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Ritchie leaves Pirates to coach at GW
BY STEVE DeSHAZO
Gregg Ritchie has always prided himself on the relationships he’s built with the baseball players he’s instructed for a quarter century.
There was one very important group the Stafford County didn’t get to spend as much time with as he’d have liked, though: his family.
That’s why Ritchie took the unusual step of resigning as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hitting coach to become head coach at his alma mater, George Washington University. The school introduced him Thursday.
“It’s almost like a perfect storm,” Ritchie said. “It’s the perfect alignment. It’s like the completion
of a dream, to come back to the place you played, the place you love. I don’t know how many people get a chance to do that. Not many.”
Ritchie, 48, was an All-America outfielder at G.W. and set a school record with a .479 batting average as a senior in 1986. He was inducted into the Colonials’ athletic hall of fame in 1999.
He also met his wife, Kelly, at G.W. But his career kept him away from her and their four children for two-thirds of every year.
Now, while still following his professional passion, “I get to work on being a better father and husband,” he said.
The Ritchies plan to keep their home in Stafford. Their two oldest children, Kaetlin (20) and Logan (19) attend George Mason University in Fairfax, while daughters Riley (14) and Arizona (12) attend Stafford schools.
George Washington “is where we went,” Kelly Ritchie said. “That in itself is poetic. It’s the perfect opportunity for him, with two of the kids still at home, as far as participating in their lives and catching up.”
At George Washington, Ritchie will team up with former University of Mary Washington coach Tom Sheridan. Ritchie volunteered as an assistant fall-season coach on Sheridan’s early UMW teams in the late 1980s, and the two have had a close association since.
Sheridan resigned from UMW in August after 25 seasons to become the Colonials’ associate head coach, keeping the seat warm for Ritchie until the Pirates’ season ended last week.
“I wasn’t looking for a job. It wasn’t even on my radar,” Sheridan said. “But we know each other very well. And when someone with major-league credentials has that much trust in you, you have to consider it.
“His passion about baseball is obvious, and he honestly cares about people. And he’s a tremendously hard worker.”
After a 10-year minor-league playing career—reaching the Triple-A level but never the majors—Ritchie became a hitting coach. He worked in the Chicago White Sox’s minor-league system for another decade, then joined the Pirates as minor-league hitting coordinator in 2006.
He was named major-league hitting coach in 2011 and is credited with the development of many of Pittsburgh’s best hitters—including all-star outfielder Andrew McCutcheon, whose swing he helped overhaul.
The major leagues had always been Ritchie’s holy grail, first as a player, then as a coach. That’s why many were surprised when word circulated that Ritchie was considering leaving the Pirates—talk he refused to address during the season. He issued a non-denial in August, saying only, “I’m a Pirate.”
He said that the decision was difficult and that “a few jaws dropped” when he told his players after last week’s final game. But having reached the majors actually left him with no regrets.
“All the best decisions you make are the toughest decisions,” he said.
And, as his wife said: “I don’t know that he’ll never go back there, but he’s achieved what he wanted to, and this opportunity came up.”
His new job brings some challenges. George Washington fired former coach Steve Mrowka in April after eight years—the last seven with losing records.
Second-year athletic director Patrick Nero has espoused a commitment to improvement that includes a recent renovation of the school’s home field, Barcroft Park, in the Foggy Bottom area of D.C. Ritchie said when he played, G.W. didn’t even have a home field, splitting its games between the Ellipse and at Georgetown University’s field.
Ritchie—who has tutored young batters in the off-season for years and patented the “Hitter’s Seat” training device, has no experience recruiting. But, as Sheridan said, “If you’re a position player, why wouldn’t you want to work with a major-league coach? It’s a no-brainer.”
Or, as Ritchie put it: “I love a challenge. Now let’s see if we can get excellence.”
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443