Head baseball coach Bill Kernen announced his retirement from college baseball last week, ending his six-year run with the Roadrunners effective July 1. Kernen was the first coach of this program, hired in 2007 to build a new team from the ground up.
He did that and a little more, putting our baseball program on the national stage, beating powerhouses like UCLA, Fresno State and South Carolina while we were an Independent. He then won the Western Athletic Conference last season while taking home conference coach of the year honors for his efforts as well.
He's coached 11 Major League Draft picks along the way. These were guys who came in undrafted out of high school or junior college with something to prove. They did that right alongside their head coach, who purposely recruits kids with chips on their shoulders and a willingness to do anything to get better.
Coach Kernen is heading back east to continue his other career as a director and writer for stage and screen. No joke, he holds a degree as a playwright from Columbia and has written a few full-length plays. He loves New York and wants to live there once again.
He's 65 years old and the coach who's always been known for his candid approach to the media told them this last week during his retirement press conference.
"I still have some breath in my lungs and there are a few more things I want to do with my life; I never wanted to die on a baseball field with a lineup card in my hand."
Classic Kernen. He thanked the many people who've made him and his program a success over the years. Twice he's been a few breaks away from an NCAA Regional berth with CSUB, and maybe this season as he closes out his career his team will finish that part of his Bakersfield dream off as well. He went on to thank the program and university as a whole. He pointed out the importance of NCAA Division I athletics by saying this:
"There are only two ways to get national recognition for your city, one is to have a Major League team, the other is to have a Division I athletics program; those are the only two ways, unless you get a tornado to go through it or something."
Ah, Coach Kernen at his best, even up to the very end.
It was my honor to introduce him at his retirement press conference and I shared a few words about the man that has become a trusted colleague the last several years. I've shared them with you below:
I've known coach Kernen since he was hired in 2007 to take this job, to build a field where there was nothing but weeds, to create a program where there was no team and to build a team where there were no players. We had many discussions about this program the first few years, where it would go, what it could be, he made all of those come true.
He did a great job doing that in a short period of time. In the years since we've had many more conversations, we've put a lot of miles on bus tires and airplane wings, traveling this country playing the game of baseball. I guess we're the lucky ones, I know that isn't lost on me and I know it's not lost on him. He's without a doubt the most brilliant baseball mind I've ever come across.
We've developed a relationship as coworkers, colleagues and I'm proud to say as friends.
Bill Kernen's next inning has him heading out east to become a writer yet again. While some think this is a crazy career path, I say nothing could prepare you more for writing the stage and screen that watching baseball. American novelist Paul Gallico said the same as well: "No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined."
Good luck coach, break a leg.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.