LMU will conclude the road portion of the WCC schedule this weekend at Portland.
Having established himself as one of the most respected collegiate coaches in the nation, Frank Cruz is in his 12th season directing the LMU baseball program. Cruz turned the program into an instant winner, claiming three consecutive West Coast Conference Championships (the first time in school history), two Coast Division titles, and earning three straight appearances in the NCAA Regionals from 1998-2000. Cruz, who was selected by USA Baseball as head coach of the 2004 national team, just completed a four-year term on the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee.
Cruz enters the 2008 season ranking eighth all-time and second among active coaches in the West Coast Conference in career victories with 306 wins as LMU's skipper.
Joining the Lions in 1997, Cruz's impact on the WCC was almost immediate. In his first season at the helm, he took a team that finished sixth in the conference with an overall record of 21-39 to three straight first-place finishes. That includes finishes of 34-23-1 in 1998, 33-28 in 1999, and 40-19 in 2000. The 40 wins ranks fourth all-time at LMU for victories in a single-season. The success in 2000 earned Cruz his second WCC Coach of the Year honor, following his first in 1998.
In just the second season under Cruz, the Lions won the WCC title and earned a trip to the NCAA Regionals in 1998, where they shocked the baseball world by upsetting No. 2-ranked Stanford in Palo Alto thanks in part to a complete game effort by freshman Michael Schultz. Schultz and catcher Scott Walter were named Freshmen All-Americans, and Schultz earned a spot on the West Regional team after helping LMU defeat Stanford for the first time in school history. Walter was the 1998 WCC Player of the Year, while Schultz garnered WCC Pitcher of the Year honors.
The Lions found themselves in the Regionals again in 1999 and 2000, as Cruz has led LMU to eight NCAA Regional games in just seven years. In 1999, LMU defended its WCC Championship against Pepperdine, winning its first back-to-back conference title in school history. Traber and Anthony Angel each earned first-team All-WCC honors, with Traber posting a team-high 135 strikeouts in 120.0 innings. The selection marked Angel's second straight all-conference honor after he hit .322 with 16 doubles, four home runs, and 38 RBI.
Behind the efforts of All-American Traber in 2000, LMU earned a 6-4 NCAA postseason win over No.2-seed Cal State Fullerton. Traber's complete game, 13-strikeout performance advanced the Lions to the Regional winner's bracket. Walter joined Traber as an All-American after leading LMU to its third-straight WCC Championship.
The rise in the WCC is a tribute to Cruz's reputation as one of the nation's top recruiters. In 1997, Collegiate Baseball tabbed Cruz as the Recruiter of the Year. He accomplished that honor after formulating the nation's 16th best recruiting class which included 2000's 16th overall draft pick in Traber.
In 2004, Cruz led an LMU squad that was picked to finish fourth in the conference to LMU's best WCC record in eight seasons, going a league-best 20-7 en route to his third WCC Coach of the Year selection. The Coast Division Champions, LMU earned the right to host the WCC Championship Series at Page Stadium. Lion pitcher Stephen Kahn brought the WCC Pitcher of the Year selection to LMU for the second time in four seasons, as Billy Traber won the conference award in 2000.
The 2005 season was another thriller for LMU fans, who watched Cruz and the Lions string together one exciting twist after another. The Lions posted six consecutive Tuesday victories, including an April 5th win over top-ranked Cal State Fullerton. The victory over the Titans marked the first time any LMU sport had ever defeated the nation's top team. The mid-week streak sparked Cruz and the Lions to the hottest regular season finish in program history, as they won 14 of their final 16 games to earn their second straight Coast Division title. LMU hosted the WCC Championship Series for the fourth time in seven seasons, with all three games televised live on Fox Sports Net.
Cruz's tireless efforts also helped him earn a position as an assistant coach with the 2000 USA National Baseball program. The team wrapped up the 2000 Qwest Red, White and Blue Tour with a 27-3-1 record, including a 6-0 mark in the final tournament of the summer season leading to the 2000 Olympics in Australia.
Cruz helped lead Team USA to finish the season with a 21-game unbeaten streak which included 20 wins and one tie. Cruz and the Team USA coaches led the National Team to a .900 winning percentage, the best in USA Baseball history.
His success with the 2000 National Team led to his 2004 selection as head coach of Team USA. Cruz led the 2004 USA Baseball National Team of collegiate players to the program's first gold medal at the FISU World University Championships in Tainan, Taiwan. Cruz and Team USA went a perfect 6-0 in round robin pool play and then defeated Chinese Taipei (5-2) and Japan (4-2) to capture the gold medal. The Americans entered the championship with a 10-7 record, but then won eight straight in Taiwan and 12 of their last 14 under Cruz.
The USA captured the gold with a combined dominating performance at the plate, on the mound, and in the field. Cruz's offense led the eight-team field hitting .307. His pitching staff was nearly untouchable, combining for an 1.19 ERA and striking out 83 batters in 68.0 innings. For continuing a tradition of excellence within the national program, Cruz was named 2004 USA Baseball Developmental Coach of the Year. The International Baseball Federation then named him International Coach of the Year, selecting Cruz from a pool of managers from all 112 participating member countries and all team levels. The award is a special honor in a year of Olympic competition, as Cruz was chosen from a pool that included all nations' Olympic baseball coaches. Cruz became just the fourth American coach to receive the selection, and the first since 1995. He is the only Team USA coach to win the award in an Olympic year. In 20 years of national team competition, USA Baseball has now won five gold medals. In his two stints with the national team, Cruz has played a role in two of those five gold medals. He is now one of just three coaches to be a part of multiple gold-medal-winning squads and is the first USA Baseball National Team Head Coach to be affiliated with the West Coast Conference. Kahn joined Cruz on the award-winning national team in 2004.
Other accomplishments for Cruz include coaching MLB's top prospects. Benny Craig (19th round, Cincinnati Reds) kicked-off the now common development of post-collegiate career for Cruz's players when he was selected following Cruz's first season at LMU. Matt Riordan (14th round, Baltimore Orioles) and Curt Fiore (34th round, Atlanta Braves) followed in Craig's footsteps when they were selected in the 1999 MLB draft. Joe Sulentor also signed with the Minnesota Twins following his 1999 season. Six players were then selected in the 2000 draft, including Traber (first round, New York Mets), Schultz (second round, Arizona Diamondbacks), Walter (third round, Kansas City Royals), Jason Aspito (ninth round, Chicago White Sox), Angel (14th round, Houston Astros) and current LMU assistant coach Benny Bonilla (free agent, Arizona Diamondbacks). Two more were taken in 2001, with C.J. Wilson (5th Round, Texas Rangers) and James Clelland (free agent, Montreal Expos) moving to the next level of their playing careers. The 2005 season saw Wilson make his major league debut with the Rangers.
The 2003 draft saw four more draft selections for Cruz and the Lions: Joshua Muecke (fifth round, Houston Astros), Josh Whitesell (sixth round, Montreal Expos), Vince Cordova (ninth round, New York Mets), and Ryan Yurek (24th round, Houston Astros). Following the 2004 season, Will Quaglieri signed with the New York Mets pre-draft as a fifth-year senior, just before Kevin Jenson (30th round, San Francisco Giants) and Billy Lockin (37th round, Arizona Diamondbacks) added to the list of drafted Lions. Jonathan Higashi (Texas Rangers), Brady Koch (Houston Astros), and Clint McGill (Houston Astros) also signed professional contracts as the Class of 2004.
With three players drafted in the first 10 rounds, the 2005 season saw a total of six Lions move on to professional baseball. Kahn was the highest of all WCC players selected, going to the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round. Jeff Stevens was a sixth round selection of Cincinnati, while James Cooper was taken in the ninth round by the New York Yankees. Joe Frazee signed with Philadelphia after being chosen the 25th round, while Kyle Mura was selected in the 49th round by the Chicago Cubs. Mura elected to return to the Lions for his senior campaign. Kyle Huddy also went on to sign with the Cincinnati Reds.
More recently, Chris Pettit (19th round, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) and Mura (42nd round, Saint Louis Cardinals) signed professional contracts following their four-year LMU careers in 2006. Pettit was named a minor league all-star his first two seasons and the 2007 Angels Minor League Player of the Year. Also in 2007, Eric Farris (fourth round, Milwaukee Brewers), Brad Meyers (fifth round, Washington Nationals), and DeAndre Miller (24th round, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) joined the professional ranks.
During his 11 seasons, Cruz's teams have set many single-season records. In 2000, his squad made its mark in the LMU record book with home runs (81, 2nd all-time), hits (702, 3rd all-time), doubles (132, 3rd all-time), runs (516, 5th all-time), wins (40, 4th all-time), winning percentage (.678, 4th all-time) and batting average .331, 4th all-time). Many of his players have broken into a variety of single-season and all-time record categories in both the LMU and WCC record books. The 2006 squad was one of LMU's top-3 defensive teams of all time, registering a .970 team fielding percentage.
One of the keys in the drastic turnaround has been Cruz's involvement in the improvements of LMU's baseball facilities. The six-time conference champions enjoy one of the most noteable enhancements to Page Stadium, the Mikos Blue Monster. The massive left-field wall makes the ballpark one of the most unique in all of college baseball. In addition, the team has been playing on a new grass infield, and the stadium was equipped with backstop netting, windscreens, a sound system, backstop padding, astroturf dugouts, and lighted batting tunnels.
During the winter of 2003, Cruz initiated the renovation of the baseball weight room. The room, which features wall-to-wall mirrors and new equipment, displays program and individual honors, including past conference player/pitcher of the year recipients. The improvements encourage LMU players to reach that level of excellence.
Cruz also oversaw the construction of Pride Park, the new entrance to Page Stadium, beginning in May 2004. The park, resembling a scaled down baseball infield, recognizes alumni and friends of LMU baseball and provides fans with a gathering point for athletic events at LMU. Pride Park features a brick infield with commemorative benches surrounding the area. LMU baseball's WCC Championship teams, NCAA tournament appearances, and those players who have had jersey numbers retired are recognized on the benches.
Cruz didn't stop there, turning his efforts toward LMU baseball's latest project: a baseball training den. With construction underway, the 8,000 square foot training den will feature three hitting tunnels, pitching mounds, and a baseball strength/weight room. The facility will be completed in the winter of 2007.
Named to his current post on June 20, 1996, Cruz has employed a highly successful coaching and teaching philosophy from his experience as a high school coach and a former assistant coach under Mike Gillespie at USC. Prior to coming to LMU, Cruz spent four seasons as an assistant on the USC coaching staff. Cruz's primary responsibilities were with the Trojan hitters and outfielders, two of the team's strongest areas. In Cruz's four years at Southern California, the Trojans were one of the most successful programs in the nation, boasting an overall record of 169-86-1 (.662). During that span, USC made four NCAA Regional final appearances, captured two Pacific-10 championships, and advanced to the 1995 College World Series championship game.
Cruz moved to USC after a successful stint at Los Angeles' University High School, where he taught health and physical education. While at University, Cruz posted a 152-68 career record and led his team to the 1988 L.A. City baseball title, four Western League crowns (1988-90-91-92), and six trips to the city baseball playoffs. Cruz was honored as area Coach of the Year on three occasions. He remained a part-time teacher through the 1995-96 academic year.
Cruz attended Santa Monica College and then transferred to Pepperdine, where he earned both a bachelors (physical education, 1983) and masters (education, 1989) degree. He is a graduate of Saint Monica High School and resides in West Los Angeles.