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Gregg Ritchie always wanted to give back to George Washington University, an institution he always has cared deeply for.
Ritchie, who was named the Colonials new head coach just over a week ago, played baseball at George Washington. His wife, Kelly, was on the rowing team at GWU. In other words, almost everything that's important in Ritchie's life, in some form or fashion, stemmed from his time with the Colonials.
For Ritchie, the time to act was now. Before joining the George Washington program last week, Ritchie had a rather glamorous job. He served as a successful hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who made significant strides during the Major League Baseball season.
There's no doubt the Pirates are moving up after the success they experienced this past season, but Ritchie, despite being in a good position, felt a better calling of sorts. The Colonials parted ways with former head coach Steve Mrowka following the 2012 college baseball season. And though they tabbed Tom Sheridan as the interim head coach, Ritchie was the name every GWU insider kept going back to as a full-time replacement.
Ritchie, of course, in the heat of the MLB season as those rumors swirled, was forced to deny them most of the summer. But once the Pirates' season ended, he shocked many in the big league and collegiate community when he took the post at GWU, a program that hasn't reached an NCAA Regional since 2002 (Winston-Salem, N.C.), and has reached just two NCAA Regionals since 1990.
Though that decision might've seemed tough for many, it wasn't so much for Ritchie, who needed little time to make a final decision. After all, his decision had as much to do with family as it did baseball.
"It was pretty easy for me to be honest. For me, it was all about family, and a life change. I wasn't about having a lucrative job with the Pirates or anything like that. I've been on the road close to 27 or 28 years, so it was a nice opportunity to reestablish my family with my extended family, GWU," Ritchie said. "I wanted to be a better father and husband. On top of that, I wanted to give back to GWU. I played baseball there, I graduated from there, and a lot of my life experiences and development as a person can be attributed to GWU.
"This was a chance for me to make a difference in young men's lives at GWU, helping them win and mold their futures. I'm absolutely thrilled about this opportunity."
Happy as he is to take over the Colonials, Ritchie and his coaching staff know there's an extremely tough job to be done. As we illustrated, the Colonials haven't exactly been a perennial postseason club. On top of that, they finished last in the Atlantic 10 last season with a 6-18 league record, 20-35 overall record.
To win, Ritchie must create a new culture based on hard work and grittiness, hoping someday -- perhaps sooner rather than later -- the style of play turns into more wins and losses. But road blocks or not, Ritchie feels like he has the background to help GWU succeed.
His resume suggest as much. Ritchie was with the Chicago White Sox organization from 1996-2005, while joining the Pirates organization at the minor league level in 2006. He was then promoted to big league hitting coach in 2011. In the last two seasons, the Pirates showed serious strides in the power department. All the above experiences allow Ritchie to have a very unique perspective on baseball.
"The professional ranks is certainly a higher level type of deal, but my philosophy at the pro ranks is the same as it will be at the collegiate level. I'm one of those guys who just believes in putting players out there who have the best skill sets, and letting their skills take over," he said. "The big thing for me is that I think I know how to help some of these kids expedite the process of becoming ready to compete at a high level and the next level in baseball. I think I can be a coach who will speed up their maturation process.
"One of the biggest things players need to understand is trust. One of my biggest strengths is knowing people and what they want. To be able to understand someone's needs as a player is important."
Ritchie's on-field philosophies are pretty straight-forward. Plenty of coaches in college baseball can accurately be referred to as power-wanting coaches, small ball lovers, or ultra-aggressive. Ritchie, though, feels it's best to adapt to whatever personnel he has, not so much molding an entire team around one mindset.
"We have no particular mindset. I can say I want power guys, but what if we don't have power guys one particular year -- then what do you do?, he said. "My point is here, you just play fundamental baseball. You execute the game, you have fun playing the game, and most importantly, you do it the right way."
Ritchie's programs will live by four words -- attitude, effort, hustle and execute.
Turning the Colonials into a winner won't happen overnight, but Ritchie believes the program is headed a very positive direction.
In addition to the new coaching staff, the Colonials believe the newly-renovated Barcroft Park will serve as a significant recruiting advantage. The ballpark underwent a $3 million renovation last fall, and is strategically located just 10 minutes from George Washington's main campus. It's a ballpark Ritchie believes is one of the best in the region.
But even with those pluses, Ritchie's ability to turn around George Washington sooner rather than later hinges on quickly improving the current players, while also focusing on the recruitment of more talented players over the long haul.
Fortunately for GWU, Ritchie knows perfectly well what it takes to overcome tough challenges based on past experiences. And best of all, he has the passion to be successful ... two factors typically leading to positive results.
"This program looks like one that has moved forward in dramatic fashion. We're in really good shape facilities-wise and from a scholarship standpoint, and it's our job to make the best of the situation," he said. "Anytime you want something with a golden ticket, you have to climb the mountain to get it, and that's exactly what we're doing."