Taylor, McClellan and Munoz have their sights set on the only accolade that eluded them last summer: a Texas Collegiate League championship
The staff that took the East Texas Pump Jacks to new heights in 2011 will return for the team’s fifth anniversary season.
Perhaps you could say they have unfinished business.
Head coach Ben Taylor, pitching coach Robbie McClellan and assistant coach Ruben Munozled the Pump Jacks to a regular season mark of 40-19 in 2011. The Jacks rolled into the playoffs after sweeping both the first- and second-half division titles, the only TCL club ranked among the top-25 summer collegiate teams in the country according to Perfect Game’s national poll.
The summer came to a halt in the first round of the playoffs, though, when the Brazos Valley Bombers stunned the Jacks in the first round of the postseason.
The defeat didn’t dampen Taylor’s spirits, nor his enthusiasm for coaching the Pump Jacks.
"I've said it before, but I can't say it enough, there is no place I would rather be in the summer than in East Texas managing the Pump Jacks,” said Taylor. “To be able to come to beautiful Driller Park every night and play in front of our fans is an experience like no other!”
Pump Jacks general manager Mike Lieberman was equally excited about the staff’s return.
“Ben has helped build a model program in East Texas,” said Lieberman. “From the moment he got here, the Pump Jacks became not just one of the best teams in the TCL, but one of the top organizations in the country. Robbie and Ruben only further demonstrate the commitment to our players and our fans.
“We couldn’t be happier to have all three coaches back for our fifth anniversary season.”
As he prepares to embark on his fourth campaign in East Texas, Taylor is the league’s elder statesman among coaches. The 2011 TCL Coach of the Year enters the summer with a career record of 98-56 guiding the Pump Jacks, good for a .636 winning percentage. Taylor is not only two wins shy of 100 victories as a head coach, but he is the same margin away from tying the TCL record for most career coaching wins. Brent Alumbaugh compiled 100 regular season wins in four full seasons with the Bombers.
The Pump Jacks climbed the Perfect Game rankings all summer, peaking at #8 in late July. The team finished #22 in the summer’s final poll, quite an achievement considering Perfect Game analyzes more than 250 summer collegiate teams in compiling its rankings.
The team’s achievements, both last summer and throughout Taylor’s tenure, don’t end with wins and losses. A league-high 11 East Texas players were selected to participate in the 2011 TCL All-Star Game, an event Taylor managed in for the second straight season. At season’s end, four Pump Jacks were named to the All-TCL team, again leading the league.
Perfect Game named five Jacks in its annual list of the top-ten professional prospects in the TCL. Only two other teams in the 22 leagues Perfect Game surveyed had more such prospects than East Texas. Baseball America was nearly as complimentary, listing four Pump Jacks in its list of the top-ten prospects in the league, a figure bested by only four teams out of the 20 leagues it reviewed.
In fact, since Taylor arrived in East Texas three seasons ago, no other team in the TCL has had more All-TCL players or top prospects than the Pump Jacks. The Jacks also boast the last three players to be named TCL Freshman of the Year: Matt Juengel in 2009, Zac Fisher in 2010, and Hunter Dozier last season.
With McClellan returning for his third summer in Kilgore, and Munoz back for his second, Taylor was quick to point out the team’s leadership advantage.
“Continuity on your coaching staff is a luxury many managers don't have,” Taylor observed. “I am very lucky to have my right hand man and pitching coach [McClellan] back at my side, and an outstanding young coach and former player [Munoz] manning the third base coach’s box and working with our infielders.
“These two guys put in tireless hours into developing our players, and they understand how important the ‘Pump Jack way’ is.”
The three have bonds that extend beyond summers in East Texas. After two seasons together with the Pump Jacks, Taylor joined McClellan on the staff at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Taylor is the team’s hitting coach, McClellan its pitching coach. Munoz played for Taylor for two seasons at Scottsdale Community College.
Under McClellan’s tutelage, the East Texas pitching staff posted a regular season ERA of 2.86 in 2011, best in the league by more than a half-run. The Jacks had the second-best ERA in 2010 at 3.12. In those two years, McClellan’s hurlers landed four of the six pitching slots on the All-TCL teams, and pitcher Dusty Rossset a new league single-season saves record.
Taylor has already dropped some hints about who he expects to take the field for the team’s fifth anniversary season. He believes several players will return, but for the most part fans will see a brand-new Pump Jacks team. He’s proud to have made inroads into the Southeastern Conference, which includes the winners of the last three College World Series. Fans should again see players from perennial contenders Texas A&M and Arizona State, and they should look for a Longhorn to return to the roster for the first time since the Jacks’ inaugural season. Several previously drafted players will help represent no fewer than eight different conferences on the roster.
Fans who want to catch Taylor, McClellan and Munoz as they guide the team in its fifth anniversary campaign can purchase season tickets right now. Lower Box seats, which include in-you-seat wait service, are just $199 each, and Upper Box seats are $150. Grandstand season tickets are $105 for adults and $85 for children and seniors. Fans who purchase their season tickets and pay in full by March 15 will receive a free limited edition T-shirt for every seat they buy! Click here for more information on Pump Jacks season tickets.
To follow all the news about the roster, promotions for the coming season and even fifth anniversary merchandise, visit the team’s official web site at www.pumpjacksbaseball.com. You can also interact with other members of Pump Jacks Nation by visiting the Jacks on Facebook and Twitter.