Rex Peters gets into the swing of Aggie baseball

In his first season coaching the UC Davis baseball squad, Peters has spent time getting to know the people and players behind Aggie baseball.

The game he already knows.

“Baseball parallels life in so many ways,” Peters said.

That big-picture sense along with a focus on detail is what Peters brings to his student ballplayers. Hired in June 2002 to replace Phil Swimley, who had guided the Aggies for 37 years, Peters had most recently served as head coach for nine seasons at Chapman University in Southern California where he had a 258-130 overall record. He led the Panthers to three appearances in the NCAA Division III College World Series, including a third-place finish in 2000, and coached several All-Americans along the way.

A Colorado native, Peters spent four years playing in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization after being drafted by the club in the 22nd round of the 1989 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. He advanced as high as Double-A San Antonio. In 1989, his first minor league season, he was named the Most Valuable Player for the Salem Dodgers.

Peters graduated from California State Univeristy, Fullerton, in 1989 with a bachelor’s in physical education while also playing baseball there. He was an All-America honorable mention for the Titans, helping lead them to a third-place finish at the 1988 NCAA Division I College World Series. Peters earned his master’s degree in education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He married Michelle Snow in 1990 and the couple have three children — two daughters and a son.

What’s your goal for the season ahead?

We want to compete in the California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. We have to be patient, though, as there is a new staff and these guys are learning a new system, which makes it understandable if we have some problems early on. We have the potential, though, to have a sensational season.

What do you like best and least about your job?

Working with the kids, especially the ones who are goal-oriented on the field and in the classroom. We’re helping them build skills for later in life. I don’t like the administrative paperwork and inevitable bureaucracy that comes with running a program. It’s important to handle these duties, but I’d rather be on the field with the kids.

What’s something others might find surprising about you?

Though I played in the Dodgers’ minor league system, I’m more of a San Francisco Giants fan than a Dodger fan. My wife is the sister of Giants first baseman J.T. Snow, and I have a lot of other ties to the Giants. I like their approach of playing hard every day, and I’ve always admired former manager Dusty Baker and their new pilot Felipe Alou.

Read any good books lately?

I’m reading In Pursuit of Excellence: How to Win in Sport and Life Through Mental Training. One of the books we encourage our players to read is Heads-up Baseball, which provides strategies for developing such skills as concentration, mental preparation and staying in control under pressure. We spend a lot of time talking with our kids about these issues, which are transferable from the baseball diamond to adult life.

What’s the hardest challenge for a young ballplayer?

Mastering the mental aspect of the game. It comes down too concentration and consistency. One has to overcome failure in this game, because a good player will fail seven times out of 10 trips to the plate. It’s not like other sports in this regard.

We teach our athletes how to handle the down times as well as the good times. Being prepared through plenty of structured training is the best foundation for meeting this challenge. What they learn in our program they can use the rest of their lives.

Who’s your all-time favorite baseball player?

I was a first baseman when I played. That’s why I liked Steve Garvey, Keith Hernandez and Mark Grace. These were remarkable players in terms of all-around consistency on both offensive and defensive levels. And they were also renowned “clutch” guys who always seemed to deliver a key hit or snare in the field when the game was on the line.

What’s your biggest challenge as a new coach?

Getting 30 to 35 young ballplayers familiar with a new system, one that puts an emphasis on structured training, discipline, timeliness and the mental preparation I’ve already noted. There’s always an adjustment period when a new coach comes in. It’s running smoothly.

Why do people like baseball?

It has rhythms and patterns similar to life. Like our daily routines, we play a game almost every day. If you have a bad game, well, you have tomorrow to make up for it. Smart ballplayers learn how to deal with the inevitable trials and tribulations without getting distracted. I think it’s a game we all relate to in instinctive ways.

How would you describe yourself as a coach?

I’m not the yelling and screaming type. I’m calm, maintain an even keel and try not to get too high or low. My goal is to teach the kids — through lots of practice — and then let them play. Our practices may be harder than our games. The season runs January to May.

What about the future of collegiate baseball?

College baseball is getting better every year. The coaching ranks are upgrading, the kids are getting bigger and stronger, and the training methods are improving. Professional teams increasingly realize the value of signing ballplayers with college educations.

What are your thoughts on the D-I move?

UC Davis’ entry into Division I athletics will certainly give the baseball program a higher visibility. We’ll attract even better athletes to a degree. It’s true we’ll face tougher competition in the Big West Conference, which has some real solid baseball teams. But that’s exactly what we want as a baseball team — to play the best competition around, and to be confident and consistent when doing so. That’s the mental part of it, and that’s how we get better. •

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