Legendary Coach leaves his mark on Bobcats' new field of dreams

By Eileen Dempsey

For 24 years as the Ohio University baseball coach, Bob Wren taught young men the fundamentals of the game and lif e. Former players speak fondly of the lessons they learned on -- and off -- the field.

Bob Wren (right) and current Bobcat Coach Joe Carbone await groundbreaking ceremonies for the new baseball stadium in April 1997.

Photo: Will Shilling/Columbus Dispatch

"Coach Wren was more than just a coach. He taught you about life and how to be a good per son," says Bill Toadvine, BSED '71, a Bobcat assistant coach who pitched on the 1970 team that Wren guided to the College World Series. "He worked with you as a person, not just as an athlete. He was an outstanding baseball coach and a tremendous teacher.

"Other than my father, Coach Wren has meant more to me in my life than any other man I've known."

During his reign at Ohio University, Wren, BSED '43, EMERT '82, never had a losing season, and the Bobcats racked up a record of 464-160-6 from 1949 to 1972. Wren's winning percentage of .742 is among the best in NCAA history. He guided Bobcat baseball teams to 11 Mid-American Conference championships and coached 63 players who signed professional contracts, 12 of whom played in the major leagues.

Wren's accomplishments will be honored on April 18 with the dedication of the new $2 million Bob Wren Stadium. Last year, the university's Board of Trustees voted to name the new stadium for Wren, 77, who was a student-athlete, coach and administrator on the Athens campus.

The 1,500-seat stadium is part of a new athletics mall west of the Convocation Center. The baseball facility, which had been located at the northeast corner of Richland Avenue and South Green Drive, was moved to make room for the renovation and expansion of Grover Center to house the College of Health and Human Services.

"I dedicate this honor to my family and to all the great players who played for me, because without those players nobody would have hea rd of Bob Wren. They're the ones who put me here," says Wren, who still lives in Athens with his wife of 54 years, Lois.

As coach, Wren had a strict policy with his players: no class, no play. Players who skipped classes quickly found themselves sitting on the bench. That policy paid off for the players, 90 percent of whom graduated.

Three decades later, the lessons Wren taught are being passed along to a new generation of Bobcat baseball players, says current Coach Joe Carbone, BSED '70, the second baseman on the 1970 College World Series team. Carbone, head coach since 1989, led the 1997 squad to the best record in school history at 43-18.

"Coach Wren stressed the pride of representing Ohio University, your family and yourself wherever you go," Carbone says. "He instilled a lot of confidence in us, and he drilled it into us that we weren't going to get anywhere without a lot of hard work. He always told us to play hard and play to win, but to remember that there's no shame in l osing as long as you played hard."

1970 All-American Mike Hannah (left) and Mike Schmidt pose with Coach Wren and Championship trophies.

File Photo

Another of Wren's former players is Hall of Famer and ex-Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt, BBA '72, the shortstop on the 1970 Bobcat team. Schmidt, who spent his entire 18-year major -league career with the Phillies, says Wren constantly drilled players on the fundamentals. Schmidt mentioned Wren in his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in 1995.

"I carried his teaching and philosophy with me in both the minor and major leagues," Schmidt says. "I am a Bob Wren disciple and I always will be. There is no one who deserves to have the stadium named in his honor more than Bob Wren.

"He'll always be the greatest coach I ever played for, and a great friend."

Carbone says he's glad when Wren can attend home games and some away games. Wren has made a practice of stopping by the baseball office at the Convocation Center several times a week to chat or go to lunch.

The 1970 Bobcats posted a 33-6 record and came closer to winning a major NCAA title than any team in school history since. The Bobcats finished fourth in the final national poll and fourth in the College World Series -- the Final Eight of college baseball.

"And we almost didn't make it because the university closed down (because of the Vietnam War demonstrations). It was a great year, but it was like a roller-coaster emotionally," says Carbone, who was a senior in 1970. "We were very disappointed that we didn't get to have a graduation ceremony, but we hung in there and still represented Ohio University as champions.

"Coach Wren fought very hard to convince the administration that we should be able to go participate and win the College World Series."

It was a long bus ride back to Athens after the final regular-season road trip to Bowling Green. The team's future was uncertain. It was supposed to host the NCAA regional tournament, but with the campus closed, that was impossible.

"When we arrived on campus, the colonel from the National Guard met our bus on the top of the hill and told us we had half an hour to clear everything from our dorm rooms and get off the campus," says Carbone. "You could hear a pin drop. The only thing you saw was National Guard troops. Nobody else was there. It looked like a ghost town."

After sending his team home for a week, Wren called his players and told them to report to the Ted Kluzewski Baseball Camp in Bainbridge for practice. The Bobcats went on to win the NCAA regional, which was moved from Athens to Columbus.

In its first College World Series game in Omaha, Neb., OU defeated the heavily favored University of Southern California, 4-1. Southern Cal eventually won the series, and the Bobcats won two of their four game s.

After retiring as Bobcat coach, Wren worked in the minor leagues for the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1975, he returned to the Athens campus and began a 16-year stint in the Admissions Office. He worked from September through February recruiting students, and then spent spring and summer coaching in the minor leagues.

"It was the best of both worlds," says Wren, who is battling cancer. "Working in the Admissions Office was kind of an extension of co aching because I was visiting schools and recruiting students."

"Bob knew the university and he could articulate the opportunities Ohio University had to offer students, not only from baseball, but from academics, too," says Tim Kirkpatrick, BSED '67, associate director of admissions and a friend of Wren's. "He has a genuine concern for people and their futures. Bob likes to talk, but he is also a great listener."

Eileen Dempsey, BSJ '9 0, lives in Upper Arlington. She is a features writer for The Columbus Dispatch.

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