Mark Calvi, South Alabama Jaguars

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Mark Calvi became the fifth head coach in South Alabama baseball history at the conclusion of the 2011 season, after spending the year as associate head coach/head coach in waiting, and begins his seventh season as Jaguar head coach in 2018. Calvi has led the Jaguars to four Sun Belt Conference championships in the last five years.

The Jaguars have returned to their roots under Calvi. After going the junior college route early in his tenure, which led to a 20-win improvement in his second campaign (in 2013), Calvi and the Jaguar coaching staff has focused on local products, including many who may have fallen under the radar or could be considered late bloomers. The approach has worked wonders, thanks in part to the program’s ability to recognize raw talent. The Jags responded by winning 37 games in 2015, 40 in 2016 and 42 last spring. USA also has appeared in regionals in each of the past two seasons, marking the first time in 15 years the program has achieved that feat.

South Alabama appears poised to build on its recent accomplishments, particularly with the return of  junior outfielder Travis Swaggerty, a potential first-round draft pick in June who put together an impressive showing this past summer for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. The Jaguars also have freshman JoJo Booker, the second-highest drafted player out of high school not to sign. Drafted by the Angels in the fifth round last June, the right-handed Booker throws in the low-to-mid 90s and should see activity early in his collegiate career.

In his first season at South Alabama, Calvi led the Jaguars to their highest Sun Belt Conference Tournament seed (No. 4) since the 2006 season. USA closed the 2012 campaign with consecutive wins over Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic to close the SBC Championship.

In just his second season at the helm, Calvi led the Jags to their 14th SBC championship and 25th NCAA Regional appearance after recording the program’s first 40-plus win season since 2003 and was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year and American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Diamond South Central Region Coach of the Year.

Seven Jags earned all-conference honors in 2013, and Jordan Patterson was named the SBC Player of the Year becoming just the sixth Jaguar in the program’s history to earn the honor. Patterson and Kyle Bartsch also earned ABCA South/Central all-region honors. Bartsch, Patterson, Nolan Earley and Dylan Stamey were selected in the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Patterson (4th round, 109th pick) became South Alabama’s highest draftee since Adam Lind was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the third round of the 2004 MLB Draft.

Calvi led USA to its 15th Sun Belt crown in 2015 en route to his second SBC Ron Maestri Coach of the Year award. He was also named the Large College Division-Division I Coach of the Year by the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association. Right-hander Kevin Hill was named the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, and became the program’s 27th All-American at the conclusion of the season. Center fielder Cole Billingsley was named first-team all-SBC, and received a 2015 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings Division I Gold Glove Award as one of three outfielders  named to the team. Right-hander Ben Taylor also earned first-team all-SBC honors as a relief pitcher, and was selected in the seventh round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox.

The Jags led the SBC in batting average (.285), on-base percentage (.376) and sacrifice flies (28), and finished second in the league in runs scored (328), hits (570) and stolen bases (80). The South Alabama pitching staff led the conference in ERA (3.22), strikeouts (474), runs allowed (221), earned runs allowed (188) and home runs allowed (22), and ranked second in innings pitched (526), wins (37) and fewest hits allowed (472).

USA also led the Sun Belt with a .978 fielding percentage, which ranked tied for 10th nationally and broke the program’s previous record of .972.

Calvi led the Jaguars to the program’s 16th Sun Belt title and 26th NCAA Regional appearance in 2016, and closed the season ranked No. 26 in the final Collegiate Baseball poll. USA went 42-22 and advanced to the NCAA Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional final. The Jags also broke the school’s single-season fielding percentage record for the second straight season with a league-leading mark of .979, which also ranked in the top 10 nationally. Calvi was named the 2016 Coach of the Year by the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association, the second time he has earned the honor at USA, following the season.

About the author, Bill

Bill Ballew has been involved with collegiate and professional baseball since 1983. He has been the Atlanta correspondent for Baseball America since 1991 and has served as the editorial content manager for Baseball The Magazine for more than five years. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).