By Sean Ryan
for Horizon League coaches' survey results
The bus rolled into campus
around 5:30 in the morning.
Drained from a four-game
weekend series last year in Fargo, N.D., against North Dakota
State, a Valparaiso baseball player turned to his first-year
coach Tracy Woodson.
“Coach, you going to
class?” the player asked. “Yeah, and you’re going to be there,
too,” Woodson replied.
After a two-hour nap in
the team room at Emory G. Bauer Field, Woodson, like many of his
players, headed off for an early class.
Woodson isn’t your typical
college baseball coach.
For starters, he’s one of
a handful of Division I head coaches in the country who can
sport a World Series Ring. Woodson was a member of the 1988 Los
Angeles Dodgers team that beat Oakland – Pacific’s Ed Sprague
won two World Series rings with Toronto and Yale’s John Stuper
earned one with the 1982 Cardinals. (Of note Sacred Heart’s Nick
Giaquinto earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Washington
While many of his college
baseball peers are mapping out practice or sneaking out for a
round of golf this spring, Woodson will be taking Accounting 205
and a sports marketing class. It’s all part of a promise he made
to Valpo administrators when he was hired three seasons ago:
that he would work towards the undergrad degree he walked away
from to chase his major league dreams nearly 25 years ago.
And for good measure,
Woodson moonlights as a college basketball ref, joining the
likes of Moose Stubing and Bruce Benedict as former major league
baseball players who found enjoyment calling blocks and charges.
“When you have someone
with his kind of resume, we know that he knows what he’s talking
about,” senior pitcher Patrick Bracco said. “So, as long as we
do our job and listen to what he tells us, there’s no reason we
can’t be successful.
“He sets forth a good
example of what he expects of you, and we try to live up to
his first year, Woodson led the Crusaders to a 22-34 record and
their first Mid-Continent Conference tournament appearance since
2003. Included was one very big win over Oral Roberts – which
ended the Golden Eagles’ 40-game conference win streak and gave
the Crusaders just their fourth win in 46 games and first ever
in Tulsa, Okla., against ORU.
Woodson preached to his
team early in the year that it would beat the team that has won
the regular-season title in each year of the Mid-Con’s
“Heck, I didn’t know,”
joked Woodson, whose Valparaiso squad will mix it up as members
of the Horizon League in 2008. “I figured out of four games, we
could win one. Then I found out we were 3-42 against them. If I
had known that, I wouldn’t have said it.”
Chances are, he still
would have made the promise.
At North Carolina State,
Woodson was the ACC player of the year in 1984, a junior season
in which roped 25 homers (tied for school record) and set a
school record with a .913 slugging percentage.
“There was no question, I
was going to sign,” said Woodson, who was named to the ACC’s 50th
Anniversary Team in 2002. “I think I had done pretty much
everything I could do. I wasn’t going to get any better [in
The Dodgers selected him
in the third round of the 1984 draft, and in 1987, just eight
games into his major league career, Woodson belted a first-pitch
fastball from Nolan Ryan into the seats in left at Chavez
“The next time up, he
threw one at my head,” Woodson remembered. “I landed in Alan
Ashby’s arms. He said: ‘I’d love to go dancing, but wait until
after the game.’”
The next year, Woodson was
a key reserve in what turned out to be a season of memories.
Orel Hershiser broke Don Drysdale’s scoreless-innings record.
Woodson struck out on Sept. 16 to end Cincinnati lefty Tom
Browning’s perfect game. And the Dodgers reached the World
Series against the heavily favored Oakland A’s.
One magical swing by Kirk
Gibson changed fate.
“I sat there; I could hear
it; I watched it,” said Woodson, who pinch-hit in the fifth
inning of Game 1. “You could hear him taking hacks off the tee
up the runway. Everything they say, it was true. He couldn’t
walk…he was a gamer.
“When he walked out, I
have never heard a place explode louder. That rush probably gave
him enough strength to get through the at-bat.”
Woodson can be seen on the
highlights practically mauling Gibson with a hug fit for a bear
after he limped across the plate.
“I get goose bumps every
time,” Woodson said. “People can say what they want about Bill
Mazeroski’s home run. There is no bigger home run. It was off
the best reliever in baseball. He couldn’t walk. It won the
game…it won the World Series for us.”
Woodson, who knocked in
the fourth run of the Dodgers’ 4-3 Game 4 win, knew he wanted to
coach after 215 major league games, 506 at-bats and several more
seasons in the minors. He started coaching in 1997 and managed
teams in A, AA and AAA – including leading the Carolina Mudcats
(AA) to the Southern League Championship in 2003.
It was in 2004 when he was
managing the Albuquerque Isotopes (AAA) when he and his wife had
a baby. After 22 years in professional baseball, he decided to
get out. Woodson and another veteran minor league manager, Mark
Meleski, started Richmond Baseball Instructors, a teaching
facility, in their hometown of Richmond, Va.
He also worked on his
hobby – officiating college basketball games. Look close, and
you may have seen him call a Michigan State/Old Dominion NCAA
tourney game a few years ago. He’s also called Tennessee/Florida
and UCLA/Boston College. This year, he’s calling about 20-25
“I love doing it,” he
said. “I started at the bottom. I tell other people the same
thing: You have to work to get whatever you’re going to get
Then, an odd twist of
fate: The Valparaiso job opened up. Here was Woodson, itching
for a sensible opportunity, and the one that comes about is the
alma mater of his wife Lisa, who was hoping to return to Indiana
to be closer to her twin sister – both of whom played basketball
for the Crusaders.
“This program needed a
change, it needed a different attitude,” Woodson said. “This is
the job I wanted, and this is a place I think we can be
Even if it meant going
back to school.