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Field of Dreams

After a long absence, and then a sputtering start, Bulls baseball enjoys a steady rise to prominence

Minnesota Twins baseball player Jason Kanzler up to bat

The Minnesota Twins drafted Jason Kanzler in June 2013.

By David J. Hill

Coach Torgalski

Coach Torgalski

“It’s very rewarding to see how far the program has come. It makes me proud to be connected with it.”
Joe Mihalics (BA '06), former NY Mets draft pick

In many ways, Jason Kanzler (BS ’13) was a perfect fit for UB’s baseball program.

Kanzler began his collegiate career at Northeastern University. He was soon cut from the team. Transferring to Buffalo as a walk-on, he played sparingly as a freshman and just a bit more the following year.

But then something happened.

After his junior season, he was an All-MAC player and a Rawlings Gold Glove Award recipient. Last year, as a senior, he batted .330, hit 12 home runs and drove in 53 runs. He won the Gold Glove Award again, becoming the first repeat recipient in the award’s seven-year history, and was the MAC Player of the Year. Then he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins.

Bulls baseball has experienced a similar rags-to-riches trajectory. After a 12-year hiatus, the program was reinstated in 2000 and slogged through several dismal seasons.

But then, just as with Kanzler’s career, something happened. After winning just three conference games in 2011, UB won 10 the following season and last year went 19-7 in the MAC, claiming the No. 2 seed in the MAC tournament. The Bulls lost to Toledo in the consolation round.

What made the difference? Partially the players themselves—people like Kanzler and his teammate Tom Murphy, who won numerous awards and broke program records before being selected by the Colorado Rockies in the third round of the 2012 first-year player draft.

Equally important has been the ability of head coach Ron Torgalski and his coaching staff to recruit largely unheralded players and develop them into Major League prospects. “We’ve gotten some pretty good players that have developed into great players,” says the 2013 MAC Coach of the Year, who credits a rigorous training program, the time his assistant coaches put in and “the players’ own commitment to work their tails off.”

Torgalski also gives props to former head coach Bill Breene, who guided the team from 2000 until Torgalski, who served as his assistant, took over in 2007. “When we started this program again, we were so far behind all these other programs that have been around for 70, 80 years,” Torgalski says. “It’s not easy to throw a team of 30 guys together and compete at the level we’re playing at. It is a process.”

One of Torgalski’s former players, Joe Mihalics (BA ’06), knew it was only a matter of time. “It’s very rewarding to see how far the program has come. It makes me proud to be connected with it,” says Mihalics, a UB Athletics Hall of Fame inductee and former Mets draft pick.

The Bulls hope to continue building on their recent success. Torgalski sees the signs. “I like the way our guys are working,” he says. “The program’s going in the right direction, and recruiting is going well.”

Soon, the coach may have another souvenir baseball to add to the collection that sits on a shelf in his office: the MAC championship ball. “Hopefully, that’s next,” he says.

Torgalski’s Track Record

  2013 MAC Coach of the Year
4 Freshman All-Americans
3 Academic All-MAC honorees
4 MLB draft picks
2 MAC Players of the Year
11 Pro contract signees