There are many adjectives to describe the job Steve Peter-son has done as Middle Tennessee's highly successful baseball coach since 1988. Coach, fundraiser, teacher, recruiter and architect are just a few, but if you are looking for one word to sum his contributions as the Blue Raiders' longtime skipper, try winner.
Peterson begins his 18th season heading the Blue Raider program as the school's all-time winningest coach with 542 victories and a stockpile of conference championships and NCAA Tournament berths to his credit, demonstrating the consistency with which the driven skipper has guided the club.
Middle Tennessee has been a model program on Peterson's watch and the proof is in the success the Blue Raiders have achieved. The veteran coach has led Middle Tennessee to 10 regular-season conference championships, eight conference tournament titles and seven NCAA Regional berths, including two at-large selections in the past four years. Peterson guided the Blue Raiders to seven consecutive championships - either regular-season or tournament - during one stretch, proving Middle Tennessee doesn't rebuild, it reloads.
Peterson, who enters the 2005 season with a sterling 542-426-2 mark, has produced 10 seasons with 30 or more wins, including a school-record 42 victories in 1990. He also has three campaigns of at least 40 wins, including last season's 40-22 club.
The constant manner in which Middle Tennessee has enjoyed success during Peterson's tenure is a direct reflection on recruiting and developing talent and the proof was never more evident than in 2001 - the Blue Raiders' first season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference after years of success in the Ohio Valley.
Asked how the move into the Sun Belt, rated one of the nation's Top 5 baseball leagues at the time and consistently a Top 10 conference, would change his recruiting philosophy, Peterson quickly responded, "none at all." The 2001 Blue Raiders then went out and shared the Sun Belt championship with South Alabama during their first year in the high-profile league and the majority of the chief contributors were the same performers who led Middle Tennessee to the 2000 Ohio Valley Conference championship.
The move to a higher-rated conference has not hurt Middle Tennessee's status. If anything, it has helped. In its first four years in the Sun Belt, Peterson's teams have won two regular-season championships, a tournament championship and earned three NCAA Regional berths, including two at-large selections for the first time in school history. The 2001 squad earned national acclaim for its pitching and hitting and the season concluded with pitcher Dewon Brazelton being selected as the No. 3 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the Major League Baseball First-Year Amateur Player Draft. Brazelton was one of six players from the team to earn a spot on a professional baseball roster that season.
A program cannot enjoy consistent success without quality players and Peterson, a three-time Coach of the Year, has not only made a habit of making sure Middle Tennessee has its share of quality performers, but he's won by constantly signing prep players and developing them at the college level. The proof is in the fact Peterson has coached a Sun Belt Player of the Year and six OVC Players of the Year, a Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and an OVC Pitcher of the Year, a First-Team All-American, four Third-Team All-Americans, four Freshman All-Americans, and 35 first-team All-Conference performers.
Players who have honed their skills under Peterson also have had an outstanding rate of continuing their careers at the professional level. Professional baseball has seen 46 former Peterson performers earning the chance to play at the game's highest level, with four making their way to the Major Leagues.
If that's not enough, Peterson's recruits have established most of the offensive records held at Middle Tennessee and three players he has developed have hit .400 or better in a season, along with the school's single-season and career home run record holders. His 1997 squad established the all-time record for batting average with a .323 clip.
Peterson's players not only have been solid on the field at the collegiate level and continued their careers professionally, but a large majority have taken the skills and fundamentals learned at Middle Tennessee and are earning a living as coaches at various levels. Twenty-five former Blue Raiders are currently coaching at the high school, college or professional levels.
Peterson's peers have recognized his achievements and contributions to the game by bestowing several honors on him. He was named the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association College Coach of the Year in 1992 and again in 2000. He was also inducted into the Rutherford County Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. Fellow coaches have named Peterson Coach of the Year on three occasions - twice in the Ohio Valley and again in 2004, his first such honor in the Sun Belt.
Peterson's outgoing and personable personality has made him a hit with fans, boosters, players and recruits, alike. Baseball enthusiasts throughout the Middle Tennessee community clearly appreciate his hard-nosed and aggressive style of play, as fans continue to flock to Reese Smith Field at a record pace. The Blue Raiders established a single-game attendance record in 2001 at Reese Smith Field with a crowd of 2,733 against South Alabama. The team went on to set the single-season attendance mark with 26,218 coming through the gates at Reese Smith Field. The 2004 squad saw 15 crowds of 1,000 or more during the season. Those numbers were surpassed in 2004 when the team set a single-game attendance record of 3,020 against Vanderbilt, as well as setting a new single-season attendance mark of 30,319, ranking 46th nationally in attendance for the season. Fifteen contests drew more than 1,000 patrons during the record-setting campaign.
Not only has Peterson been a winner on the field, but he's been a successful fundraiser during his career as well. Events such as the annual Chuck Taylor Golf Tournament, the Groundhog Day Luncheon and the Grand Slam Fish Fry in the fall have become mainstays on calendars of Blue Raider baseball supporters across middle Tennessee and have served to raise thousands of dollars for the improvement of Blue Raider baseball.
Peterson spearheaded the efforts to pay for the construction of the Stephen B. Smith Clubhouse and Indoor Training Facility, which opened its doors in 1998. One look inside the facility shows the time and effort spent toward this endeavor. It has become known as one of the finest collegiate clubhouses and training facilities in the country.
Reese Smith Field also has benefited from Peterson's fundraising abilities. He has helped transform the park into a fan-friendly area by expanding the seating area, putting up a new information center just inside the gate, and expanding the restroom and concession facilities.
Peterson guided efforts during the summer of 2001 to expand the dugouts at Reese Smith Field. He also is currently spearheading an effort that would totally renovate the stadium. The plans would call for a significant remodeling of the concession stand, improve and expanded restroom facilities and a modern press box that would accommodate radio and television, along with print media.
While Peterson has spent 18 seasons leading the Middle Tennessee baseball program, his tenure with the program is much longer. He took two separate tours with the Blue Raiders as an assistant coach under John Stanford prior to becoming the team's head coach. During his runs between 1976-78 and 1985-87, the Blue Raiders won two OVC titles and four southern division crowns.
During the interim, Peterson served as the head coach at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tenn. During his tenure from 1979-84, Peterson's teams won a Tennessee state title in 1981 and he was twice named TJCAA Coach of the Year (1981, '84). While at Roane State, Peterson put together a sparkling record of 153-96, a .614 winning percentage.
A native of Huntsville, Ala., Peterson stood out as a catcher under the legendary Rudy Abbott at Jacksonville State. He earned his bachelor's from Jacksonville State in 1973 and later earned a master's from Middle Tennessee in 1977.
Peterson is married to the former Rita Albert and the couple has three children, Jill, Jenny and John, and one grandchild, Hayden Wright. Away from the diamond, Peterson enjoys fishing for smallmouth bass.