There was a time when the baseball program at Dallas Baptist flew under the radar. That time is over.
The Patriots are now very well known in the world of college baseball. In their latest rankings, Collegiate Baseball has them ranked 23rd in the nation. Dallas Baptist may still be considered a “mid-major” school but has a history of taking on the larger schools and walking away with the win.
“We always knew the only way we were going to compete is that we have to be great at developing our players,” said head coach Dan Heefner. “That’s always been our calling card and what we want to be the best at.”
Dallas Baptist made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008 and won the Fort Worth Regional in the 2011 tournament to advance to the Super Regional round for the first time. The Patriots have made six NCAA regional appearances in the last nine years and have 40-plus win season in five of the last six years.
But Dallas Baptist isn’t just taking on the larger schools on the field, but also in the recruiting world.
“What we have is really unique,” said Heefner. “We feel like if you want to come to develop, there’s no better place in the country. Not only develop as a baseball player but as a person. If you are a guy who just loves it and wants to see how good you can become, this is the place for you. If you want all the other stuff, like football games, tailgaters, frats and that stuff, this isn’t your place. It’s just focused on baseball, your faith, your character and your education. You don’t have other things pulling you in different directions. We have an oasis here for creating an environment where you can truly develop as a total person.”
And the players seem to embrace it, which helps explains the team philosophy “getting one-percent better every day.”
“It’s just kind of a mindset,” said senior infielder Camden Duzenack. “You just show up to the field and understand you’ve got to improve on something that day, whether it’s bunts, hitting, defense or just being a better teammate. There’s something to get better at each day. Off the field, our biggest thing is growing spiritually as men. We do Bible studies as a team in the lockerroom once a week. Classes are also very important. You can’t play if you don’t make the grades. You just have to keep up with everything. If you just stay disciplined, it gets easier and easier.”
“We say we are a blue collared team,” added freshman pitcher/infielder Ray Gaither. “That means you get up in the morning, you get what you need to get done, you go the extra mile every day. It sounds like getting one percent better every day is easy, but it is actually difficult.”
A standout at Coppell, Gaither had interest from major league teams leading up to the MLB draft last year but stuck with his decision to play at Dallas Baptist prior to his senior season. In his first collegiate start, Gaither threw four hitless innings while striking out five in the 8-4 win over No. 21 Rice, earning his first collegiate win.
“I originally had an idea in my mind of what would work out for me,” said Gaither. “I realized personally I wasn’t ready for that commitment and felt like I needed to develop my skills more. I really love the campus here, the coaches, the facilities, just the demeanor on how they go about it. Being a fan going through high school is why I came here.”
Despite all the success, there is still one goal that has eluded the Patriots, the College World Series. Dallas Baptist is off to a 3-1 start this season and the favorite to repeat as the Missouri Valley Conference champion. The Road to Omaha isn’t easy but the Patriots are ready for the challenge.
“There’s a little bit different of a feel this year,” said Duzenack. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team. We’ve got a lot of guys that believe in each other. We just come ready to improve ourselves each day.”
“Coach Heefner has always talked about how we don’t play the other team, we play the baseball,” added Gaither. “The idea behind that is just you play the game and if you play it to the best of your ability, things could work out in your favor. If it doesn’t, that happens in baseball. We are never intimidated by the other team on the other side of the diamond and we are never out of the game.”
Dallas Baptist begins a three-game weekend series against New Mexico at Horner Ballpark on Friday.