Cover to cover

Torgalski’s mark on the baseball program goes back to its roots

By BEN TARHAN
On February 14, 2013

  • Head coach Ron Torgalski has been a UB baseball coach since 1999 and led the Bulls to their first Mid-American Conference tournament appearance last season. Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics

 

Wind, snow, freezing temperatures in April.

These conditions are not conducive to baseball, in which the best teams generally hail from warmer climates. The conditions are also synonymous with Buffalo.

Running a baseball program in Buffalo comes with enough climate-related challenges, but pair those with the difficulties of starting a Division I program from scratch and you get a good look at one of the biggest struggles in the Mid-American Conference: Buffalo Bulls baseball.

Although such tough conditions seem to imply coaches would only make a short stop before moving to warmer climates, head coach Ron Torgalski has been with the program since its inception in 1999, and he has been the head coach since the 2007 season.

"We didn't have uniforms; we didn't have baseballs," Torgalski said. "It was like Christmas all year round because we just kept buying things. It was interesting, but it was a lot of fun."

In 1999, Torgalski was an assistant basketball coach at UB. He was considering getting his master's degree in teaching certification and was planning on leaving the basketball program and UB, to teach and coach high school sports in the area.

When Torgalski was about to leave, Buffalo began to make the transition to Division I, which included reinstating the baseball program. Bill Breene, currently the assistant director of athletic development, was tasked with the head coaching position. He asked Torgalski, who had experience recruiting the area from being a basketball coach, to be his recruiting coordinator.

"I liked him and basically asked him if he would be interested in joining me to help me get this thing off the ground," Breene said.

In 2012, Torgalski completed his 12th season as a coach, his sixth as head coach, and led the Bulls to their first ever MAC Tournament. The squad made it to the conference semifinals before falling to College World Series qualifier Kent State.

The program has come a long way since Torgalski's first year on the recruiting trail.

The program now has actual baseball players on campus for recruits to stay with.

In 1999, baseball recruits stayed with football players because there were no baseball players on campus. Lacking a roster did have its advantages, though.

"It was easy to promise guys playing time because we had no players," Torgalski said.

The program has never had full funding since joining Division I, which puts pressure on Torgalski and his staff to use their scholarships wisely.

His solution is to recruit hard working players who want to be in Buffalo. If they don't want to be here, he doesn't recruit them.

Torgalski believes this recruiting tactic has become a signature of the program.

"From the day we started, [we have] recruited kids that are tough, hard-nosed kids that want an opportunity to play and want an opportunity to prove that this program is taking positive steps in getting better each year," Torgalski said.

In the past few seasons, these tactics have helped the Bulls - who limped through a decade of irrelevance - enjoy greater success.

The program has been on the upswing in recent seasons. In addition to making a deep run in the MAC Tournament last year, former catcher Tom Murphy was drafted in the third round by the Colorado Rockies in last year's MLB Draft.

With returning players at nearly every position this season, the Bulls seem primed to make another run at the tournament. The team also has numerous underclassmen contributors, which bodes well for 2014 and beyond.

But the program still lacks key components that would take it to the next level.

Its home field is owned by the Town of Amherst and sits adjacent to UB Stadium across Millersport Highway. The indoor facility the team uses is a 10-minute drive north on Millersport Highway from UB's North Campus.

The baseball program's lack of scholarship dollars also makes it difficult to compete in the MAC, where every other baseball program is fully funded. In 2011-12, Buffalo had 8.62 scholarships to split between 20 players, totaling $206,111. That number pales in comparison to the funding other conference programs receive - Eastern Michigan handed out 10.82 scholarships for a total of $282,286; Kent State handed out 11.18 for $241,298.

"It's tough to bring in recruits and show them the facility we play on," Torgalski said. "That's one of the things we would hope: to get a facility on campus - something we can call our own, take pride in and really build to something special. The other thing we're still hoping for is to increase our scholarship dollars."

The lack of full funding hurts the Bulls' depth. Although they enjoyed three seasons of Murphy's play, Torgalski had to bring in a junior college catcher this year to replace him. Full funding would bring less urgency to the recruiting trail when top-flight players graduate or leave via the draft.

For now, Torgalski has his team focused on the task at hand: earning its first-ever back-to-back trips to the MAC Tournament.

The team's success and attitude is a credit to Torgalski's recruiting prowess.

"He's a good recruiter," Breene said. "He's a good salesman for the university, and I think that's why he's able to get some of those kids in here like [senior outfielder Jason] Kanzler and those guys now. They are all damn good ball players. If you've got a lineup sprinkled with people like that, you are going to have an opportunity to win some games in the conference."

Breene is confident that Buffalo isn't the barren baseball landscape it appears to be at first glance, and with Athletic Director Danny White taking over the reins this past summer, he believes White's vision for the athletic department will help Torgalski make the baseball team a perennial MAC Tournament contender.

"With Danny White and these new guys that are coming in, they want our programs to be competitive and they are looking to do whatever it takes now to generate those dollars to make sure that all of our sports, including men's baseball, get fully funded and have an opportunity to compete," Breene said. "That would be motivation enough for anyone to want to stay."

Although bad weather and poor funding have been constant pitfalls for the Bulls, the skies may finally be starting to clear over Amherst Audubon Field.

 

Email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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