Don Eudy Reflects on Baseball at SEU
The year 2018 was one that will be hard for SEU’s baseball team to forget. With a perfect 8-0 record in the NAIA National Tournament, the team took home Southeastern’s first red banner and World Series national championship win in the university’s history since joining the NAIA in the fall of 2009.
The accolades didn’t stop there. Five of the baseball players were signed by Major League Baseball teams. Head coach Adrian Dinkel was honored as the NAIA Coach of the Year, three players were named to the 2018 Baseball NAIA All-American list, and Jonathan Bermudez was named the NAIA Pitcher of the Year.
Then, at a press conference in August, the Fire were invited to face their toughest opponent yet — the Detroit Tigers. In front of a crowd of nearly 5,000 people, the Fire played the Tigers in their spring training opener in February of 2019.
“The biggest accomplishment for me was to see the baseball team play the Detroit Tigers. It was great. Especially since they kept them close. We played them even for eight innings. No one knew what was going to happen,” said Don Eudy, former athletic director and the Fire’s first baseball head coach.
Bringing Baseball to SEU
When Eudy became the athletic director in 1973, Southeastern only had one team — men’s basketball. His first priority was to add a few more athletic teams and to introduce intramurals; one of those teams was baseball.
“Florida is ideal for baseball. There is good weather and you can play it year round. That was the first team that I wanted to start,” said Eudy.
At the time, the role of athletic director also meant that Eudy coached most of the teams, while also serving as a professor of history. For the first year of the program, he coached the baseball team. He can still recall every player by name and the positions they played on the team, noting how several of them played other sports in addition to baseball.
“When we rested the pitcher, we just pitched whoever else had any experience pitching on the team. The team played well because nearly all of them had played baseball before. We had a winning season that first year. We were just getting started,” added Eudy.
The team, a core group of 14 players, practiced and played games at the historic Henley Field in Lakeland, where the Detroit Tigers once practiced. Now, the SEU team practices and plays at the Ted A. Broer Stadium on our campus. The 200-seat stadium was built in 2004 and was modeled after Fenway Park in Boston.
In the first season of baseball, the team played a variety of Christian universities across the nation. They were also a part of the Florida Christian College Conference and played teams in the area, including Clearwater Christian, Warner Southern College, and Florida Southern.
Years after the program was started, the team continued to find success after joining the NCCAA, winning four National Championships in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. When the Fire joined the NAIA, the baseball team won The Sun Conference Tournament in 2014 and 2017.
Nearly 46 years since the team was started, Eudy still enjoys attending Southeastern athletic games and seeing how far the programs have come. Eudy followed the baseball team as they made it to the NAIA World Series championship and he attended the game at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland this past February, which was the first time the team played a Major League Baseball team, the Detroit Tigers.
“To see us advance as far as we have in athletics has been really rewarding to me,” said Eudy.
Coach Adrian Dinkel took over as the head baseball coach of the Fire in the fall of 2016, after successfully coaching at Sterling College. In their first season under his leadership, the team won The Sun Conference Tournament in 2017 and broke the school record for wins with their first 50-win season.
“The first year was a building block for us. We set out our cultural expectations and set the tone for the season,” said Dinkel.
Before the start of his second season, Dinkel spent his summer recruiting players to fill the spots of 18 seniors who had graduated in the spring of 2017. The group of 25 new players paid off, as the team went on to set new records including winning a program-best 59 games and winning the 2018 Avista NAIA World Series. Dinkel described the win as “a great opportunity. It was something they worked hard for.”
The 2018 season concluded with several athletes receiving accolades at the regional level of The Sun Conference and the national level of the NAIA. The team, now made up of more than 60 athletes (both junior varsity and varsity), also saw the most drafted players into Major League Baseball in the history of the university.
In the 2019 season, the team ranked as number one in the NAIA Coaches’ Poll and won their first regular season title for The Sun Conference. Yet, when reflecting on the accomplishments the team has achieved, one of the highlights will always be the opportunity to play the Detroit Tigers.
“It was an unbelievable experience for us to play at the highest level. We want to keep growing and to win at a high level with our faith on our sleeve,” said Dinkel.
The Fire will once again play the Detroit Tigers during Spring Training, as part of their new three-year contract.