Oklahoma Wesleyan’s 2014 record-breaking baseball season came to an end last week, just one win shy of making the championship game. In their first-ever Avista NAIA World Series appearance the Eagles took home the third place trophy.
The team, led by head coach Matt Parker, finished its season with a 58-8 record. After an impressive 29 game winning streak late in the season, the Eagles managed to secure the most season wins by any NAIA team. OKWU took home both the conference and tournament championship titles.
“We were fortunate to have so many high character guys on our team. This group bought into our program, our University, and each other.” -Head Coach Matt Parker
Five Eagles were among those selected in the NAIA Baseball World Series All-Tournament team, which included Cody Riley, Jeff Butler, Garrett Easton, Diego Ibarra and Jose Ruiz. Riley is a senior first baseman from Temecula, CA. Butler is a junior infielder from Riverside, CA. Easton is a freshman outfielder from Arlington, TX. Ibarra is a junior pitcher from Riverside, CA. Ruiz is a senior outfielder from Barquisimeto, Venezuela.
“The awards won were direct reflections of all the hard work that they put in as individuals, but it was also a reflection of our team and our success,” Parker said.
Ruiz was instrumental in OKWU’s outstanding season. He was named the NAIA National Player of the Year, NCCAA National Player of the Year, MCAC Player of the Year, and a reoccurring Player of the Week recipient. In addition, the outfielder led the NAIA in RBIS (91) and runs scored (82).
“Ruiz’s growth over his four year career at OKWU has been fun to watch,” Parker said.
Butler was also a standout player this season and received the Charles Berry Hustle award.
“The Charles Berry Hustle award is the most coveted award at the World Series besides the national championship trophy,” Parker explained. “It is awarded to the player who plays the hardest at the World Series. I couldn’t think of a better winner than Jeff. He is the epitome of OKWU Baseball and what our program stands for.”
In addition to the top award, Butler was also an All-American Honorable Mention, First Team All-MCAC, CAC Gold Glove, and broke the World Series hit record. His legacy will also include hitting the game winning single in the bottom of the 12th inning of the Eagles game against Tabor in the World Series.
If you followed the Eagles record-breaking season you may have noticed three words repeatedly popping up on social media: Keep your fork. The fork story came from an article Parker read about a young woman who was battling terminal cancer. After she met with her pastor to discuss her final wishes she had a unique request. She asked to be buried with a fork in her hand. She explained to the pastor that when she was a young girl she would attend formal dinners with her grandmother. In between courses her grandmother would always remind everyone to remember to keep their fork. The young girl loved the reminder, knowing it meant dessert would be coming soon. She wanted the funeral congregation to be told this story and to understand that she was keeping her fork for something much sweeter, Heaven.
“Once I read that, we used it for our team both in the Christian aspect of our lives but also on the baseball side,” Parker said. “Fall practice is tough. At times the class work is tough. However, we told our guys that if we can keep our fork and do all of those things and do them well then we would have a shot at dessert. Needless to say our guys bought into the story and made it our motto for the year.”