When people think about sports at Oral Roberts University, they usually think one thing: basketball.
Who could blame them?
The Eagles’ top-notch facility houses a fast-paced and exciting sport to watch.
And let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy some March Madness drama?
However, it may come as a surprise to both students and outsiders that in recent years, basketball hasn’t been the most successful sport at ORU.
Just this past year, the ORU baseball team was one win away from claiming a berth in the NCAA College World Series.
In fact, Golden Eagles outfielder Nick Baligod was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and is now playing in their farm system.
Coming into this year, ORU’s baseball team was projected to continue its success.
ORU was picked to finish No. 1 in the Summit League conference and advance to the NCAA regionals.
That being said, after being swept by Baylor and losing the home opener to Wichita State, some were starting to question ORU’s projections.
However, after the game, head coach Rob Walton made it clear he was NOT one of those people.
“I think it’s more of a mental problem than physical,” Walton said. “The new guys are trying to do too much. They’re trying to think about everything at the plate when they just need to relax and put the plan into action.”
Walton is an experienced coach and knows the right thing to say when asked about a loss or two.
But what he said next is something that sets him apart from an average baseball coach.
“Our goal is to go to the College World Series and win a national title, nothing less.” Walton said.
“Last year, we were on the verge from being able to get a chance to do that. We’ve been a pitch away. But we want everyone at and outside ORU to know our goal remains the same.”
Walton knows how to win.
His record (327-142), not to mention being a five-time Summit League Coach of the Year, speaks for itself.
But of all of his impressive numbers, his most impressive is 43: the number of players who have been drafted by MLB teams during his eight-year tenure as head coach.
This statistic undoubtedly served as a factor in being selected to represent his country as head coach for Team USA in 2008 and as an assistant coach in ’04 and ’11.
“Being a coach for Team USA was a wonderful experience,” Walton said.
“You get to meet other coaches and get a chance to learn how they handle things.
“It really helps broaden your perspective.”
According to Walton, another perk that comes with being coach for the national team is the talent that you are exposed to.
When Walton was appointed skipper for Team USA in 2008, he had a very special prospect on his roster, a pitcher by the name of Stephen Strasburg.
“It is always hard when you’re dealing with players other teams have rights to,” said Walton.
“There was one time Strasburg threw a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Chinese Taipei. I decided to pull him going into the seventh because his pitch count (85) was getting too high.”
After talking to Coach Walton, it’s obvious he has a vast amount of knowledge and respect for the game of baseball.
But his genuine love for his players and his undying hunger to win makes for a combination that’s to be envied by anybody.
“To be honest, I don’t lose much sleep over losses,” Walton said.
“Of course, you want to win and that’s important. But all you really want to know is that you’ve helped enhance these young men’s lives.
“To me that’s worth everything.”