Boise State

Boise State baseball is a field of dreams right now. This man's job is to build it

Gary Van Tol, Boise State's baseball coach, would love to see blue turf at the new baseball stadium. Plans are being drawn up for the facility and the first players will be arriving on campus this fall.
"The interesting has been overwhelming — in a good way," he said.
Gary Van Tol, Boise State's baseball coach, would love to see blue turf at the new baseball stadium. Plans are being drawn up for the facility and the first players will be arriving on campus this fall. "The interesting has been overwhelming — in a good way," he said.

Away from his temporary, closet-sized office at Boise State, Gary Van Tol’s desk at home is the family’s kitchen table.

His wife and children are sure to be careful not to put a slice of toast on a stray paper towel — it might have an important phone number on it.

“I’ve always got to be ready, so if it’s an old piece of mail or whatever’s handy, I’m going to use it,” said Van Tol, hired as Boise State’s baseball coach in November.

Without a place to play, a jersey to wear or even a ball to throw around, the lack of a proper office is the least of Van Tol's worries. As the only baseball staff member, he's as busy as any college coach in the country.

In between selling his vision to potential Broncos and boosters, he's also checking out fabric samples for team uniforms. It's an undertaking he knew wouldn’t be easy, but he relishes the chance to establish something, even to the smallest detail.

As the College World Series is being played, Van Tol is laying the groundwork for Boise State’s return to college baseball in 2020. His first crop of players will arrive in the fall, and he plans to have open tryouts for current students to bolster the initial roster.

The inaugural 2020 schedule is only two open weekends away from being filled, Van Tol said, with Texas Tech, one of the eight teams in the CWS, a possibility.

The Broncos have 13 players committed who will join in 2018 or 2019. Van Tol also has been in contact with a handful of potential Division I transfers.

“That says a lot about a guy that can recruit to a place that doesn’t have a team yet,” Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said. “He can talk about the dream, the culture he wants to create. He doesn’t just want to start a program, he wants it to be a good one. To me, that’s impressive and it justifies the reason he’s our head coach.”

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Plans are still being drawn up for a baseball stadium after Boise State announced it would field a baseball team in the 2020 season. The current preferred site would place the outfield near the corner of Denver Avenue and Belmont Street a block south of Albertsons Stadium. Darin Oswald

Van Tol hit the ground running after he was hired Nov. 28, picking up his first commitment Dec. 23: Rocky Mountain High’s Kase Ogata. Within days, he had dozens of calls from coaches looking to schedule the Broncos, recruits looking to play for the Broncos, or potential assistants wanting to coach the Broncos.

Reinforcements will come in the next few weeks as Van Tol is hoping to hire an assistant once the season is complete.

“The interest has been overwhelming, in a good way, from people interested in coming here to play or coach,” Van Tol said. “We’re getting into crunch time with all that, so those things are starting to come together, you’re seeing the program really moving ahead.”

Van Tol’s experience as a coach in the Chicago Cubs’ system helped draw Ogata to the program, he said. Van Tol spent 10 seasons as a minor league coach, including seven with the Boise Hawks. Ogata plays for a summer developmental team, the Idaho Cubs, of which Van Tol is president.

"Being part of that first class, there’s some responsibility there, but my No. 1 reason I’m excited to play at Boise State is to develop, and there’s no better opportunity to do that," Ogata said.

Van Tol said he learned a lot in the minors that could help his college players — he said he felt like he earned a master's degree after starting his coaching career in the college ranks. He's now the scouting department, hitting coach and manager all in one.

In college, the focus is on winning, but Van Tol feels that based on his pro experience, he can do that and make players better, even getting them ready for the pros. The focus in the minors was on steady development to get players ready for the majors.

He said his time in the Cubs' organization helps him "think outside the box," and he wants to give his players some control, noting that he had some pitchers who were high draft picks but couldn't call their own game when they reached the minors.

"I always wanted to be a Bronco, but knew if I wanted to play baseball it wasn’t going to happen. Thinking of a baseball field on campus is so amazing," Ogata said.

Ogata is one of three Idahoans committed to join the team this fall. The other two are Jayce Bailey (Coeur d'Alene) and Ike Buxton (Wood River High).

Van Tol said having that initial crop of players, who will not be on scholarship, will allow him to work out the kinks of a first-year training regimen, plus form a built-in leadership group when the roster expands to 30 in 2019 (the NCAA maximum is 35, of which 27 can receive financial assistance). The team will split 11.7 scholarships.

“They’ll set the tone,” Van Tol said. “I think we’ll look at this group 10 years from now and think about them as the grinders that laid the foundation.”

It has to be a gritty group, what with not being able to play in a game for more than a year, and having a ballpark that's just a concept.

Boise State intends to build a stadium a block south of Albertsons Stadium, bounded on the south side by Beacon Street. Van Tol and Apsey said it likely will seat approximately 2,000, with the possibility of expanding in hopes of hosting a future NCAA regional. There is no set minimum to host, but most that have hosted have 3,000 or more capacity.

The project needs State Board of Education approval and won’t be on the docket at next week’s meeting. It likely will take about a year to build once approved. There are currently university- and privately-owned buildings on the lot, so aiming to have it ready by spring 2020 is the goal, but a project like that must begin in the coming months.

“We need design, financing, all that to be approved to move forward ... but if we want it ready then, we've got to get moving on it soon," Apsey said.

Van Tol said at his introductory news conference that he wants blue turf on the field, and he still hopes to have it. It’s not a decision that is solely his, but he has plenty of support. With the unpredictable spring weather, the turf will be artificial no matter what. Van Tol is even looking at dirt that has an orange tint to really drive home the school's branding.

“We have one shot at it, and we want to do it right,” he said. “We have a chance to do something that can impact baseball in our area. It doesn’t have to be 10,000 seats with all the bling. ... I want tickets to be in demand.”

The current plan for the stadium includes an indoor batting cage that will allow work during imperfect weather, plus some unique twists, including a high-tech way to improve.

“I want to have the most comprehensive vision training lab in the country,” Van Tol said. “It’s a skill that requires eyes and hands. I don’t think we spend enough time training our eyes as we do pitching and hitting a baseball.”

Before Boise State's baseball team works on improving its physical vision, it still has that abstract vision guiding it. It's a department-wide one, too, but Van Tol is the mastermind. From training to the jerseys and that eventual home field, it's slowly coming together, and plenty of people are taking the leap with confidence.

“He wants guys that are going to bleed blue, and I trust in his vision,” Ogata said. “It’s a really exciting time.”