— Jerry Briggs (@JerryBriggs) April 19, 2023
By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
UTSA baseball coach Pat Hallmark has been riding an emotional wave over the past few days. He’s seen his team surge into the top 25 in the national rankings for the second time this season. He’s watched as the fans flocked to modest Roadrunner Field, packing it to overflow proportions.
Hallmark has also felt some of the undertow associated with the job.
His 22nd-ranked Roadrunners lost 5-3 at home Tuesday night to the I-35 rival Texas State Bobcats in front of a season-high 1,059 fans. It was a game replete with passion in both dugouts, and Hallmark, an intense competitor, got caught up in the moment.
Irritated by the home-plate umpire’s work in calling balls and strikes, he was thrown out in the bottom of the seventh for expressing his opinion on the matter. A day later, UTSA’s coach met with the media and talked about his ouster, as well as a number of other issues suddenly swirling around one of the hottest teams in the country.
With the Conference USA-leading Roadrunners scheduled to play in Miami, Fla., this weekend against the FIU Panthers, Hallmark was surprisingly candid in his assessment of the team’s potential for the season.
He even talked about the chance of playing in the College World Series — this season — and his long-term goal of building momentum within the university to upgrade the team’s home-stadium situation.
“I know we’re good,” Hallmark said. “I don’t know how far we can go. We need to stay healthy … If we’re healthy, I don’t see why we can’t play in Omaha (for the CWS). It’s a big statement, and again, I want to be careful what I say, because we haven’t even made the tournament.
“Like that’s really our first goal. Our goal is to win 40 games. Win a championship in our conference. We get two shots at that (regular season and postseason). And make a regional. So, that’s where we’re focused. But we need to stay healthy, and if we do that, I like our chances.”
Asked about the “next step” that the program needs to take to sustain the winning, Hallmark didn’t hesitate. He said it was a stadium. Roadrunner Field, comprised of three aluminum sections that seat around 800, is lacking in amenities that could aid recruiting, create more comfort for fans and increase media exposure.
“You know, what we did last year and what we’re doing right now is fantastic,” Hallmark said. “I’m not sure how sustainable it is in the world of (NCAA) Division I recruiting, without a stadium and a field. You know, we play in a high school — it’s not even a high-school stadium — it’s a JV stadium.
“That’s what my kids tell me, and they both play high school baseball. I’m not here to complain about it. My kids don’t complain about it. You start the game. It’s 90 feet to the bases. We kind of use it as a chip on our shoulder. Like, other people don’t respect us as much cause of the stadium. We can play baseball.”
Hallmark is in his fourth season at UTSA. Over the past two years, the Roadrunners have forged a 66-29 record, including 28-9 this spring.
UTSA has bolstered its standing nationally by beating Houston, Baylor and, last week, Texas A&M. For the national media, the team has become something of a darling, rising to No. 22 in Baseball America and to No. 25 in D1 Baseball.
In Conference USA, the Roadrunners will carry a 12-2 record into the second half, a half game ahead of 12-3 Dallas Baptist. Louisiana Tech, last year’s C-USA tournament champion, is next at 9-6. Middle Tennessee, another talented team, is fourth at 8-7 after being swept in San Antonio by UTSA.
UTSA at FIU (15-22, 3-12), Friday, 6:30 p.m.
UTSA at FIU, Saturday, 4 p.m.
UTSA at FIU, Sunday, noon
Asked how often he has talked with university administrators about the stadium situation, Hallmark answered, “Not enough. Not enough.”
Recounting the ejection
With Texas State leading 5-2 and UTSA batting in the bottom of the seventh, the coach started talking to the home plate umpire. Eventually, the tensions mounted and he was ejected. Video showed rushing up to the home plate area and talking. “I tried not to do it prolonged and get suspended for the next game, and from what I understand, I’m not, so I’m happy about that,” he said.
Hailing the fans
UTSA pitcher Luke Malone, the likely starter for Friday night at FIU, talked about how the Texas State game was an enjoyable experience despite the loss.
“I know we lost, but it was pretty fun,” he said. “We never stopped fighting, and the crowd here was awesome. We were stretching down all the way (on the grass berm). It got super loud. I mean, people were getting on the umpire. That’s always fun. But it’s the way we fought. I know we didn’t win. But we never gave up. We never folded.”
Malone said Hallmark’s ejection “fired up the dugout … I really thought we were going to pull away. But we didn’t get it done.”
Working to boost the RPI
Last year, UTSA ended the season with a ratings percentage index of 37. It wasn’t good enough for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. After the weekend, UTSA’s RPI was 29 following a sweep of Middle Tennessee State in Conference USA. Today, after the loss to Texas State, the number is at 39.
To illustrate how much progress the program has made in that regard, Hallmark said conversations have taken place in regard to submitting a bid to host an NCAA regional. He said he has discussed it with administrators, the idea of hosting a first-round tournament, presumably at Wolff Stadium.
“I’m not saying we’re going to (host),” he said. “Our RPI is not there. We are not in a position to host. The RPI would have to improve. But at the end of the day, the conversation (came) up, because I guess you got to put in those bids fairly early.”
He said coaches and players are realists, however. “We’re not even in the tournament,” the coach said. “By golly, we got a lot of work to do to make the tournament. So, let’s go to work.”