Former Buckeye reliever Mike Stafford enters his third season at Ohio State and 10th as head coach Greg Beals' pitching coach.
In his first season at Ohio State, Stafford's staff lowered its team earned-run average from 5.24 in 2010 to 4.94 in 2011. In addition, Josh Dezse earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, senior right-hander Drew Rucinski garnered second team All-Big Ten laurels and freshman right-hander Greg Greve was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. After his strong 2011 campaign, Rucinski signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Indians in June 2011.
In 2012, Stafford helped the Buckeyes lower their team ERA down to 4.25 and guided sophomore Jaron Long to first team All-Big Ten honors. In addition, junior right-hander John Kuchno was selected in the 18th round of the MLB Draft after going 8-4 with a 4.38 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 74.0 innings pitched.
Stafford, from Canton, Mich., and Plymouth Canton High School, was a part of Ohio State teams from 1994-98 that won two Big Ten championships, three Big Ten tournament crowns and went to three NCAA tournaments. The 1997 team was also the first to play in Bill Davis Stadium.
Stafford starred for the Buckeyes out of the bullpen his final two seasons. He led the team in earned run average in both 1997 (2.27) and 1998 (2.54), posting a combined 9-4 record in the process. He appeared in 52 games and he was a second-team all-Big Ten selection in 1998.
He still ranks among the school's leaders in career saves (12th with seven), single season saves (12th with six in 1998) and single season appearances (15th with 29 in 1998).
Stafford spent four seasons in professional baseball after graduating from Ohio State. He was drafted in the 41st round of the 1998 MLB draft by Toronto and played for two years with the organization. He moved to the New York Yankees and pitched for the Tampa Bay Yankees in 1999 and 2000. He then spent parts of 2000 and 2001 playing in the Milwaukee Brewers' farm system.
Stafford decided to get into coaching after his playing days, and why not? He certainly had enough playing experience and the sport was in his blood. His father, Bill, pitched eight seasons in the big leagues, including six years for the Yankees. He was the Yankees' No. 2 starter behind Whitey Ford and played on five World Series teams, including world championship teams in 1961 and 1962. He won 14 games for the Yankees in each of those seasons.
It was Stafford's father, it should be noted, who picked up the win for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961...the same day that Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's home run record with his 61st off Boston's Tracey Stallard.
Mike Stafford's first coaching opportunity came with the Columbus Clippers. He spent the 2001-02 seasons working as bullpen coach, warming up relievers during games, throwing batting practice and catching bullpens.
One day in Fall 2003, Stafford received a phone call from Beals, who had received glowing recommendations about Stafford. The two spoke for about an hour on the phone. A week later Stafford interviewed for an opening on Beals' staff. The two have been together since.
Despite not having a Bill Davis Stadium or the roar of the Ohio State name to recruit to, Beals and Stafford were most successful recruiting and developing big-time players at Ball State, including:
- 2010 first-round MLB draft pick and first-team All-American Kolbrin Vitek, a freshman All-American in 2006 after a 6-1 campaign on the mound as a weekend starter in the MAC;
- 2010 second-round MLB draft pick Perci Garner, a football player who missed more than a year of baseball but found his home on the mound and was the 77th pick in the draft;
- Kyle Heyne, twice drafted while at Ball State and who set the school record with 32 saves;
- Ben Snyder, a fourth-round MLB draft pick in 2006 after he went 8-5 with 108 strikeouts; and
- 2005 NCBWA Stopper of the Year finalist Erik Morrison, the MAC Pitcher of the Year after posting a 7-0 record with a 1.32 ERA and a school-record 15 saves.
Now Stafford, who is married (Amanda), and Beals will look to continue to grow their success as collegiate coaches; only now as Ohio State Buckeye coaches.