In the world of college sports, Furman University has hit a home run. Their new appointed leader, the gentleman heading the university’s athletic department, is former New York Yankees pitcher Mike Buddie. A combination of finesse and power, he’s the perfect athlete; and with his cool business demeanor, Buddie enters the game intent on scoring the winning run.
Mike Buddie was named the school’s tenth athletic director in July 2015, and as Furman president Dr. Elizabeth Davis explains, he’s quite the catch. “Mike’s experience as a student-athlete, professional baseball player, development officer, athletics administrator, and member of the NCAA Division 1 Baseball Committee afford him the expertise he needs to fulfill the aspiration articulated in Furman’s Vision 2020: become a national exemplar of how a strong Division I athletics program may be compatible with academic excellence.”
No small job, but for a guy who has taken the mound in historic Yankee stadium and shut down the best hitters in major league baseball, it’s no pressure.
In his lifetime of athleticism, Buddie has left a trail of accolades in his wake. A three-sport star at his high school in Berea, Ohio, he caught the winning touchdown pass for the school’s first state football championship his senior year. Choosing baseball, he went to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, on an athletic scholarship as a pitcher. For a university that has fielded some great baseball teams, he still holds the program’s single-season record of 138 strikeouts, set in 1992.
Buddie earned a bachelor’s degree and was drafted by the New York Yankees in the fourth round of the 1992 MLB Draft. He spent five seasons in the major leagues, including the Yankees’ 1998 World Series team as part of a two-season stint in New York before spending three years with the Milwaukee Brewers. He even had a brief moment with Hollywood. Buddie retired from professional baseball in 2004 and returned to Wake Forest, where he worked his way up to assistant athletic director. Now at Furman, we talked to Buddie about pitching, the pros, and teaching Kevin Costner how to throw.
What was going through your mind the first time you walked out to the pitcher’s mound in Yankee stadium? >>
I came in as relief pitcher in the fourth inning against Oakland with the bases loaded and one out. We were down 12 to 8. All I was thinking was “don’t screw up.” I got out of the inning, and the Yankees scored five runs the next inning, and I ended up getting the win. Not a bad start.
Who was the most feared hitter you faced in professional baseball? >>
I was pitching in the era of rampant steroid use and pitched against Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn, and others. My best was pitching to McGwire on July 4, and I struck him out on three pitches.
What was your go-to pitch? >>
I’m right-handed and had developed a slider in high school and perfected it as I got older. I threw my fastball around 92 mph and my slider was 86 mph. However, my slider would go about 59.5 feet and then drop. I can’t explain how to throw it, but it got me to Yankee stadium.
As an Ohio native, what was it like coming home to pitch against the Cleveland Indians? >>
Oh, wow, I grew up going to Indians games as a kid and always dreamed of playing there. It was surreal. I had loads of family, teachers, and friends in the stands. The Yankees knew it was home for me and set me up to pitch the game. The Yankees won. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
Is it true that you taught actor Kevin Costner how to pitch? >>
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner told a film crew they could use Yankee stadium, but any extras had to be real baseball players—not actors. He felt strongly about not disrespecting the pinstripes. The film was For the Love of the Game, and Kevin Costner was the star. My baseball roommate’s agent was with the same agency group as Costner’s. He couldn’t do it because he was getting married at the time of filming, so he recommended me. I had to teach Costner some basics of how to act on the pitcher’s mound, what a professional pitcher would do, how you should respond to a situation, all so he looked believable as a professional pitcher. In addition, I got to play the starting pitcher for the opposing team in the movie. Kevin was a gentleman, and I enjoyed the experience.
What was your first impression of Greenville? >>
My first impression was not great. I came here for the ACC baseball tournament in 1990, ’91, and ’92. We played in the old Greenville Braves stadium. I later learned that what I thought was Greenville was actually Mauldin. We never saw the Greenville that exists today.
What can we expect from Furman athletics? >>
My first goal is to develop the best student-athletes in the NCAA. This has nothing to do with budgets or winning teams. We expect our student- athletes to work as hard in the classroom as they do in their sport. You pick a school for the next 40 years of your life—not the next four. Winning will come by developing those student- athletes into the best they can be, and that attitude will result in winning teams.
Furman is leading the area’s bid for the NCAA Championships, something Greenville (and all of South Carolina) has not had the opportunity to host in 15 years. What are our chances? >>
Our chances are extremely good, but being out of consideration for so long is difficult to overcome. Compared to other markets, we are blessed with great facilities, strong community support, and a welcoming market. The logical sports are men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, golf, lacrosse, and we are considering other sports. It’s a quick process, and we will know by December if we are selected as a host university and city. Hosting a NCAA Championship in any sport is a great honor and a huge responsibility, but I am certain that Furman- Greenville is a winning combination that will provide a great experience for all fans and the student-athletes.