SAN ANTONIO – There was plenty of optimism when UTSA hired Pat Hallmark to lead the baseball program last June.
As head coach across town at UIW, Hallmark had already proven he could establish a winning culture. The Cardinals finished above .500 in each of the previous two seasons, posting an impressive 37-22 record in 2019. For the turnaround, Hallmark was named Southland Conference Coach of the Year.
Now, with the Roadrunners looking to improve on a disappointing 28-30 mark last season, Hallmark entered 2020 with the weight of expectations. He certainly didn’t shy away from them at his introductory press conference.
“I’m not going to hide it from the players, so I might as well start now,” Hallmark said. “Our goal is to make the NCAA postseason and to make noise there, too. I don’t want to just get there, I want to win there.”
His team responded right out of the gates, winning 10 of their first 12 games. The Roadrunners also won the Irish Alamo Classic at Wolff Stadium, notching a victory over Notre Dame in the process. The following five-game slump might have dropped them to 10-7, but that record was still six games better than where they were the year before. There were plenty of signs that they were heading in the right direction, and with Conference USA play ready to begin, there was plenty left to play for.
That’s when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the rest of the college baseball season.
In the month since then, Hallmark and the rest of his squad have had to adjust to a very different daily grind, each confined to their own immediate areas for quarantine.
“There were some growing pains," Hallmark said. "Settling into the routine was probably the biggest adjustment for everybody, me included. I’ve been working outside on this front porch area while the rest of my family stays inside. I have four kids, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade. My wife handles all of that, and she’s got them going in a very regimented routine. She does a great job.”
The biggest challenge for UTSA’s coaching staff has been staying in contact with the players and keeping them in shape. There may not be a season to play for this year, but there’s still plenty of ways for returning players to get coaching and improve.
“Our strength and conditioning coach did a remarkable job of getting our guys information and workout plans," Hallmark explained. "They adapted it since most of them don’t have weights now. A lot of it is body weight stuff. Some players do have home gyms, but not many of them. Ultimately, someone on my staff talks to every player every day, and most of those guys seem to be knocking out those lifting programs. I think they kind of want to. It adds a tiny bit of normalcy to their day.”
Of course, next season will be anything but normal. In what is likely to be a fluctuating process, Hallmark will have to manage a much larger roster in 2021. The NCAA offered current seniors in spring sports another year of eligibility -- a chance to reclaim a semblance of closure from this series of unfortunate events. The majority of UTSA’s 11-man senior class is expected to return, but with a large incoming freshman class, battles for spots in the starting lineup will be fierce.
For his part, Hallmark welcomes that dynamic.
“I don’t know that it will be much different than other years. It will just be a bigger group of guys. You’ll have your old guys that mentor some of the new guys, and then eventually you’ll have some competition. It’s going to be like that on every team, and none of that is bad. We try to foster that as much as we can because at the end of the day, that’s only going to make the team better.”
It all feeds back into the culture Hallmark wanted to establish in his first season: ‘Winning matters.' It certainly seems to have stuck. At the end of their shortened season, the baseball team boasted the highest winning percentage of any athletic team on campus. Now, they’re tasked with overcoming a much tougher opponent, and Hallmark is reminded of that fact every single day.
“Every morning I come out here, and the weather has been fantastic,” Hallmark said. "We’ve had 20-something days of sunshine, and it makes you want to pick up a bat and a glove. I’d rather have the good weather, but that’s been hard. It’s baseball weather. It’s the first thing I think of. I’m ready to get back out there on the field and help where we can as coaches to help these guys develop.”