The routine began again at 6 a.m. Monday.
While many Middle Tennesseans had yet to roll out of bed, Cumberland baseball coach Woody Hunt, his assistant coaches and players gathered in the Bulldogs’ indoor facility for their first official practice of 2015.
It’s the start of season No. 34 for Hunt, whose team is coming off the program’s third NAIA World Series championship.
Spend any time with Ronald “Woody” Hunt and you quickly understand there are four things that enrich his 65-year-old soul: his family, his faith, his community and his baseball team.
He’s mixed all four into building arguably the best small-college program in the country. In 33 years at the Lebanon university, his teams have never had a losing record. They’ve won 1,451 games, 20 conference championships and appeared in 12 NAIA World Series.
Every detail of the program has his touch, from the detailed binders distributed to the players to the code of conduct — which includes no facial hair, no earrings and a constant appreciation of others around you — they must follow.
Hunt said he inherited that work ethic from his father, who was a farmer in Danville, Ky.
“You get wrapped up in a program …,” Hunt said, searching for the right words. “It’s hard to explain. I am from a hard-working family. My father worked hard. It was through his leadership and how he worked and how he was committed.”
The traits were passed along.
Hunt’s legacy, however, is more than wins and championships. It’s also how he embraced a community which takes pride in its ball team and its facility.
In the last four decades, through community donations and a lot of hard work, the Bulldogs have built baseball facilities that would make many NCAA Division I programs jealous. Ernest L. Stockton Field has 500 chair-back seats. The Benton Jennings Indoor Hitting Complex allows the team year-round access, especially on freezing winter days. The Jeannette C. Rudy Clubhouse has 40 individual lockers, coaches offices, trophy cases and more.
When Hunt first stepped on campus four decades ago, he found a ball field with a backstop and two concrete dugouts.
“It’s a lot of what the coaches, the players and the community have done,” he said. “We’re one big family. We don’t get the notoriety that Vanderbilt gets, but we have a close-knit family and I am grateful to lead it.”
He’s not one to seek or soak up attention. This column will likely make him blush. He prefers to put the attention on the coaching staff, the players and, most importantly, the university. He sees every class, every team as his next teaching moment.
The biggest teaching moment during the 2014 season came on March 15 after the Bulldogs split a doubleheader at St. Catharine College.
Hunt was struggling because of the recent death of a nephew. His team was struggling on the field, having lost seven of its last 14 games. Then a few players got into a scuffle in the dugout.
“I was really down at that moment,” Hunt said of his emotions. “And I was embarrassed of how we played and what happened in our dugout. At that point in the season, I would not have given you a nickel’s worth of chance of winning.”
After the doubleheader, he gathered the players and scolded them. He told them they had “to get it together or it’s going to be too late.” He said he knew they had the desire to win. They simply wanted to get to Lewiston (Idaho, site of the NAIA World Series) and see what happened.
Hunt made a couple of lineup changes and the Bulldogs took off. They won 19 of their next 25 games and captured the Mid-South Conference championship in a 10-inning, 10-8 thriller over Georgetown College. Then they came out of the loser’s bracket to win the NAIA regionals, entering the World Series as the 10th seed in a 10-team tournament.
Cumberland won its first two games, then beat third seed Oklahoma Wesleyan and top seed Oklahoma Baptist to reach the finals. After losing to second seed Lewis-Clark State 6-5, the Bulldogs bounced back to beat the same team 3-0 to win the championship.
Entering season No. 34, Hunt knows that he’s into the second half of his coaching career. He’s not ready to put a number on how many seasons he’s got left, and he’s certainly not ready to step aside.
“I still have the drive.” he said. “My goal has always been to have the best small college team in the country. I don’t know if we are there yet, but it is my goal.”
Trust me coach, you’ve eclipsed that goal.
RONALD “WOODY” HUNT
•Record: 1,451-608-5; 33 consecutive winning seasons
•Titles: Three NAIA World Series championships (2014, 2004, 2010). Appeared in nine other NAIA World Series, finishing as the runner-up twice (1995, 2006)
•Talent: 79 of his players signed professional baseball contracts
•Season opener: Feb. 5, noon, vs. Missouri Baptist in Jackson, Miss.
•Home opener: Feb. 13, 2 p.m., vs. Missouri Baptist.
Courtesy of: Dave Ammenheuser
Published by: The Tennessean