Jayhawk Insider: The Price is Right
Coaching Division I baseball isn’t easy. It is a job that takes toughness, an immense amount of dedication and an incredible work ethic. Collecting 500 victories in 17 years with the same team is a even harder feat, and there wasn’t a Jayhawk skipper in the 126-year history of the program that was able to achieve the 500-win milestone. That is, until current head coach Ritch Price, affectionately known as ‘Skip’.
On March 4, 2017, Price cemented his name as one of the all-time greats in KU history when he surpassed Floyd Temple to become the all-time winningest head coach in program history.
Earlier this season after a 3-1 victory over Northern Illinois on March 2, Price added another milestone: he earned his 500th win with the program, a feat that no other head baseball coach has accomplished in their time at KU.
After over 500 victories and 17 years with the program, the work Skip has put in on the field is impressive and will establish him as one of the best in Jayhawk history. However, it is also the work that he has done off the field through his players and the culture he has built around KU baseball that sets him apart from other head coaches.
Price entered the 2019 season as the longest-tenured coach in the Big 12 Conference – in terms of most conference games managed – and there are few people who have been around him and the program as long as associate head coach/pitching coach Ryan Graves. Graves admires Skip for both his work ethic and passion for the University of Kansas and his players.
“I’ve been around baseball most of my life and he’s one of the best people that I’ve ever been around,” said Graves. “Obviously, I’ve been around him a long time and he’s just a great person to be around and I think, from a player’s point of view, he is the prototypical ‘player’s coach’. He’s going to do whatever he can to help the kids succeed. Not only on the field, but also staying on top of them off the field, and making sure they’re doing everything they can to succeed in life.”
Graves came to Kansas in 2002, the same year as Price, serving first as a volunteer assistant before being promoted to a full-time assistant coach and pitching coach in 2006. He has been the associate head coach since the 2011 season and credits his development as a coach entirely to Price.
“I owe my whole career to him. He hired me when I was young and just out of playing, and quite frankly, I was coaching Division I baseball probably before I was ready, and he helped me along and groomed me,” said Graves. “I think the biggest thing that I get from him is how to treat people, how to treat players. If you’re loyal to your players and the people around the program, then they’re going to be willing to put in the work and have the pride in the program that he has, and I think that’s why he’s been able to have so much success.”
Price, like any head coach, cares about how his players perform on the field; however, their performance outside of athletics is just as important to him. The kind of culture that he has built the program on revolves around a set of expectations. Skip exemplifies what KU baseball is all about.
“I think Coach Price has kind of built the foundation for the expectations that when you come to play at KU, we’re going to work, we’re going to work hard and everyday we’re going to be on the field working hard, trying to get better,” said Graves. “I think, early on in kids’ careers, they understand that showing up ready to work at practice and showing up to class and working hard there is an expectation, and I think that’s really what our program has been built on. You know, working every day but also being the loyal guy he is, just helping kids get better and helping me as a coach get better every day. I think it is one of the traits that I have tried to follow behind him. He is just a great guy to be around.”
The opportunity to get to coach alongside Skip every day and be part of his journey to 500 wins is one that Graves is grateful for.
“I’m thankful to be able to be around for a majority of his 500 wins and the opportunity to work with such a classy and hard-working guy who has shaped my career,” said Graves. “Obviously, you don’t get the chance to say it very often because you’re working, but I am very thankful for everything that he has taught me as a coach and as a person.”
Price has seen many of his players’ names get called in June during the Major League Baseball draft. Former program standout Matt McLaughlin is one of them. Skip looked at McLaughlin to be the leader of the program during his years at KU, but what McLaughlin remembers the most about Price is his character – as both a coach and a person.
“Usually the best day you have with your head coach is when you have your in-home visit and he sits down with your mom and he tells her that he’s going to take care of you,” said McLaughlin. “When he left, I remember thinking, that’s probably as good as it’s going get because once I get there, if I’m not performing, if I’m not doing well in the classroom, if we aren’t winning games, if I’m not meeting expectations, it will never be as good as it was when he sat in and offered me my scholarship. You know he talked about how he saw me leading the program and taking the program the next few years, but that wasn’t the case. When I got there, everything that he said, and promised my mom and said about taking care of me and expectations was completely honest.”
As a current minor league baseball player in the Colorado Rockies organization, McLaughlin looks back fondly on his time with his former head coach and acknowledges that you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who genuinely cares about the well-being of his players and fosters a positive relationship with them like Skip does.
“There is nobody else like that,” said McLaughlin. “I mean I still talk to him all the time, I talk to Ritchie (Price) the third base coach, at least once a week, sometimes twice a week. Just being around pro ball and guys who have played in these powerhouse schools, their relationship with their coach isn’t like that. It goes to show what kind of a person he is.”
Nobody has more pride or love for the University of Kansas and its’ students than Price, and it shows in the way that he conducts himself around students on campus, whether they are his players or not.
Current players are aware of the unique character that their coach brings to the University and have great respect for their Skipper. Current senior outfielder Rudy Karre has spent as much time with Price as anyone over the past four years and knows his coach is 100-precent dedicated to his job and his players.
“Everyone around campus knows of Skip,” said Karre. “That just shows you the type of man he is. He is always happy, energetic, and a guy you can talk to for hours. If you talk to anybody else, I’m sure they would say the exact same thing. He takes more pride in the culture of our school and our baseball program than anybody I know.”
Another thing that comes with playing baseball for Skip is that it is a grind every day. He’s never going to make anything easy and he’s going to expect his guys to work hard and to compete during games and practice. It is his way of instilling a work ethic into his players.
Skip’s dedication to the program will not go unrecognized; through the tradition he has built and the victories he has tallied, Price will go down as one of the best in Kansas Athletics history.
“He is an amazing guy, reaching the milestones that he did and being here to witness it has been something that I’ll never forget,” said Karre. “There is no one that deserves it more than him. His dedication and commitment he puts into us, our program, and what it means to be a Jayhawk is something we won’t ever forget. He truly deserves it.”
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