By Jim Fenton, The Enterprise (Brockton)
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- The end of the 2018 Bridgewater State University baseball season this spring will also mean the end of an era.
Rick Smith, who has been the Bears' head coach since 1994, will be retiring in May after running the program for his 25th year.
Smith is the school's all-time winningest coach in any sport, compiling a 545-354-5 record with 10 trips to the NCAA Division 3 tournament.
"It's been a tremendous ride,″ said the 63-year-old Smith, who recently informed his team of the decision. "Twenty-five years, that's a heckuva run. But I don't want to miss too much more time that I can't get back with my family (wife, Leah, and daughters Ariana and Sydney).
"Watching my daughters grow, having them both now in college, I'm missing opportunities with them that I can't get back.″
The Bears open Smith's last season on March 3, playing nine games during the annual trip to Florida.
There will be a lot of memories that will surface for Smith as he looks back on a head coaching career that began when Glenn Tufts left Bridgewater State to become a minor league coach with the San Francisco Giants.
Tufts had put together five straight seasons with at least 25 wins before Smith, who was his pitching coach, was promoted.
"When I first started in '94, I wasn't sure,″ said Smith. "I was taking over for a legend. What am I supposed to do here? I went to see coach (John) Pearson (Smith's coach at Bridgewater-Raynham) and my junior high coach, Bob Tartufo, who was a mentor.″
Those two gave Smith plenty of advice, which he put into action as a first-time head coach.
By 1996, Smith had Bridgewater State in the College World Series, where the Bears finished third, setting a school record with 31 wins. A year later, they returned to the national stage and placed seventh.
BSU has won 10 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles and five postseason tournaments while Smith has had seven All-America players.
"I get such a platform to be able to mold and talk to these kids and teach them certain life lessons,″ said Smith, "and I get to be able to give it to them in situations that have adversity with them.
"How do you overcome adversity? Tomorrow's another day. We can improve. It's something that over the past 10, 15 or 20 years I've kind of developed it to a point where I can anticipate a lot more than I used to and have had the luxury of working with phenomenal people in the athletic department that would put the kid first as well.″
The Bears have had losing records in each of the past four seasons, and Smith said changes have to be made at the school to help the baseball program.
He said that when Adrian Tinsley was the president, she wanted to bring some kind of national championship to Bridgewater State and spelled out ways to help make that happen.
"She understood national championships begin in the president's office and they filter down,″ said Smith. "They happen on the field, but that's where it starts. It starts with an administration that says this is what we want to accomplish.″
Smith is hoping that his pitching coach, Brockton native Josh White, will be his replacement as the head coach and be given a full-time job on campus to follow the lead of other Division 3 programs.
"The model has to change,″ said Smith, a pitcher who was drafted in the fifth round by the St. Louis Cardinals when he was in college. "The model doesn't work for Division 3 baseball anymore. You need somebody on campus full time.
"The player that's being recruited today wants to have somebody look them in the eye every single day on campus, call them during the week, make sure they're being followed.
"It's very difficult for a part-time coach at the Division 3 level to fulfill the needs of any recruit that comes through the door.
"I've been mentoring Josh White. He's paid his dues and done a very good job learning the system, the program and the school. I'm hoping they'll give him the first shot at it.″
Smith, who is an owner of MD Cabinetry of Raynham, has worked with assistants like Bobby Wooster, Doug Vadnais, John Graham, Matt Poitras and Lou Colitti through the years. Colitti got him starting in the coaching business, hiring him as an assistant coach at Stonehill College in 1983.
He has had some sensational players through the years, and the trip down memory lane this spring will surely include visits by a lot of them.
"I'm going to miss the kids,″ said Smith. "I'm going to miss being able to watch a kid come in at 18 years old who is either shy or 20 pounds less than when he's going to be when he graduates.
"They turn into men between junior and senior year. They develop a mindset of, 'This is what I'm going to do with the rest of my life' and I'm part of that molding process.
"We've taught them always to win and lose with humility, and I've coached kids who are executives, own their own companies. They've done fabulous.″
Baseball has always been such a huge part of Rick Smith's life, but now there is one more season to go.
"Since I was 8 or 9 years old in Raynham, I put spikes on and came out and did this,″ said Smith. "I played at the highest level that my body would allow me to play at. I coached at the highest level of Division 3 that I could. Winning a national championship would have been phenomenal, but I got closer than most of my contemporaries.
"Baseball is something I have always done because I've always relate to it. There's nothing like it.″