Diamonds never existed on the University of Nevada campus more than 30 years ago.
The baseball program was on life support and it seemed every season was in jeopardy as the Wolf Pack struggled to sustain America’s pastime. The Douglas High product traveled north to Reno to play two seasons and less than a decade followed before he would return to the Silver and Blue as its captain to help guide a sinking ship.
After becoming a graduate assistant in 1971 for both the football and baseball teams, Gary Powers got his first head coaching position at Incline High School before moving to Wooster. For two years at Shasta College, Powers turned the program around from winning only three games, which helped land him a job he would hold onto for 31 seasons. Powers retired from his position last month after Nevada lost in the Mountain West tournament.
The first few years were rough but over time, the program starting gaining credibility and attracting recruits to play ball for Gary Powers.
Nevada played its home games at the old Moana Stadium and when it was occupied, the Wolf Pack played at the Governor’s Bowl by the Spaghetti Bowl. It wasn’t until 1988 when Powers helped Nevada get its first and only on-campus baseball stadium with the construction of Peccole Park, which has gone through numerous transformations including the installation of lights and FieldTurf.
His teams flirted with .500 ball when some teams would overachieve and win 12 games over that mark or finish nine games below. But it wasn’t until 1992 when Powers found his niche with the Wolf Pack.
Nevada won more than 40 games twice and appeared in the NCAA tournament four times as a member of the Big West. His best season came in 1992 when the Wolf Pack went 43-11 as an independent before winning 41 games two years later and finishing first in the Big West. Nevada was one of the best baseball teams on the West Coast during Power’s reign in the conference before it switched to the Western Athletic Conference and never saw the NCAA postseason again.
Nevada finished first only in the WAC (2001) and then fell below expectations this past season as it ended the 2013 campaign with a miserable fifth-place finish in its first year in the Mountain West.
Powers’ accomplishments rival former recently retired football coach Chris Ault, who reshaped Nevada football and introduced the now popular Pistol offense.
Powers introduced the Bobby Dolan Baseball Dinner, which has seen the game’s best as featured keynote speakers including Tommy Lasorda, Willie Mays, Goose Gossage and Will Clark.
More than 75 players ended up being drafted by Major League Baseball during his tenure. Lyle Overbay and Chris Singleton are arguably the best to come out of the Wolf Pack system. Overbay has filled in for the injured Mark Teixeiara in New York, while Singleton played for the White Sox and is now a commentator with ESPN. And Braden Shipley could become not only Powers’ highest drafted player this week, but the highest ever in any Nevada sport.
While Powers concentrated on his team, he didn’t hesitate help out the area high schools. When the state tournaments are held in Reno, teams come to Peccole Park and as the park gives the state’s best an opportunity to experience the college environment on high school’s biggest stage. Powers took advantage of securing local talent and bringing them to Nevada and he also gave high school umpires an opportunity to experience good baseball.
When the dream of umpiring professional baseball was my top priority, I wanted to get better at the local level and with Nevada’s intrasquad scrimmages before the season, he welcomed umpires to call balls and strikes. This was not only beneficial for umpires to get ready for the high school season, but it also gave Powers’ players the opportunity to play in a better scrimmage environment.
His dedication to wanting the best from his players, helping area programs and ensuring that Nevada baseball was a staple in the community will not be forgotten. Without Powers for these past 31 years, Northern Nevada would not have a Division I — or any level of college — baseball team smacking home runs onto Evans Avenue. This program could have seen the same fate as its first stadium but because of Powers, the Silver and Blue is strong and producing major league talent.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.