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Saint Leo 360 Podcast

Episode 49: Hitting the Diamond with Rick O’Dette, Head Baseball Coach at Saint Leo

Posted by Greg Lindberg on November 30, 2021
Episode 49: Hitting the Diamond with Rick O’Dette, Head Baseball Coach at Saint Leo

Download Episode 49 Transcript

Speaker 1:
Saint Leo 360, a 360 degree overview of the Saint Leo University community.

Greg Lindberg:
Hi, everyone, and thanks for checking out another addition of the Saint Leo 360 Podcast. As usual, this is your host, Greg Lindberg, here on this episode of the podcast. We are speaking about the baseball program here at Saint Leo University, and very excited to be joined by Rick O'Dette, who is the head coach of the Saint Leo Lions baseball team. Rick, welcome to the podcast,

Rick O’Dette:
Greg, thanks for having me. Glad to be on.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. I'm really excited about this. I have had the chance to attend some Lions baseball games, and I'm a huge baseball fan in general, so super excited to have you on.

Rick O’Dette:
Well, I'm excited to be on. And again, I can't thank you enough for your support of our program and myself, and obviously Saint Leo as a whole.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. Hey, I really appreciate that. All right. So first off, Rick, just talk to me about your early years, as far as where you grew up and went to high school.

Rick O’Dette:
Yes, I'm from Tinley Park, Illinois, which is a south suburb of Chicago. I actually have two brothers and a sister. My mom and dad, my whole family still live up in the north, so they're still in that area that we all grew up in. We were a sports family. Pretty much every day of our life, it felt like we were playing baseball, football, basketball. My sister was in cheerleading. My dad was a little league commissioner. My mom ran the concession stand. We were pretty much nonstop sports. That was kind of one of our biggest connections. And we've always enjoyed it, and obviously still do. To this day, my dad's still calling me wondering why I'm making this call or doing that call. So yeah, no, it's always been a great avenue for us and our family. So we've always been really fortunate to be involved in sports, for sure.

Greg Lindberg:
Awesome. Very cool. And then as far as baseball, so was it high school when you really kind of knew that you wanted to pursue baseball?

Rick O’Dette:
Well, that's a good question. I love football, but I was graduated high school at 5'11, 145. So the football route, even though I was a quarterback and didn't get hit as much, I was probably going to be limited. But yes, baseball was always what I enjoyed, I thought was going to be my avenue, if I got an opportunity to play in college baseball, or college athletic. And I really got into it in high school, was really involved in it. I was lefthanded pitcher, so that helped my cause a lot. So my size wasn't as big of a deal, but from the same end of it, when I graduated high school, I was 5'11, 145, so wasn't very big.

Rick O’Dette:
And then after my first year of college, I ended up being... I was 6'3, 185. So that helped my cause. I'd love to say it's hard work, but I think God had a little bit different plan. I don't think you can work in becoming 6'3. So I was fortunate to be able to be blessed with some height and really enjoyed the baseball side of it. It was a great experience as well.

Greg Lindberg:
Excellent. And then I understand you played college baseball, like you mentioned, and you were drafted by the Boston Red Sox, correct?

Rick O’Dette:
That's true. I was at St. Joseph's College in Indiana where I had my only scholarship offer for a thousand dollars. So I was happily taking that, and was able to develop... was part of a team that went to the national championship game in 96. And then my junior year, in 97, I was drafted with the Red Sox 15th round. So a great experience was able to play with them for about three and a half seasons [inaudible 00:03:50] got into the coaching part.

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha. And so you were a pitcher, right?

Rick O’Dette:
I was. A left-hand pitcher. So I was fortunate to be able to throw with the correct arm, so it helped me all lot.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. Yep. And then I understand you did have the chance to play with some pretty big names that went on in the majors. Correct?

Rick O’Dette:
I did. I knew guys like Ron Mahay and a number of those guys. Dave Eckstein, which was a world series MVP and played a number of years. I think it was 10 to 12 year, big leaguer. A guy named Jeff [inaudible 00:04:21] and a number of other guys. Adam Everett and a few other guys that got opportunities to play at the big league level. So it was a great experience for me, for sure.

Greg Lindberg:
Awesome. Very neat. So then in terms of coaching, when did you kind of know that you might want to pursue coaching as a career?

Rick O’Dette:
Well, when they told me I couldn't play anymore, I had to figure out what was next. So ended up getting injured, so I was a little bit disappointed obviously and really devastated, to be honest with you. My career was over, not the way I planned it. And who knows if I would've ever made it to the big leagues, but I would've liked to have seen it and seen what happened. Obviously that's a tough road, but I knew once I got done playing, at first, I actually talked about going into a number of different [inaudible 00:05:09] profession.

Rick O’Dette:
I didn't know if it was going to be real estate, if it was... My uncle at the time was a... My uncle was a mortician at the time, so I even tried that for about 30 seconds, which was not my route. So, I went a lot of different ways, and I always obviously had the love for college baseball, or for baseball in general, and I wanted to not be... I was a high school... I had a high school... I could have been a PE, health, driver's ed instructor at the high school level, because I had my certifications and degree in that, but knew probably if I was going to stay in coaching, I wanted to try to go a little bit higher level. So that's how I got into college coaching.

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha. I see. And so I understand you had a very long tenure as head coach at St. Joseph's College, correct?

Rick O’Dette:
I did. We were at a great place. It was kind of our home at the time. I was there as a player. My wife went to school there, met my wife there. My wife's brother went there. My brother went there as well. They all were baseball players as well, so we had a great connection. I was there. When I came back, I was the head coach for 17 years until the institution sadly had closed. So not exactly how we planned it, but I do think everything happens for a reason and we're super fortunate to be here.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. And yeah, that's quite a long, lengthy time there, and I'm sure you learn so much and we're were able to take that experience to come here.

Rick O’Dette:
Absolutely. I've made a lot of mistakes, still making them, right? You're trying to learn from them, but yeah, at that time, it was 20, really 24. When we played our first game, I was in charge of about 65 players who we had a JV as well. So there's some horror stories I could probably tell earlier in my career that I would love to go back and have a reset button for, for sure. But yeah, it was a great time and I learned a ton and I took a lot of valuable experience. We had to do a lot of things as a group, as a whole, individually, as a staff, from cutting grass to painting lines to a lot of it. We had great people that work there. We just didn't have the resources, but you definitely learn a lot, for sure.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. No doubt. So let's talk about how you actually came to Saint Leo University, how you found out about the opportunity, and how it all kind of came together.

Rick O’Dette:
Well, ironically, so our institution, we found out in February that they were going to close. We were still having our season that would starting mid February. So we found out basically the first week. So two weeks later, we were starting our season. So we had to find places for our players to go the following day. And so that kind of started that process. And we worried about it as staff to make sure our guys got somewhere next. But of course, we wanted to make sure their career ascended right at St. Joe, which we had a really good group. And we wanted to try to win the whole thing, of course, like everybody, but especially with that situation we were in. And that kind of started the process of worrying about all of our players first.

Rick O’Dette:
Well then, we had a great season, we were in the regional, had a really good group, and next thing you know, I was starting to get some opportunities and St Leo had called and talked to coach Reedy about Saint Leo. And we ironically had played here a couple times when we were in our spring trip. So I knew the place, I knew what it looked like, I knew... And obviously, the campus, when we first came in, we were probably here 2004, so the campus looks a lot different than it does now. And then of course, as we went back to other times, saw that the place was a beautiful spot. And so when they called... And the weather doesn't hurt when you're a baseball coach either to come to Florida. We gladly came and took a look at the place and really felt like it was a great fit for myself, my wife, and my two kids. And it was pretty much a no brainer to get down here.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. Very interesting. Let's talk about just your current coaching staff, how you guys all kind of work together. Just give us maybe kind of a peak behind the curtain when it comes to a college baseball coaching staff.

Rick O’Dette:
Well, it's nice to have a full staff. Last year with COVID, it was, there was a lot of moving parts. We had a lot of things going on. We had some transitioning in coaching. Coach Caldwell had come on in January. He had an accident that he was recovering from, so he didn't come until January. So now that we have a full staff, we've really, really fortunate of how great our staff is. We have Tony Caldwell, was a player at Auburn University. He was a Florida guy. So we wanted a Florida connection guy. We thought that was important, that actually... And our biggest thing is we want guys to develop and get them better, not just recruit good players and say, "Okay, let them go." We're trying to develop them in so many ways. Of course, not just the baseball side, but others as well, good people, good men.

Rick O’Dette:
And so we brought Coach Caldwell. He does all of our hitting, and then specializes in our catching, and really is a pretty big piece to our puzzle, from the offensive end especially. Josiah. Hissong has been with me now for three seasons, was a young guy right out of college. I had a connection with his college baseball coach. He was actually an assistant for me. He sent him down. And couldn't be any better, and can't be any happier with his progression as a coach and what he's done for our program.

Rick O’Dette:
And he works specifically with the outfielders and assist Coach Caldwell and our hitters. And then Mitch Wydetic is somebody that we've brought in. He was... He helped out at Florida, and then with St. Pete Community College recruiting coordinator. He came in this fall, and he has not missed a beat with our infielders and assisted with our hitters as well. And then I do all of our pitching and our team defense. So we feel like we have a really good staff and our guys have had great buy-in, and we're really excited where we're at right now.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. Sounds like a nice diverse mix of coaches too.

Rick O’Dette:
Absolutely.

Greg Lindberg:
So I believe 2018 was your first season here at Saint Leo. And let's just talk about any memorable seasons that you've had, star players, anything you want to mention just in your tenure here so far.

Rick O’Dette:
Yeah. It's been great. Our first two years, we came in, we brought some guys in that we thought were immediate help transfer type of guys. And we had two drafts in that group, had two incoming guys that ended up getting drafted. So we felt really good. We were 38 and 11 that first year. I think we won for a month straight, literally from middle of February to middle of March, and had a really good run. I was disappointed in a non-regional selection that year. We thought we had a really good group.

Rick O’Dette:
Our next year, we had some missing pieces with the draft and so on, but had a good group, had a really good season. And then we kind of got hit a little bit with some other things. From recruiting piece, we were younger than we anticipated and so on, but we really like where we're at now. We really have a group that... We brought in some older guys again, and then pieced it in with our younger guys. And right now, we feel like we're really comfortable. We had a... We split with USF on Sunday. We won both of our other scrimmage games this fall. So we like the direction we're going in.

Greg Lindberg:
Very cool. And I'm always intrigued when I see you guys play a division one team and how you guys do, so that's awesome.

Rick O’Dette:
Yeah, it was great. I think it was 3-2 officially, and then 3-1. We lost 3-2 and won 3 to 1. So good games, really good game. Good crowd, good atmosphere. It was a good experience for our guys as well.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. No doubt. So in terms of recruiting, talk to me about the characteristics that you look for in a student athlete when you're trying to bring guys in for the team.

Rick O’Dette:
Well, I think first and foremost, we've got to look at their academic standard first. We will not recruit a guy that's underneath our academic standard. And for us to be able to make stuff that makes the most sense, it's anybody, depending on what the year it is, it could be a 3.85, 3.25 which it is right now. So we kind of go after a high end academic guy right away. So that's a good start of seeing transcripts and so on. We want to make sure that they're a good fit academically, because otherwise, why are they here? It's not just because of baseball. And then of course, then we start to dig into their character, which is probably the most important piece. If you don't the right people, you don't have the right team. And it's hard to win without the right people.

Rick O’Dette:
So we do as much background as we possibly can. And then once they get here, it's our job to help. We'll keep molding them in the right direction to become successful adults and men and fathers, and their next steps in life. And of course, from the baseball side of it, they've got to do some things. If pitching always starts, we always talk about middle of the field. We want to make sure we're strong at the middle with catching, pitching, short stop, second, and center field. And of course, then we add the exclamation points on the side, so with our corner infielders and outfielders. So, it's not for everybody. There's a lot to be asked from these guys, because we do hold on to a standard academically and socially that just the everyday student maybe doesn't be held as accountable for. So there's a lot on their plate, but they know what they get into as well.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. Very interesting. And kind of on that note, what would you say the benefits of attending Saint Leo University are, specifically when it comes to the opportunity to play division two sports in the Sunshine State Conference?

Rick O’Dette:
Well, from a baseball end, really a lot of our sports, our conference, the Sunshine State Conference, is the best division two baseball conference in the country. I mean, 9 of the last 15 national champions have come from our league. So needless to say, every weekend, from top to bottom, no matter where anybody's at, you better be ready to play or you're going to be in trouble. And from that end of it, I think we have over 68 professional players that have now gotten opportunities to play professionally that have played in a Saint Leo Lion or Monarch Jersey. So, the opportunity to keep playing, I think is always a big piece. Every baseball player thinks they're going to make their big leagues. So the exposure will not be an issue at all. Scout day and there's just at every major league baseball team will see them. And then throughout the season, if it was at USF or is that intersquad here, consistently there are pro scouts in the crowd. So that's a really nice sell.

Rick O’Dette:
But I think the most important sell here for us is the people, right? The academics, we love. The professors have been fantastic. They care about everybody. It's not just get them in, get them out. There's not 3 to 400 people in a class and they don't even know your name. I mean, you're somebody here. And then we meet people like you, Greg, that add the extra, the intangibles that a lot of institutions don't have, of getting around people that... If you were just sitting in an office, we would've never met you, or if we were just sitting in an office, we would've never met you. So we're just fortunate to get our guys that opportunity, and I think it's priceless.

Greg Lindberg:
Very well said, for sure. So I know you did speak a little bit about kind of the academic, athletic balance in terms of recruiting. And then, so as far as when a student us come here, student athlete, specifically a baseball player, what kind of advice do you give students to effectively balance their coursework and the playing time?

Rick O’Dette:
Well, time management. I think that is the biggest skill and the toughest skill for a young person, right? When you're in high school, you don't wake up at six in the morning for weights, a lot of times. You don't... You go to class, and then you get early work in or extra work in, and then you go to practice, and then you've got study tables, and then you eat your dinner, and then you do it again. You don't do that in high school if you management isn't good. Knowing when you're going to study, knowing when you're going to hand stuff in, knowing when you're going to take your nap, or when you're going to... what time you go to bed, is such a valuable piece to our guys' success. If they don't do that, a lot of times they're going to be in trouble. So for us, it's about time management. I think it starts it. And then understanding who they are, of what they do well and what they struggle with.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. Very great points. And so if a student athlete that you have is really talented, you can tell maybe they do have a future professionally in baseball, and based on your experience, having been drafted and playing some pro ball, what does it really take to make it in the minors and ultimately getting to the majors?

Rick O’Dette:
Well, I would say commitment and discipline. Everybody that's in professional baseball have baseball skills at a high level. It's the guys that can be consistent and the guys that can stay disciplined, because there's a lot of distractions, there's a lot of things you can get yourself into that affect somebody's play. I think that becomes the most difficult part as a young person that is considered a professional baseball player. You are so far away from your ultimate goal. Your initial goal is making it to professional baseball. The ultimate goal is to stay in professional baseball at a major league level. And you've heard it a million times, it's harder to stay there than get there. It's hard to get there, but it's really difficult to stay there. So if you're not disciplined, if you don't have consistency in what you do, you're going to struggle.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. Very well said. And then just one final question here, what would you say you enjoy most about coaching?

Rick O’Dette:
I love to see guys who, what we say, "Get it." You walk in as a freshman or your new guy, and you're looking at them like, "What are you thinking?" And then all of a sudden, a year or two later, or three years later, they're the ones trying to... The guy that you were talking about, they're trying to help that guy out. And once you see that, you start to figure out, wow, they understand, and they're actually getting it. Now they're teaching it. So we've just improved ourself with that. And I think that becomes a huge piece. And then the ultimate is, when they get married and I go to a wedding. I'm going to a former player's wedding here, December 10th. That piece of it, watching them build their life and see them be successful people and adults and have a great career and all of those things, in which majority of the times, they're going to be outside of baseball.

Rick O’Dette:
I think that is as rewarding. And I think if any coach tells you that they're in it for just the wins, don't get me wrong, you don't want to lose because that makes your life a lot harder, but if you're not in it for them and that experience, then in my 23 years as a head coach, I think I'm confused.

Greg Lindberg:
That's great perspective, for sure. And it sounds like you've really kept up with former players and whatnot.

Rick O’Dette:
Absolutely. And the thing is, my biggest thing is, obviously I was at St. Joe for a long time, but now you saw it with the 35, the 40 guys we had for our homecoming. Now we got washed out, but our homecoming event of how many guys came back and guys that maybe didn't play for me and guys that were before me are now merging with our guys that have been here since I've been here. And it's just a really special place. I mean, Saint Leo's got a special thing. I think as nice as our buildings are, and our area, and our weather, and all that stuff, it's not anywhere close to how nice and how big of a deal the situation is of how many people care for you in this institution.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. Community, the core value of community, it's seen across everything, athletics, academics, just the whole picture.

Rick O’Dette:
No question.

Greg Lindberg:
All right. Again, we've been chatting with Rick O'Dette, the head coach of the Saint Leo Lions baseball team. And Rick, just want to thank you so much for your time. Really enjoyed the conversation, and appreciate you joining me here on the podcast.

Rick O’Dette:
Greg, again, thank you for everything you've done for our place, the institution, our program, of course, but it's people like you that make this place special.

Greg Lindberg:
Hey, that means a lot to me, honestly. Thank you so much.

Rick O’Dette:
Thank you.

Speaker 1:
To hear more episodes of the Saint Leo 360 Podcast, visit saintleo.edu/podcast. To learn more about Saint Leo's programs and services, call 877-622-200 or visit saintleo.edu.

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Saint Leo 360 podcast, we catch up with Rick O’Dette, the head baseball coach at Saint Leo University. O’Dette spoke about:

  • His early years and getting into playing baseball and other sports
  • His playing career, getting drafted to play professional baseball, and notable teammates he had in his career
  • When and how he got into coaching
  • His lengthy coaching career at his alma mater prior to coming to Saint Leo University
  • Accepting the head baseball coaching job at Saint Leo and a recap of his tenure with the Lions
  • His current coaching staff and how they all effectively work together
  • The characteristics he looks for when recruiting student-athletes to play baseball at Saint Leo
  • The benefits of attending Saint Leo and playing sports in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) at the Division II level
  • How student-athletes can effectively balance athletics and academics
  • What it takes to compete in the minor leagues and a path to the majors
  • What he enjoys most about coaching

Links & Resources

Check out O’Dette’s coaching bio page.

Learn more about the Saint Leo baseball program and all of the Lions’ athletic programs.

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