After six years of work and prayer, Bob Jones University is bringing back baseball and introducing softball to its spring sports lineup. The addition of these teams is part of the BJU Bruins’ pursuit of NCAA Division III membership.
BJU hasn’t had an official baseball team since the Swamp Angels played in Florida during the early 1930s. The new teams are returning BJU to its sporting roots. But starting a new athletics program has its challenges.
Following a Dream
Since he came to BJU, director of athletics Dr. Neal Ring looked forward to starting baseball and softball programs. “When I first got hired, baseball was on my list of things to do, and coach [Brent] Casteel was on my prayer list,” says Ring. “I prayed for almost six years so God would allow him [Casteel] to come and start a baseball program.”
Not long after the approval of the programs, Ring was able to hire Casteel as head coach for the baseball team. Casteel is a BJU alumnus with years of experience on the field. At age 19, he was signed to play professionally with the Chicago Cubs and has pursued the game in different avenues even after his playing years.
Recruiting with a Vision
As head coach of the baseball program, Casteel’s main concern is recruitment. The baseball team should generate from 25 to 30 new students, but not having existing stats, equipment or a home field complicates the recruitment process. It’s hard to sell a vision. “You need student athletes who are willing to, in a sense, take a little bit of a risk,” says Ring. The coaches are looking for athletes with a “pioneering spirit,” willing to set a foundation.
Sharing a Field
Casteel is building on the foundation the other BJU Bruins teams have built over the past six years. But the new teams face complications. The baseball and softball programs bring in a new dynamic because they take the players off campus.
The baseball team will share the Conestee Park field with other teams, which creates scheduling difficulties. But the situation opens a door for the University to reach the greater Greenville area. “This is an opportunity for us to do something positive for the community,” says Ring. The field is across from a Little League complex, giving the team an opportunity to connect with the community.
Since the Greenville Braves left Conestee Park, the facilities haven’t been the same. Bringing the stadium to collegiate level will take time and money. Fundraising is a hard job, but Ring says he’s ready “for rolling up the sleeves.”
Currently, the athletics team is working with the Greenville County Parks, Recreation & Tourism Board to face the political obstacles and raise the funds needed for the remodeling. The effort benefits both BJU and Greenville because better facilities will attract higher level tournaments, increasing sports tourism in the county.
Spreading the Word
Casteel says the hardest part of starting the program is not searching for players or finding the right venue, but “letting people know that we have baseball at Bob Jones University.” Spreading the word will create awareness and help attract players. Casteel says he’s been letting his own contacts know, but making new connections is key. According to the coach, 45 young men showed up to the first recruitment meeting, and they are sharing the news as well.
The team will play its first season in spring 2021, but there’s a lot to do until then. Casteel says the process is helping him become more patient. “We are truly waiting for the Lord to direct every step.”