365 days ago, the East Texas Pump Jacks were born. Today, the team opened its second chapter by announcing that Ben Taylor will succeed Stan Phelps as head coach for the Pump Jacks’ 2009 season.
“I am extremely, extremely excited to be a part of this organization and to be the skipper of this team,” Taylor said in a phone interview from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It’s a great opportunity and it’s very special.”
Taylor is entering his sixth season at Scottsdale Community College and his fourth year as the Artichokes’ associate head coach. He is the hitting instructor and recruiting coordinator for a program that is nationally ranked this pre-season, just two years after finishing third at the NJCAA World Series.
For the last three years, Taylor has also served as the hitting coach for the San Luis Obispo Blues, a successful summer collegiate team near the California coast. The Blues finished the 2008 season with a 50-15 record, earning a national ranking from PGCrossChecker.com and Baseball America. In fact, the Blues won 135 games versus just 61 losses during Taylor’s three years in San Luis Obispo.
It was more than just numbers that attracted Pump Jacks officials to Taylor, though.
“Ben’s experience is substantial, but it was his enthusiasm and energy that really pushed him over the top,” said Jacks general manager Mike Lieberman. “When you talk to him you just want to grab a bat and head to the plate!
“His success with young players from very diverse backgrounds was important, as was his ability to recruit players on a nationwide scale. We’re confident Ben Taylor represents the next step in the evolution of the Pump Jacks into a championship organization.”
The diversity of Taylor’s experience can be seen in the roles he has undertaken outside of the Artichokes and Blues. For instance, he has served as an associate scout since 2003, first for the San Diego Padres and currently for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Taylor is also the catching coordinator for the Chinese National Team when it trains stateside in Scottsdale, a post he’s held since 2005. He created a catcher’s development program for the team as it prepared for the inaugural World Baseball Classic. His efforts helped a pair of Chinese backstops earn professional contracts, with the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners, becoming the first two players from mainland China to sign with American organizations.
The success of his players is nothing new to Taylor, who has coached four All-Americans at Scottsdale. In addition, 26 of his Artichokes hitters have gone on to sign professional contracts.
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Taylor graduated high school in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he was recruited by Oregon State. He transferred to Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash., where he helped lead the Red Devils to back-to-back conference championships. Taylor finished his collegiate playing days in the Ark-La-Tex, spending two seasons with Centenary College in Shreveport.
Taylor takes over for Phelps, who captured the TCL Coach of Year award in the Pump Jacks’ inaugural season. Despite getting a late start on recruiting in 2008, Phelps guided East Texas to a third-place finish and the playoffs. His recruiting class included four TCL All-Stars, more than every other team except the league-champion McKinney Marshals. However, because of increased commitments to the University of Texas-Tyler, where he is pitching coach, Phelps notified the Pump Jacks that he would be unable to return for another summer.
“Introducing Ben gets us excited about the 2009 season, but we have to tip our cap to Stan for the work he did last year,” Lieberman said. “He accepted the challenge of building a program from scratch and he did an incredible job. Stan established the foundation upon which the Pump Jacks are being built.”
“I’m just trying to build on what Coach [Phelps] did,” added Taylor. “Because at the end of the day, he will always be the first head coach of the Pump Jacks.”
The recruiting process for the 2009 season is well under way, with player commitments coming from across the country. Taylor is expected to tap his resources out west, bringing more players to East Texas and the TCL from that area of the country. Still, Pump Jacks fans can look forward to players from familiar places like Rice, LSU, University of Texas-Arlington, Texas A&M, and other Big 12 programs.
The 2009 season is scheduled to begin on Friday, June 5, when the Pump Jacks host the league’s newest team, the Victoria Generals. The 48-game regular season will run through August 8, to be followed by the playoffs and TCL Championship Series.