Building Something Good
How new coach Rusty Filter has helped sixth-year pitcher Steven Wilson ’17, M.S. ’18 and the Broncos get a fresh start.
Steven Wilson ’17, MBA ’19 feels a little old. Not actually old, but the kind of old only a 23-year old senior (twice redshirted) pitcher can feel. His body doesn’t bounce back quite as fast as it did when he was 18. The music his teammates listen to is a little less familiar than he’d like to admit.
“A lot of my teammates I came in with are getting married now, have kids. I’m still doing this college thing,” Wilson says, looking down at practice from the press box at Schott Stadium. “I think the freshmen now were in 8th grade when I started here.”
That’s all okay with him. He’s seen a lot in six years at Santa Clara. Tommy John surgery. A couple coaches. His fair share of losses, and some wins, too. It’s all made him wiser though. Quick example: He’s given up on six-pack abs—strength coach Zac Harris is all about core work. He works smarter now, he says, not harder.
But despite his hard-earned wisdom, this season is not something he would’ve seen coming—in all the best ways. New coach Rusty Filter has given Wilson a fresh start. And he’s not the only one. After posting a 13-40 record a year ago, the Broncos won 14 of their first 19 games, eclipsing last season’s win total by the second conference series.
Senior infielder Jake Brodt ’18 is having a breakout year, hitting .274 with 10 home runs and 39 RBI. Joe Becht ’18 has a .426 on-base percentage. The pitching staff is reborn. Team ERA is at 4.61, down from 6.39 a year ago. Transfer Penn Murfee ’18 is 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA. Wilson himself is 3-1 in six starts, with a 3.66 ERA after posting a 5-5 record as a junior two years ago.
SCU has stumbled as of late, but Wilson sees long-lasting changes around him.
“Everybody is on the same page,” Wilson says. “Everybody is on board, and everybody is getting their work in when they need to.”
Filter came to SCU with an easy-to-digest sort of credibility. The kind that’d look good on a business card if he were into that type of thing. He coached alongside three coaching legends: Mark Marquess at Stanford and Jim Dietz and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. He helped develop two No. 1 draft picks in pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Mark Appel.
Filter is a no-nonsense coach. Players know where they stand. But it’s been more than that, more than the resume. There’s a lot of teaching going on, Wilson says. If you’re willing to work, so are the coaches.
“Right now, we’re watching the coaches hit 150 ground balls right now while we’re talking,” Wilson says, motioning down to his teammates on the field. “We’ve got a coach playing second, a coach pitching, and a coach hitting to the guys. They’re here for the players. I think the players feel that.”
Filter has had something for everyone. Players who need extra reps in practice get them. Guys who need to refine technique, get instruction. For him, Wilson says Filter made him a more aggressive pitcher. His new coach hasn’t spent a day on mechanics. Instead, it’s all been between the ears. Filter has taught him to get the ball in the zone and make the batter earn what they get.
“Hall of Fame hitters fail seven out of ten times,” Wilson says. “As a pitcher, you’re already a step ahead of the hitter. You know what’s coming. They don’t. You’re in control. Just knowing that and going straight after hitters and not really messing around.”
Built for the Long Haul
The Broncos have cooled off considerably from their hot start. In fact, they’ve lost their last nine. But Wilson is quick to point out what those numbers don’t show: they’ve held the lead in many of those games, four of those losses came by two runs or less.
This valley hasn’t changed the peaks or the good vibes. The 13-4 start didn’t feel like a fluke. And Filter’s first season at SCU certainly feels like a step toward something good.
More than anything, Wilson says age has given him a little perspective about those peaks and valleys. Baseball isn’t a sport where you try to go undefeated. Win every series—two out of three games—and you’re in great shape. Incremental change is the best and only choice.
“It’s baseball. It’s back and forth. You’ll lose ten in a row, and then you’ll win ten in a row,” Wilson says. “I feel like everybody is still together. The camaraderie is still good. We’re just ready to go out and try to get back on the right side of things.”
And Wilson has tried to be a mentor to the young players this year. Share his insight when he can. It’s been a fun ride. Perched in the press box, with seven home games left in his career, the view is pretty good from here, he admits.
The sun is shining. Palm trees over center field.
“My apartment is up there—fourth floor,” Wilson says, pointing to the Domicilio Apartments over the right field wall. Wilson mentions that he’s been playing baseball at Santa Clara as long as he’s done just about anything. He’ll earn his M.S. in business analytics in a couple months and isn’t sure what comes next—hopefully more baseball. But right now, he’s not too worried.
“I’ve seen probably over a hundred some games here," Wilson says. “It goes by really quickly. I’ll definitely miss it.”