Steve Rodriguez and his daughter Julia visited Baylor in October 2014 as she was looking at possible universities to attend. While they were here, he connected with Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr and attended a football game--Baylor's 61-58 comeback victory over TCU. Little did Rodriguez know then, he would be called back to Baylor nine months later.
Rodriguez was named Baylor's baseball head coach on June 12 and made his first public appearance in his new role at a press conference in Waco on June 18. With a strong résumé, Rodriguez is the fourth man to hold the position since the 1962 season. Rodriguez was a member of Pepperdine University's 1992 national championship team, was drafted in the sixth round by the Boston Red Sox, spent seven seasons in professional baseball and played 18 games in the majors with the Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. Rodriguez served as Pepperdine’s head coach the past 12 seasons after a four-year stint as a Waves assistant coach.
Rodriguez said the people drew him to Baylor, pulling him away from a job at his alma mater in which he had been successful. He led Pepperdine to five West Coast Conference titles, five WCC Tournament titles and eight NCAA Regional appearances, including in 2015.
His 2014 team arguably was his most successful. That year, the Waves were 43-18, won the WCC regular-season and tournament titles and reached the school’s first super regional.
Rodriguez recruited and coached seven All-Americans at Pepperdine, including 2012 WCC Player of the Year Joe Sever and 2012 Brooks Wallace Award (nation's top shortstop) winner Zach Vincej. Four of his former players have reached the Major Leagues, and his Pepperdine players were drafted 43 times. Rodriguez also served as an assistant coach for the 2014 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team; he was a Team USA member as a player in 1991 and 1992.
"In my opinion, relationships with the players are one of the best things you can do," Rodriguez said. "They need to know that you're here for them. But at the same time, I need them here for me, as well."
Rodriguez will bring that same approach to Baylor, where he inherits a program that has missed the NCAA Tournament three straight years since reaching a Super Regional in 2012.
"It isn’t going to be all roses," he said, "but it's going to be a lot of fun. We're going to work hard, and they're going to see some success."
Pepperdine's setting had its recruiting advantages. The campus is nestled among ridges four long home runs away from the Pacific Ocean and Pacific Coast Highway.
Rodriguez said Baylor has its recruiting advantages, as well.
"Baylor is going to sell itself," he said. "The biggest thing is for me to find the kids that want to be here. I'm not going to want to convince guys to come here. If you don't want to be here, that's fine. If they want to be a Baylor Bear and you're good enough to be here and help us win, then let's do it. I'm not going to convince them to be here."
Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said it was Rodriguez's character that most impressed him and the search committee.
"He's a great Christian man, husband and father," McCaw said. "He will be a great ambassador for Baylor Athletics and our baseball program."
"I always talk to my wife about certain places I would love to coach, and there are maybe two other places I see myself coaching," Rodriguez said. "Baylor just happened to be one of them. I never wanted to leave Pepperdine in regards to going to find something better; it was an amazing place. I love the atmosphere here (at Baylor), the facilities, the knowledge that I know our athletic department is always looking to upgrade everything."
The Baylor-TCU game last fall was not Rodriguez's first time in Waco. His Pepperdine squad played at Baylor Ballpark early in the 2013 season.
Rodriguez said he remembers being impressed by Baylor Ballpark at that time, but it was the impression from his daughter's scouting trip to Baylor that moved him when McCaw approached him about the Bears' coaching job in June.
"When we came here, I got to be a dad," Rodriguez said. "I went on the tours with my daughter and got to see how she reacted to things. The amazing people here--they were talking with her and praying for her--in my mind, I felt very touched by it.
"When we went home, my wife asked, 'What did you think?' I said, 'That's one of the most impressive places I've seen.'"
As for the team itself, Rodriguez said there are assessments to be made and work to be done.
>"I don't know what we have," he said. "These players get to start from scratch with me. We're going to start from day one, and we're going to get it going from there."