech here last year and I think we were beating them 17-2 on a Sunday. We were in the 7th or 8th inning and the game was pretty much in hand. Wammer had a baseball game at Mylan Park at the same time and Sierra had a softball game at the same time at the same time and I thought to myself, ‘I’d rather be there than here.’
“When that thought occurred to me, I began thinking it’s not fair to my team, to the community, to the state for me to want to be somewhere else at that moment. That was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Mazey now can concentrate on a team he believes has a chance to be his best. Certainly, it is led by the best player ever to play for him, JJ Wetherholt, who last year hit .449 to lead Power 5 baseball, and who will move to third position in three years, going from second base to shortstop.
“Coach Mazey has been pretty much everything you could dream of as a head coach,” Wetherholt said. “He’s been like another father to me and has taught me so much stuff. He means a lot to me and has been a great mentor. He was a big reason why I came here and it’s been everything I hoped for. We want to send him out with a bang.”
They come off a 40-win season and the Big 12 regular season championship, seemingly headed toward a long run in the NCAA championship before inexplicably dropping 7 of their final 8 games.
Where the program resides today couldn’t have been imagined when Mazey left TCU, where he was an assistant coach, to come to Morgantown. The situation for baseball seemed bleak as they went into the Big 12, so what moved him to pick up and come to town?
“In this profession, you look back over the last 20 years and there are some programs that were considered to be sleeping giants, so to speak,” Mazey began. “Everybody in the coaching profession always felt this was one of them, so when the opportunity came to do that, it wasn’t just a chance to go to a Power 5 program. It was a Power 5 program that you thought you could make a difference in.
“Then you talk to Oliver Luck and Keli Cunningham (now Keli Zinn) and hear their vision of the program. It takes a village, you know, and there’s a lot of people involved in convincing me they were going to invest in this program and get the resources that will let you do what you need to do.
“You let those meetings sink in and think, ‘Yeah, the program is in tough shape right now, but no doubt it can be better. You just don’t know much better. Looking back on it, I think we made it much better.
“There’s not many sleeping giants left out there. Me being from West Central Pennsylvania, I’d been in the football stadium when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time in this area deer hunting. I knew Morgantown, a little bit about it. I thought it would be a great place to raise a family. They were young when we came here.
“A lot of stars had to align, and they did, so it turned out pretty well.”
The excitement for the new season is strong among Mountaineer fans, to see the best player in college baseball, to see a team that believes it can go at least to Super Regional and maybe all the way to Omaha for the College World Series, and to see Mazey coach his final year.
Season ticket sales have reached an all-time high with all of this.
“When we got here, we had visions of all this. Realistically, a lot of people thought I was crazy for coming here. The first time I’d take them to Hawley Field they’d say, ‘What are you doing, Maz?’ But you had visions of the facilities and the conference and the type of players we could get here,” Mazey said.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot in my time here, but there’s still things that would be cool to do in my last year that haven’t been done yet, so I’m not limping off into the sunset just yet. It would be really cool if we could send me off with a bang, so to speak. That’s what my goal is.”