On the occasion of Coach Kingston’s 100th victory
Everything I say…By Jack Warren, CornbeltBaseball.com editor
On the occasion of Mark Kingston’s 100th win (during the MVC tournament) as the head coach of the Illinois State Redbird baseball team, I thought about our first meeting in his cramped, concrete block office in Horton Fieldhouse. Having won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title, the conference tournament, and making it to the NCAA regionals in just his first season as head coach of the Redbirds, I thought (kind of out loud, as I remember now), “Well, you certainly won’t be here long.”
Well, he’s been at Duffy Bass Field and his office at Horton long enough to get his 100th win (and quicker than any of his Redbird predecessors). With the exception of 1968-70 (during which ISU won the Collegiate national championship) you’d be hard pressed to find three consecutive seasons that were more successful in the century plus of Redbird baseball. Kingston has brought a swagger, confidence, and, oh yeah, skill to the Redbirds that is apparent each time they take the field.
Anyone who’s met Kingston will attest to an air of professionalism in his approach to the job. There’s no doubting that he’s very serious about his work. When I once asked Coach Kingston to compare the head coaching positions in football and baseball, he didn’t want to give up much ground to the football guys in terms of the amount of work that is required to be successful. Whether that means off-season activity, on-field practice, or recruiting, you can see his fingerprints in the details.
Of course, none of this is going unnoticed, despite the fact that Duffy Bass Field is typically covered with snow and ice as the season commences each year. When Nebraska’s job came open last season, Kingston was one of the first names mentioned. And it won’t be the last time we hear that story line. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Redbird fans are used to seeing basketball coaches pass through on their way to higher profile programs – Bob Bender, Kevin Stallings, Tim Jankovich – but the baseball program is unaccustomed to this kind of attention.
I have no doubt that there are filing cabinets in the offices of the athletic directors at Miami, Tulane, and North Carolina that have file folders marked “potential baseball coaches.” And listed among those names is Mark Kingston. These are all programs to which Kingston has strong ties. The head coaches are all 55-60 years old, meaning that it might be another five years before either Jim Morris, Rick Jones, or Mike Fox decide to shelve the fungo. By that time, expect more suitors to come calling, in which case the others will be out of luck.
You know, it’s one of of those good news-bad news situations. The bad news is that Illinois State could lose probably the most successful coach they’ve had since football’s Todd Berry. The good news is – well, there isn’t any good news. Okay, the good news is that when you see the college World Series in Omaha on ESPN, you’ll say, “Hey, that guy used to coach at ISU.”
Count me among those Redbird fans that are eagerly anticipating the 2012-13 season. Illinois State has a killer lineup returning — with a heart of the order that includes some potent left-handed bats – and a pitching staff that should really be boosted by some returning veterans and incoming talent. With Kingston to guide the team, it should be a fun and successful season.
While I’m as disappointed as most anyone that the Redbirds didn’t win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title, I’m guessing that Coach Kingston might slip under the radar at least one more season. An appearance in an NCAA regional would surely catch the eye of one of the many athletic directors who will be looking to fill vacancies at high profile programs now that the season is complete for most schools. We’re hoping he gets a chance to rack up a few more W’s for the Redbirds.