University of St. Thomas Baseball has a tradition of excellence and success. The roots of Tommie Baseball can be traced to the founding of the university in 1885 when baseball became the first official team on campus as an intramural sport. Originally the Tommies were called the "Blues" and "Grays" until varsity sports became official in 1904.
Since joining the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) in 1920, the Tommies have won a league-best 36 regular-season championships. The Toms have also captured 10 of the 18 MIAC tournament titles contested since the format began in 2000.
St. Thomas has reached the NCAA Regional playoffs 21 times, including 20 trips in the last 23 seasons. The Tommies have won six regional crowns and advanced to six NCAA College World Series. They claimed the national title in 2001 and 2009; took second in 1999 and 2000; and placed third in 2012 and 2014.
The Tommies' 69 all-time NCAA playoff victories rank in the top 10 among all 350 Division III programs.
St. Thomas has one of the best records in all of college baseball over the last 23 seasons, winning over 75 percent of its games (777-259-1) over that span, an average of 24 wins a season. In the last 19 seasons alone, the Tommies have six top-three NCAA finishes. St. Thomas won 12 consecutive regular season titles from 2003-2014. In 2013, the Tommies won the 20-game conference race by eight games, finishing at 19-1 (11-9 runner up finish). That’s the largest margin of victory in any sport in conference -- and possibly Division III -- history.
Since 1996, St. Thomas has won 28 of a possible 40 conference regular-season and playoff titles. Since 1995, the Tommies have the second most NCAA playoff berths among all 360 Division III programs.
Chris Olean will enter his ninth year as the head coach of St. Thomas baseball in 2017. He's established himself among the top coaches in Division III with a 255-102-1 record (.714) and seven MIAC championships in his first eight seasons. Olean has coached five D-III All-America pitchers in his eight-year era as head coach. He was voted conference and Midwest Region Coach of the Year in 2012.
Olean was a nine-year assistant coach at St. Thomas under legendary coach Dennis Denning, who retired in February of 2010. Olean was a key member of Denning's staff that guided St. Thomas to NCAA Division III championships in 2001 and 2009, along with an unprecedented seven straight MIAC conference titles from 2003-2009. Olean was inducted into the University of St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004.
Olean took over after Denning's 2010 retirement. The 2001 Division III National Coach of the Year, Denning coached his 1,000th game in his 30-year prep and college coaching career at St. Thomas in 2007. His 32-year career included 17 years at St. Paul’s Cretin Derham Hall High School (379-76 W-L record) and 15 with the Tommies (522-157 W-L record). He was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2005 and College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. Denning’s teams captured 11 of a possible 15 MIAC regular-season championships and also won the postseason tournament seven of its first 10 years.
Under Denning, the Toms were 280-63 (.816) in all games vs. conference foes. That included 150 regular-season conference doubleheaders (250-50 record) in which St. Thomas swept 104 twinbills, split 42 and were swept just four times. Denning’s 522-157 overall record ranked him first in NCAA Division III among active coaches with a .769 winning percentage upon his retirement. St. Thomas qualified for the NCAA playoffs in 14 of 15 seasons under Denning and reached the region finals seven times. St. Thomas’ 72-36 postseason record in his era included an impressive 16-6 record in four appearances in the College World Series.
The 2001, Tommies were ranked No. 1 in the nation and came into May with a 27-4 record. A 2-4 finish to the conference season dropped St. Thomas to third in the final MIAC standings. St. Thomas caught fire and won the MIAC postseason tournament, then went 7-2 in the NCAA playoffs. Their 8-4 victory over Marietta (Ohio) on May 29 captured the school's first NCAA baseball title. Two-time All-American Jake Mauer and was drafted in the 23rd round by the Minnesota Twins. Mauer retired in 2006 due to injuries after five pro seasons where he reached Class AA. He's now a manager in the Twins' minor-league organization.
The team takes an annual trip to Florida during spring break where it faces some of the best teams in the nation. It also scrimmages the Minnesota Twins rookie team. The team regularly plays a non-conference game against the University of Minnesota and has two wins over the Gophers in the last decade. Approximately 35 players are kept on the varsity roster, with another 20-plus on the junior-varsity team.
The Tommies practice and play on campus at Koch Diamond. A new FieldTurf infield, batting cages and other improvements were added in summer 2017.
The Koch Diamond
On Saturday April 22, 2006, St. Thomas Baseball program opened Koch Diamond on campus. Between games of a doubleheader against MIAC archrival St. John's, a ceremony took place honoring baseball alumnus David Koch, whose major gift covered the cost of the $300,000 Koch Diamond project, which included 150 new bleacher seats and state-of-the-art FieldTurf infield. Koch, a 1952 St. Thomas graduate in business administration, is the former CEO of Graco Industries of Minneapolis, a worldwide industry specializing in fluid handling systems and components. Koch was named Distinguished UST Alumnus in 1981 and chaired the university’s Century II Capital campaign in the 1980s. The campaign raised $83 million after starting with a goal of $35 million.
Koch, a standout pitcher with the Tommies, was a tremendous all-around athlete who received a football scholarship to Notre Dame. He played on the Irish’s 1949 national championship team that finished 10-0. One of his close friends was teammate Leon Hart, who is one of just two linemen ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Koch returned to Minnesota and finished his college degree at St. Thomas.
The Koch Diamond is flanked by two residence halls Morrison Hall, opened in 1998, and Flynn Hall, opened in 2005. The turf allows for more flexibility in March and early April when snow and rain often postpone opponents’ games and practices. There are only two cutouts in the artificial turf – the pitching mound and home plate. A long-term goal is to turf the outfield, which would further enhance the facility for campus-wide use by St. Thomas intramurals, PE classes and recreation. The Tommies had a Division III-best 54-game home winning streak at the Koch Diamond end on March 30, 2015.
In 2009, Tommies pitchers recorded a 2.12 ERA in 12 NCAA playoff games and helped the Tommies go 6-0 in elimination games at regionals and nationals. Under Olean, St. Thomas pitchers have led the conference in ERA in eight of his nine seasons, and finished in the top 10 in ERA in the country in four of nine seasons. Olean has also coached two pitchers who have gone on to play professionally along with five All-America pitchers.
Olean led the 2010 Tommies to a 35-9 record, highlighted by a sweep of the MIAC regular-season and playoff championships. Seven one-run losses – including a 12-inning loss to Big Ten champion Minnesota and two close defeats in the NCAA regional playoffs -- kept the Toms from having even better results. In 2011, the Tommies finished with a 28-18 record and again reached the NCAA regional playoffs. One of the highlights of the 2011 season was the Tommies 8-3 upset win over Minnesota. The conference co-champions had six players named to the 2011 ABCA All-Midwest Region Baseball team.
The 2010 Tommies ranked third nationally in fielding percentage after it ranked first in both 2008 and 2009. The Tommies' 2010 staff had a 2.41 ERA -- the lowest among all NCAA teams in Divisions I, II, III.
St. Thomas came into 2012 unranked but used a mix of returners and four transfers to finish third in the nation with as 41-10 record. The Toms started the conference season 18-0 and closed 19-1 to tie an MIAC record for baseball wins. UST, which played into the final day of the eight-team, double-elimination national tournament, went 17-1 in games decided by one or two runs.
The 2014 Tommies (39-9) finished No. 3 in the final 2014 Division III poll. They won the program’s 12th consecutive MIAC championship and also claimed the conference playoff title, winning 21 of 23 games against MIAC opposition. UST started May with a 14-game win streak, including a 4-0 record at regionals. Tommie baseball made its deep postseason run without injured Tyler Peterson, a consensus All-America and the conference Player of the Year. Before the 2014 season, just nine conference athletes in baseball had recorded 200 or more career hits. St. Thomas added three players to that list -- Tim Kuzniar (fourth, 225), J.D. Dorgan (eighth, 205) and Ben Podobinski (ninth, 202), with Podo doing it in just 133 games over three seasons.