KENT: Jeff Duncan would have preferred that his young son were with him Wednesday when he was officially introduced as Kent State’s new baseball coach.
But Duncan and his wife Lauren figured it was best if their 9-month old, Bryce, stayed in the care of Grandma and Grandpa during the news conference held at the new Kent State Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Kent.
Even without the toddler in tow, it was clear why “family values” have become so important to the newest member of the KSU coaching family.
“I just got a picture of Bryce right before I got in here of him standing up, so in about three months, Birky,” Duncan said as he turned to longtime Flashes pitching coach Mike Birkbeck, who was seated to his left, “he’ll be taking batting practice with us.”
Then Duncan’s baseball background came through. “Only thing is, I think he’s right-handed because Bryce picks up all his toys with his right hand. So, I’m going to have to work on making him a left-handed hitter.”
If that story, which drew a loud round of applause, didn’t endear Duncan to KSU’s players and fans, how highly he spoke of predecessor Scott Stricklin, who took KSU baseball to new heights in his eight years as head coach, likely did the trick.
“I had the opportunity to talk with Coach Stricklin two or three times during this process,” said Duncan, who spent the past four years as an associate head coach at Purdue. “And let me tell you, he bleeds Kent State baseball. The job he’s done and the coaches before him, has been unbelievable. He’s carried a big torch — it was heavy — but I’m ready to take that torch and make it a little bit heavier and brighter.”
Duncan spoke of his new job being a dream come true, of how much he enjoys leading young men and being blessed to have the opportunity to do it at a program with such great tradition. But he also spoke of making the team’s atmosphere welcoming and family-oriented to the coaches’ wives.
“Being an assistant for years, a servant to my boss, it [puts] a lot of work on our families, our wives and we’re gone a lot,” he said. “So, we’re going to invite them into this program as much as possible.”
Duncan was in charge of Purdue’s hitters, outfielders, team defense and base running and assisted in recruiting.
Prior to beginning his stint at Purdue in 2010, he spent the previous year as an assistant at Auburn. Before his coaching career, Duncan spent nine seasons playing professionally in the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations. He played two seasons in the major leagues with the Mets, who selected him in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB draft.
Details of Duncan’s contract have not yet been worked out.
“We’re still working through the details, but obviously it will be a multiyear deal,” KSU Athletic Director Joel Nielsen said. “And we’ve been looking at [salary] comparables to the Big Ten because that’s what we did with Scott, as we moved him up the last three years.”
Stricklin’s last contract with KSU called for an annual base of $300,000.
Nielsen said he first heard of Duncan last season during the Golden Flashes’ historic run to the College World Series.
“With [Purdue] coming into the forefront last year with all the success they had [winning the Big Ten title in 2012], I started looking at the coaching staff and hearing good things about Jeff,” Nielsen said. “Then as I was hearing things this year, I started looking at Big Ten assistants and Jeff’s name was at the top of the list of everyone I called.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com.