🎙 The Jayhawker Podcast | Ritch Price
Episode 23: Ritch Price | June 10, 2020
He’s the dean of Big 12 baseball coaches and the most successful coach in Kansas program history. And as you’ll learn on this week’s edition of the The Jayhawker Podcast, Ritch Price is just as fired up about Jayhawk Baseball today as he was when he took the job in the summer of 2002.
Price is responsible for the Jayhawks’ lone Big 12 Tournament championship and three of the school’s five all-time NCAA Regional appearances, but it hasn’t been easy. When Price took over the program, facilities and support were lacking. How was he able to convince fans to invest in Jayhawk baseball and over time, rebuild the roster and Hoglund Ballpark into a Big 12 contender?
For Price, it’s all about family. Born into a family of coaches, Price seemed destined to follow in his father, uncles and grandfather’s footsteps.
Through his family’s careers and a boyhood love of Willie Mays, Price fell in love with the game at an early age.
“I tried to emulate the same stance (Mays) had… I tried to catch the basket catches in center field. He was my idol. I got to grow up in the Bay Area in one of the greatest eras of baseball history with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal.”
Price remembers how one particular day at the ballpark with his dad had him hooked.
“My uncle was a high school coach in the LA area and one of the great memories of my childhood was my dad took us all to LA and I got to watch a doubleheader and watch (Sandy) Koufax pitch in game one and (Don) Drysdale pitch in game two.”
Childhood dreams of playing in the big leagues would eventually turn into a coaching aspirations. During his playing career at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon Price was already coaching American Legion teams and built such a reputation in the state that he had three coaching job offers upon graduation. He would spend five seasons coaching prep ball in Oregon and Texas before beginning his climb in the college coaching ranks.
It was a fast ascent from there with so much winning at Menlo College and DeAnza Community College that Price became a California Community College Hall of Famer. Then – as he and his wife Cindy were raising their three baseball-loving sons – the family spent eight more seasons at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where Price helped transition the program to D-1 status. As his boys were growing, so too was Price’s reputation as a rising star in the coaching ranks. He was a household name on the west coast, but took a leap of faith in the summer of 2002 to pursue his major conference coaching dreams at Kansas. Several peers initially questioned the move, but Price liked the philosophy he heard from Kansas Athletics brass and believed he could build a winner in the Sunflower State.
“They told me in the interview process that they were looking to hire a coach that could bring a recruiting hub to the Midwest to supplement the kids in the Midwest area within the 3-hour radius of Kansas City,” remembered Price. “The only way they were going to compete was to have a coach that could supplement his roster from a different area and after being here 18 years, I completely agree with the philosophy they put in place.”
But it still took some convincing to many of his coaching contemporaries who wondered if a consistent winner could be built in what is considered in coaching circles to be a “cold-climate school.”
“I bet on myself, I bet on my assistant coaches and I bet on the University of Kansas,” shared Price. “I thought if I got there and I could develop kids, and work my tail off recruiting and fundraise – which is one of my strengths – (I could win there).”
With that vision in mind and his infectious determination guiding him, Price uprooted his family and made his eldest son Ritchie, one of his very first Jayhawk signees. The younger Price would go on to become KU’s all-time hit leader and all three boys would eventually star for their dad as All-Big 12 conference performers. A California and west coast pipeline was formed and as KU started to rack up the wins, they began beating out Wichita State and Kansas State from some of the top local talent as well. Price’s vision for the program was starting to fall into place. Fans were supporting to the program in record numbers and gradually, the facilities started to improve.
The real breakthrough came in 2006, when Price’s initial recruiting class – now seniors – delivered KU’s first ever Big 12 Championship – a tournament title in Oklahoma City, that sent Price back home to Oregon for his first NCAA regional as a Jayhawk. It was a validating moment for Price and his family, proving that the chance they took moving to a cold climate school in the heartland was the right call, and building a consistent winner at Kansas could be done.
“As those players are dogpiling on the pitchers mound, I have chills, goosebumps, I couldn’t speak. I went over and got my wife and actually brought her down on the field and said, ‘thank you’ because he left her family, she left her friends.”
The couple watched as two of their three boys celebrated with their teammates, a benchmark moment for a baseball family that would entrench their roots in Lawrence even deeper after that triumph and build a legacy that continues to grow to this day.
The rest is history. Price has gone on to become the most successful coach the Jayhawk program has ever seen – but even 18 years deep, still has even bigger dreams for KU Baseball. Take a ride along Price’s journey as a Jayhawk and hear where he hopes to take the program next on this week’s episode of The Jayhawker.