Ben McDonald played both baseball and basketball at LSU. He led the Tigers to two College World Series and won an Olympic gold medal while pitching for Team USA in 1988. He was the first overall selection by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1989 MLB draft and is now a color analyst for ESPN’s college baseball coverage. He’s in Omaha covering the College World Series.
Q: You’ve been to Omaha as a college player, a pro and as a broadcaster. What is your favorite thing about the city?
A: Obviously, the first time I came it was about being a player. You grow up wanting to play at the highest level in college baseball and wanting to play in Omaha. You didn’t have the (regular-season) coverage then that you have now, so it was a treat to come to Omaha. All the games were on TV, and you are seeing the best players in the country and you have a chance to win a national championship. That is what really struck me about Omaha. I have a lot of fond memories and some bad ones, too. I didn’t have a lot of success here. ... To learn from your failures really helped shape my life and helped shape my baseball career. When I come back to Omaha, there are a lot of memories going through my head.
Q: There is a lot of talk in baseball now about travel ball versus high school ball and showcases. What is your take on the right system for the kid who wants to get recruited?
A: It’s a fine line you walk on that kind of stuff. I was a three-sport athlete in high school. My dad told me and I tell parents all of the time ... please get your kids involved in something other than just one sport. Get them involved in multiple sports. ... I don’t think you have to play 80 or 90 games. I think it’s the quality that you go through when you do it. We are seeing a lot of injuries, and I could talk a long time about this stuff. We are seeing a lot of injuries in pitching right now, and I think it’s because kids aren’t taking enough time off. My advice to kids and to parents all the time is play multiple sports, and if you don’t want to do that make sure you take some time away from the game to kind of hit the reset button and let the body catch back up. Lift weights, run, whatever you want to do to get bigger and stronger, but more is not always better in our sport. There is a place for it and there are things you have to do in the big tournaments to get seen if you want to play at the next level, but you can overdo it, too. I think you have to balance where you are with all of that.
Q: Will Bolt is the new coach at Nebraska. Do you have thoughts on that hire?
A: To have the experience he has had in the SEC (as an assistant at Texas A&M), which I still think is the best overall baseball conference in the entire country, he knows what it’s about and he knows what it takes to recruit. He’s going home in some senses, and I think Will is going to do a wonderful job. Rob Childress at Texas A&M is one of my favorite guys. He really gets it. He understands pitching, he understands recruiting. In the world we live in now with college baseball, it is so competitive now. Recruiting is still the most important thing. You have to have the horses to be able to run, then once you get them on campus you have to be able to develop them and make them better, too. I think Will Bolt is going to do a fabulous job.
Q: Your opinion on the third coach conversation in college baseball?
A: It is so disappointing that it didn’t pass for me. They call them a part-time coach; they are anything but that. They are a full-time coach, those guys are putting in the hours. When you look at all the sports in college, baseball is the one that you have more players and less coaches to work with those players and less scholarships, too. We have to take care of our assistants. If you want to get those Kumar Rockers of the world and kids that should be in pro ball to come to college, I got to be able to trust you as a coach and know you have a coaching staff that is going to develop my kid. We should have a third full-time paid coach. There is no doubt about that. It’s so disappointing. I hope it comes up sooner than two years from now. It’s only going to make the college game better. Our college game of baseball continues to grow in leaps and bounds, so why not?