On March 3, 1991, Rick Carver had just been hired to rejuvenate a struggling Bethany baseball program, which had seen six coaches in the last five years. Carver started the season that day with a 1-0 win over the Thiel Tomcats and went on to lead the team to a hard-fought conference title after overcoming a 0-10 series sweep on the road in Florida.
One successful season led to another, and despite a few down years, Carver quickly made a name for himself and his team – amassing 448 wins, being named Presidents’ Athletic Conference Coach of the Year five times, leading his team to appear in five Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship tournaments and winning the Louisville Silver Slugger Award for Championship Level Coaching in 2004.
Despite all this, after 27 great years at Bethany College, Carver, Bethany’s all-time winningest baseball coach, said goodbye to his much-loved faculty, staff and students this year in order to begin a new mission: bring baseball back to Franciscan University of Steubenville, where it had been on hiatus since 2011.
Carver admitted that it took a lot for him to leave Bethany, especially because of the relationships he had formed there over the course of many years, but Athletic Director Mike Holmes’ vision for the new Franciscan team was what ultimately convinced him to make the switch.
“The mission of Franciscan, the types of students that I’ve met so far – outgoing and confident, the opportunity to start my own program, were just too good to turn down,” said Carver. “Plus, I honestly think Franciscan is doing it the right way. I really do.”
According to Holmes, to do athletics the “right way” is to foster successful, competitive teams without compromising Franciscan’s passionately Catholic identity. “We want to be playing baseball with kids who are on fire for God. That’s No. 1,” Holmes said. “But we don’t want to just throw a team out there, go 0-for-whatever and call it a season. We want to compete. We want to be at the top of conference championships.”
Sharing in this vision, Carver sees Franciscan’s baseball head coach position as an opportunity to not only build a winning team but also to influence the lives of dozens of young men for the better, the way he did for so long at Bethany College.
“My job is not necessarily just to win a baseball game, although we want to do that,” Carver commented. “I feel that my job is to mold young men into adult men, so therefore our first look is for character.”
Carver’s passion for sports originated on the campus of Westminster College in Pennsylvania, where his father worked as vice president of student affairs. One of his earliest memories of being involved in sports was serving as ball boy for the Westminster Titans football and baseball games. In the 1970s, collegiate and professional football kickers kicked straight-on with their toes and required a special shoe to do it. In addition to his standard ball boy duties, it was young Carver’s job to help the Titans kicker put on his kicking shoe.
He recalls standing with anticipation on the sidelines in his very official ball boy shirt and hat as a 9-year-old, grasping a square-toed cleat in his hands, ready to spring into action and lace it up on the kicker’s foot the instant the offense scored. As quickly as possible after the kick, Carver had to rush to get the kicker back into his regular cleats so he could join the defense as a linebacker.
“He’d miss one play, but he’d better only miss one play ‘cause it was my job to make sure he got his linebacker shoe on to get back out there,” Carver remembered with a smile. He also recalled taking bus trips to Florida with the baseball team, running onto the field to retrieve the tee at football games and even looking up with starry eyes at All-American football players as he collected their dirty uniforms in large laundry bins.
Carver’s enthusiasm for sports that took root during his years at Westminster as a self-proclaimed “campus brat” carried on through high school and into college at Maryville College in Tennessee. There, he played baseball, ran club cross country, participated in boxing and even joined the football team his senior year. His competitive nature and sports experience are eventually what led him to his career as a coach.
After six unhappy months working in retail after graduation, Carver decided to go to graduate school for sports management, which at the time was a new, up-and-coming field. He landed an internship and began his coaching career in sunny Southern California as an assistant coach at Claremont McKenna College.
There, surrounded by California’s signature snow-capped mountains and 85-degree-weather, he found his passion. A few years later, he found himself head-coaching, surrounded instead by the rolling hills of Bethany, West Virginia.
It wasn’t all a smooth journey, though. As a new coach, Carver faced difficulties and was not without some regrets. “I think when you’re that young there’s a lot of idealism,” he admitted. “When you’ve got all the energy in the world, you think you can just force things.”
Carver added that he’s apologized to players he coached in his first season for focusing too intensely on the wrong things. “They’re happy because they have a championship ring that they still look back on to this day, but I said to them, ‘I just scared you guys into winning and that’s not how life should be.’”
In his first few years as a coach, Carver quickly learned the lesson that baseball was not just about wins and losses but about preparing kids for life. And he seems to have done a good job of it at Bethany, as evidenced by the 37 wedding invitations he has received over time from former players.
Now, Carver is already starting to build relationships with students at Franciscan – his first step toward constructing a successful baseball team. That’s part of what made Holmes so confident that Carver was the right guy for the job.
“Rick is a relationships guy. I could tell that right away just from all the phone calls I got from his former players when we hired him,” Holmes said. “You want a relationship-based program, and he’s just tremendous at that.”
In the few weeks he has been working at Franciscan, Carver has spoken to many potential recruits, local and out-of-state, and, according to Holmes, brought five or six of them on campus already.
Holmes said that Carver brings plenty of experience and energy and is exactly the person the new program needs. “We needed the experience to jump start the program, to make it competitive early, and we don’t have to guess with him. We know that he’s going to do those things because he has the track record.”
As for Carver, he said he wouldn’t trade coaching baseball for 10 million dollars. “I’ve even said I’d coach for free,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “Here’s advice I’d give to any college student: Find something that you love to do. Because then it’s not work.”