Sac State baseball has a new face after 32 seasons


Sac St baseball:Before being promoted to head coach, Reggie Christiansen worked with the team for two seasons as assistant head coach and an associate head coach.:Steve Turner – State Hornet

AJ Taylor

For 32 seasons it was Sacramento State alumnus John Smith who watched over Hornet baseball, who did his best to keep the team on a winning track. Now it will be another skipper who leads the Hornets into their next season.

After more than three decades, it had become a common sight to see Smith, wearing his No. 22, in the Hornets’ home dugout. It was bound to happen sooner or later &- a time when another man would take the reins of the program. Now the time has come.

Reggie Christiansen, the newest head coach at Sac State, was given the reins from Smith himself. Christiansen will not require any break-in period; this first season as head coach of the Hornets will be his third as a coach of Hornet baseball.

“I’m excited and very supportive of Dr. Wanless’ decision to announce coach Christiansen as the program’s next head coach,” Smith said in a press release. “In a short period of time at Sacramento State, Reggie has demonstrated the work ethic, knowledge, and ability to teach the game the way it should be taught. He is a man of integrity with a high sense of morals, and I feel comfortable knowing that the program will continue on the right path.”

The Hornets who know Smith say they still hold a place in their heart for him.

Senior Trevor Paine can only describe Smith as an easy man to talk to, a knowledgeable head coach, and someone who knew how to play and teach the game right.

But in a way the Hornets will never play a home game without Smith.

In preparation for the 2011 season, the baseball field was re-christened John Smith Field; a commemorative sign was fastened above the scoreboard in left-center field.

Before his first season as head coach has even begun, Christiansen has made moves that will echo over John Smith Field for years to come.

A top-50 recruiting class was the first Christiansen brought in as the Hornets head coach, and another group of highly talented young ball players were grabbed at this year’s early signing period. This year’s baseball recruiting class was the first in any sport at Sac State to be ranked in the top 50.

“Anytime you take over for someone who has been here for such a long time, you’re taking over for a legend really,” Christiansen said, “He was here for 32 years. But I try not to get caught up in what I’m trying to do versus what he did. He’s still very supportive of the program we’re just trying to get it back to where he had it back in the late “80s to early “90s when they were really winning.”

To accomplish this goal Christiansen has brought with him some new coaches. Tommy Nicholson, 31, and Thad Johnson, 31, are the newest assistant coaches of Hornet baseball. They bring along with them a new attitude the team has been enjoying.

“He’s a lot more laid back,” Paine said. “The coaches are younger guys who we can connect with better, Tommy Nicholson, and Thad Johnson. If you see him (Nicholson) on campus you might think he’s another student but he’s the assistant coach and he’s a really good, smart baseball man.”

Nicholson spent the last two seasons at the University of Texas, where he was the assistant head coach. In two seasons with the Longhorns, Nicholson was a part of two outstanding teams. In 2009, with Nicholson coaching first base, the Longhorns advanced to the College World Series and in 2010 they went to a Super Regional.

Johnson will serve as the Hornets’ pitching coach for this 2011 season, after coming to Sacramento from Santa Rosa Junior College. During his time coaching for Santa Rosa, Johnson coached his pitchers to a 2.73 ERA in 2008, the lowest ERA of any junior college in the state.

Johnson was also a talent scout for the Baltimore Orioles in Northern California.

“They all have their purpose and they all seem to mesh really well together,” Paine said, “And they have real good camaraderie in their offices and that feeds over to us when we see our coaches getting along.”

It has been seven seasons since the Hornets last saw a winning record. It was in 2003, before Christiansen had ever gotten to Sacramento when the Hornets finished 33-24.

The last two seasons, the Hornets have been excluded from the Western Athletic Conference Tournament after posting records of 18-34-1 and 27-27 in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Christiansen has been in this situation before. In his time as head coach of South Dakota State University in 2005-08, he built a squad from the Division II ranks to become a solid competitor as a Division I school. He turned a 12-win Division II program into a team that three seasons later won the Division I independent tournament, finishing with a 34-19 record.

“He’s definitely turning our program around,” said freshman pitcher Tanner Mendonca, “And he’s helping us get better, so we definitely should be improved this season and in the next seasons to come we’ll just get better because of him.”

AJ Taylor can be reached at [email protected]