By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Pittsburg State’s baseball history consists of two eras, and Steve Bever has been involved in both.
Bever, a graduate of Girard High School, played third base at PSU for coach Al Ortolani from 1966-69.
The baseball program along with tennis and swimming were discontinued in 1972 because of budget restraints. But late in the 1980s, word began circulating that baseball was coming back to PSU, and the Gorillas returned to the field in 1991 with Bever as head coach.
This weekend, 22 seasons and almost 1,100 games later, Bever is retiring as the Gorillas coach.
“It’s really been nice,” Bever said Wednesday morning. “Not a lot of people get to do what they want where they want and retire from there when they want, especially starting at 40.”
No. 5-ranked Central Missouri comes to Pittsburg for a four-game series beginning on Friday night. The Mules are coached by Tommy Myers, former Pittsburg State pitcher and assistant coach.
“I think regardless of who he plays, this is a special time,” Myers said. “I’m thankful that I will be there to see him honored because I think he’s such a great person.
“He’s a father figure. He provides such great guidance and wisdom, always seems to have an understanding and level approach to everything. He was able to provide discipline and wisdom and guidance through what I consider a really critical time in men’s lives.”
“It’s always good to see Tommy,” Bever said. “I think a lot of him. He is one of my favorite guys all time. It’s going to be neat to have the two third base coaches be Tommy and Daniel (Esposito, PSU assistant), who were best friends when they were teammates here for two years (in 1996 and 1997).”
And, it was Bever who helped Myers get his foot in the door at Central Missouri.
“I had worked to help Tommy get to Central as a GA,” Bever said. “I talked to Brad (Hill, Mules coach), and the thing that was the deal clinch for Brad was Tommy could throw BP (batting practice). Brad said, ‘If he can throw BP, I’ll take him.’ ”
Pittsburg State hired Bever as baseball coach in February 1990, so he had a year to fill his roster. Before spending much time on the road recruiting, he held tryouts for students already enrolled at PSU.
“We had 100 guys show up for tryouts, so the tryouts took two weeks,” Bever said. “It was story worthy.
“We were at JayCee (Ballpark) throwing off the mound, and I had one guy try out as a pitcher. I was taking video from the back, and the catcher was down and he’d go like this (looking over his left shoulder), then he’d go like this (looking over his right shoulder). You never did see a ball that that guy threw. It was priceless video. Somewhere along the line I lost it.
“Another time we were at the practice field at PHS, and a third baseman threw one and I heard a bang. I asked the catcher what was that, and he said the third baseman just hit a car in the parking lot ... 90 degrees off line. I thought ‘Oh boy.’ ”
The Gorillas went 15-32 in 1991 and won a total of 32 games during the next two seasons, but in the fourth year, the record jumped to 30-20, and the Gorillas qualified for the MIAA Tournament, the first postseason baseball appearance since 1965.
“That first group,” Bever said, “all those guys who stayed with me, and we filled in with some junior college guys and got to pitching it better. It was amazing how much fun it was, how quickly we got it going.”
The Gorillas set a school record for victories during their 39-18 season in 1997 when they hit .364 as a team. They finished the year with the first national ranking in school history at No. 24.
PSU exited in the semifinals of the conference tournament but earned an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time.
Pittsburg State also made the NCAA Tournament in 1998 (36-16), 1999 (36-14) and 2002 (39-19). The 1999 squad earned the program’s only MIAA Tournament championship by beating Central Missouri for the first time in 15 tries in the title game.
Bever has a 565-525 record as the Gorillas’ coach entering this weekend. But the number that brings him the most satisfaction is 88.
“We’ve graduated 88 percent of the guys who have been in the program,” he said. “Anybody who played for me knows how much I pushed academics. I told them no matter what, you have to get your degree. Some day somebody is going to tell you baseball is over, and you need that degree.
“We pushed that, sometimes probably to the detriment of our team. My All-America pitcher Daryl Cronk, I left him home one time because he had a test he had to take.”
After this weekend, Bever will begin his phased retirement.
“I’ll help raise money for the baseball program, which we really need,” he said. “Baseball has become a facilities-driven sport. The scholarship money is never going to equal basketball or football, so guys are all about facilities, and recruiting is all about facilities. I’m certainly wanting to help the program.”
PSU coaching tenures
Coaches with the longest tenures at Pittsburg State
Coach, Sport Years No.
John Lance, basketball 1923-63 41
Garfield Weede, track 1924-50 27
Russ Jewett, cross country, track 1987-pres. 26
Steve Bever, baseball 1991-2012 22
Chuck Broyles, football 1990-2009 20