There are many words to describe Steve Peterson’s role 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 describe the Blue Raiders’ longtime skipper, try “winner.”
Peterson begins his 25th season as the school’s all-time winningest coach, with 760 victories and a stockpile of conference championships and NCAA Tournament berths to his credit, demonstrating the consistency with which the driven captain has guided the club.
Peterson’s drive for excellence has resulted in consistent success and has made Middle Tennessee a model program. The veteran coach has led Middle Tennessee to 11 regular-season conference championships, nine conference tournament titles, and nine NCAA Regional berths including two at-large selections in the past seven 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 2012 season with a sterling 760-609-3 mark, has produced 15 seasons with 30 or more wins, including a school-record 44 victories in 2009. He also has four campaigns of at least 40 wins, including 2009’s 44-18 record.
Consistent success during Peterson’s tenure is a testament to his ability to recruit and develop talent, and the proof was never more evident than in 2001 – the Blue Raiders’ first season in 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 five baseball leagues at the time and consistently a top 10 conference, would change his recruiting philosophy, Peterson quickly responded “Not at all.” The 2001 Blue Raiders shared the Sun Belt championship with South Alabama after their first year in the high-profile league, and the chief contributors were many of the same players who led Middle Tennessee to the 2000 OVC championship.
The move to a higher-rated conference certainly helped Middle Tennessee’s status. In their first five years in the Sun Belt, Peterson’s teams won two regular-season championships and 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 also won by signing top prep players and developing them at the college level. He 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, two First-Team All-Americans, five Third-Team All-Americans, four Freshman All-Americans, and 43 first-team All-Conference performers.
Players who have honed their skills under Peterson also have had outstanding success continuing their careers at the professional level. Professional baseball has seen 56 former Peterson performers earning the chance to play at the game’s highest level, with four making their way to the Major Leagues.
Peterson’s recruits have established most of the offensive records held at Middle Tennessee and seven players he has developed have hit .400 or better in a season. He has also coached the school’s single-season and career home run record holders. His 2009 squad established the all-time record for batting average with .340.
Peterson’s players have been solid on the field at the collegiate level and have continued their careers professionally, and a large majority have taken skills and fundamentals learned at Middle Tennessee and are earning a living as coaches at various levels. Thirty-one 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, 2000 and 2009. Peterson received his first ABCA Region Coach of the Year honor in 2009 after guiding the Blue Raiders in their record breaking season. He was also inducted into the Rutherford County Old Timers Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2007, Peterson was inducted into the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Huntsville-Madison County (AL) Athletic Hall of Fame in April of 2009. In the fall of 2010, Peterson was inducted into the Blue Raider Hall of Fame by Middle Tennessee State University.
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 style 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 coaching, and 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 that year with 26,218 coming through the gates. The 2001 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 and set a new single-season attendance mark of 30,319, ranking 46th nationally. 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 also been a successful fundraiser during his career. 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 raised 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 Jr. Field has also benefited from Peterson’s fundraising abilities. He has helped transform the park into a fan-friendly area by leading efforts to expand the seating area, add an information center just inside the gate, and improve restroom and concession facilities.
Peterson guided efforts during the summer of 2001 to enlarge the dugouts at Reese Smith Field. He also spearheaded a capital campaign to do significant remodeling of the concession stand, improve and expand restroom facilities, and added a modern press box to accommodate radio, television, and print media. While Peterson has spent 23 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 before becoming the team’s head coach. During 1976-78 and 1985-87, he helped the Blue Raiders win two OVC titles and four Southern Division crowns.
During the interim, Peterson served as head coach at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tenn. During his tenure from 1979 to 1984, 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 for 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 four grandchildren. Away from the diamond, Peterson enjoys fishing for smallmouth bass.