Ritchie Price didn’t come back to Kansas to waste anyone’s time — not even a minute his own.
On July 1, 2011, Kansas Athletics announced the hiring of Price as an assistant coach on his father’s baseball staff. Price went to work from there.
“The first thing I did when I got back to Lawrence was show up to work,” Price said. “I drove into town that morning came right to the office and got going.”
Yes, it’s the same Ritchie Price who owns 24 Kansas baseball records, had a .305 career batting average, and became the youngest Division I head coach in baseball history.
After his career at Kansas, the former top Shortstop in the Big 12 played one season in the New York Mets farm system until South Dakota State University came calling.
Only two years removed from playing college baseball, Price found himself coaching it.
Price’s role was to serve as South Dakota’s third base coach in 2008, but by the end of the season, he found himself not only taking over the program, but muscling it forward.
In the four years prior to Price joining the Jackrabbits, the team’s batting average was a lowly .289. During Price’s tenure, the average soared to .317, a 28-point increase.
In fact, in each of the his last two seasons at South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits were ranked in the top 15 nationally for batting average. Yet even though he bolstered his resume, Price shies away from taking the credit.
“I had good players,” Price said. “I was fortunate enough to find some that slipped through the cracks and they came in and worked hard and won a lot of games for me.”
The players may have been good, but their leader wasn’t all that bad either, Price’s 2010 Summit League Coach of the Year award affirms that.
But after racking up 102 wins in three years, new opportunities began to arise for Price. Phone calls from Lawrence once consisted of catching up with family, but they quickly became business calls.
“Over the summer I was out recruiting,” Price said. “And things were going on in the coaching carousel like what happens every offseason, and when it played itself out and the former assistant here [Jay Uhlman] left to go back to Oregon, Skip gave me a call and talked to me about it. I felt like, at this point, I was prepared for the opportunity and had enough success to justify coming back here.”
Now back at Kansas, Price walks into a similar situation that he once faced in South Dakota State.
Last season, the Jayhawks had a team batting average .275. meaning Price has his work cut out for him.
But while the task may be daunting, Kansas coach Ritch Price said that there is no one more qualified to turn around Kansas’ offensive woes than Ritchie.
“He’s the smartest player I’ve ever coached,” Ritch Price said, “I don’t just say that because he’s my son. It’s a reality. He understands how to be fastball efficient, and how to put the drill series together to develop our players. He’s earned a right to come back here.”
Looking to make Ritchie’s job easier will be senior catcher James Stanfield, who was recently named to the preseason All-Big 12 first team and senior third baseman Zac Elgie.
The duo did some of Kansas’ best work at the plate last season, combining for a .312 batting average, 46 RBIs, and a .396 on-base percentage.
The veteran players are already impressed with the new dynamic Ritchie has brought to the clubhouse.
“He gets along with us and our younger players really well,” Elgie said. “He notices things from the coaching box, and on video that make us better and improve our swings. He’s been a great addition.”
And while Ritch Price gushed over the improvement his batters have made in practice, it’s just that— practice. The real test will come Friday against Middle Tennessee State University, and every game day after.
But Price isn’t thinking of that now, he’s focused on improving players for his alma mater, and relishing the opportunity to do so.
“I’m excited for opening day and getting to have Kansas written across my chest again,” Price said. “That’ll be a special feeling when I put that uniform on.”
—Edited by C.J. Matson