Baseball is often referred to as a game for fathers and sons, evoking images of families like the Griffeys and Ripkens and serving as a common experience with which most any fan or player can relate.
And then there are Kansas head coach Ritch Price and his son Ritchie of South Dakota State, Division I’s youngest head coach at age 25, a father and son who have a unique connection amidst the baseball landscape. There have been other father-son pairs to both enter the college coaching ranks, but, according to Baseball America’s research, the Prices are the first such combo to be leading D-I programs at the same time.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Ritchie Price said. “I think it’s brought us closer together, as well, because now we can share that much more in common with each other and we definitely talk a lot more.”
Yet the paths the two took to becoming D-I coaches were markedly different. Ritch gradually worked his way up the ranks, starting in 1978, before landing his first D-I job at Cal Poly in 1994. He headed to Kansas after the 2002 season and has already become the school’s third-winningest coach. All three of his sons have played for him with the Jayhawks—Ritchie, the oldest, was a four-year starter at shortstop from 2003-06; Ryne left as the school’s all-time home run leader (35) and is currently an outfielder in the Giants system; and youngest son Robby is entering his senior season as the Jayhawks’ starting second baseman.
Ritchie was taken in the 18th round of the 2006 draft by the Mets and played one summer of pro ball, but he knew what path he wanted to follow.
“I knew pretty early on as a kid, maybe fourth or fifth grade, that ultimately I wanted to be a Division I college baseball coach,” he said. “So from that time on, I spent as much time as I could around the field and was always traveling with the teams and just trying to watch the games and learn from what I was witnessing.”
Student Of The Game
Ritchie’s attitude didn’t escape his father’s notice, either. As young as age 5, Ritchie would routinely sit in on his father’s conversations with other coaches who came to visit the family’s home, absorbing everything he could.
“He was a great student of the game, both offensively and defensively,” Ritch Price said. “He understands the theories and the philosophies and how to play the game right, and I think that’s exemplified in how good a player he was and then to be a Division I head coach at such a young age.”
Ritchie landed at South Dakota State as an assistant in 2008, opting to take a job with a program where he would be given more responsibilities in coaching and recruiting early on than if he went to a major program. When head coach Reggie Christiansen resigned from SDSU after the 2008 campaign, Price was elevated to the head job on an interim basis and given the position full-time after leading the Jackrabbits to a 26-30 record and a third-place finish in the Summit League in his first season.
Ritchie now faces a similar challenge to one his father faced 15 years earlier. When Ritch Price took over at Cal Poly in 1994, the Mustangs’ program was entering Division I for the first time. Despite having just 6.5 scholarships to work with in the beginning, Price led Cal Poly to a winning record in just its second season of D-I competition and had five winning seasons overall in eight years. South Dakota State just moved up from Division II in 2005 and its baseball program still isn’t fully funded either, with nine scholarships allocated to it.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Ritch Price said. “He’s now going through that same transition at South Dakota State, and I think it’s a perfect place for him to pay his dues and to learn the coaching profession.”
While the Jayhawks are trying to evolve their program’s identity from overachiever to contender, the Jackrabbits are still trying to establish theirs as a D-I program. Of course, being new to the scene only adds to the normal challenges of coaching a program in a Northern climate, like a lack of elite local talent to recruit and having to play a plethora of road games early in the season. It’s an uphill battle, but the younger Price does have at least one ally in the region, a few hours to the south.
The two Prices have attended a few high school events together over the last few years and act as scouts for each other when they’re out on the road recruiting, passing along info on players that might be fits for each other’s programs. One thing the two won’t be doing is playing each other. Kansas and South Dakota State played two series against each other before Ritchie joined the SDSU staff—ironically, SDSU’s very first D-I game in 2005 was against Kansas with Ritchie Price at shortstop— and there were future series on the docket as well, but those have been called off.
“I think it’s best we help each other and not compete against each other,” Ritch Price said.
Part of that process of looking out for each other came early last season when the Jayhawks had a Sunday off, and the elder Price was able to take in his son’s team’s game against Central Arkansas.
“I was real impressed with him,” Ritch Price said, “and how well he communicated and the way he was able to communicate his goals with his club.”