This past season Northwestern baseball found itself in a position it never should have been. And that’s not even talking about how the Wildcats were on their third coach in three consecutive seasons, their 10-40 record after opening the season with 12 straight losses or the fact that the team hasn’t actually had a winning record since 2000. None of that is good, but what was avoidable, what probably never should have happened, was the hiring of Jim Foster. Foster’s hiring led to a transfer exodus and questions of whether Northwestern can field a team this upcoming season.
Yet, despite the program hitting an all-time low, the hiring of Ben Greenspan as the new head coach may have just restored some hope. For the first time in a long time, there are thoughts of a Northwestern baseball future that, instead of referencing its demise, are about players thriving within the program because of Greenspan at the helm.
Saying Northwestern made a formidable hire is perhaps giving the university too much credit. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to realize that a head coaching hire shouldn’t be left to two boosters; regardless, Northwestern got that right the second time around, hiring global talent advisory firm DHR to lead the search.
Greenspan comes to Evanston with a pretty admirable resume that spotlights his eye for recruiting. Last season, he was the Associate Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator for Michigan, where he brought in a 31st-ranked recruiting class by Perfect Game — the previous year the Wolverines’ class was 85th. In 2022, he was at Cal Poly, where he coached MLB Pipeline’s No. 18 overall prospect and first-round pick Brooks Lee and Yankees fifth-round pick Drew Thrope. As said, Greenspan can recruit, and these past two seasons just barely grasp the depth of his talent.
He spent seven seasons at top-tier Arizona State, serving as Associate Head Coach for the last four and being part of four NCAA regional berths. At ASU, Greenspan headlined five top-10 recruiting classes over just six years and had 33 players get recruited, including Spencer Torkelson, the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, Gavin Lux and Bo Bichette.
He also spent six seasons at Indiana, unsurprisingly being named recruiting coordinator in his last. Here, he was part of three NCAA tournament appearances, a College World Series appearance and the recruitment of players like No. 4 overall pick and two-time All-Star Kyle Schwarber.
On paper, Greenspan is a desirable, proven coach. However, endorsements from Schwarber, Torkelson, Michigan Head Coach Tracy Smith and none other than Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin are affirmations that mean a whole more than any record could show. These endorsements display his ability and tenacity — exactly what Northwestern needs.
After Foster’s firing, it was thought that assistant coach Brian Anderson would “take leadership of the program.” He received strong support from the players, but the school needed to bring in an outsider who was also beyond established as a leader. The program needs to erase all memory of last year’s toxic and abusive culture, and given how depleted the roster now is, it needed someone who knows how to recruit and build.
The future of Wildcat baseball has been an ominous topic in recent years. The program hasn’t been proven to win and it hasn’t been proven to keep players — see losses of key contributors in 2022 in Anthony Calarco, Ethan O’Donnell and Sean Sullivan and 15 players after 2023. With each hiring, it’s been about who is capable of turning this program around, and now on its fourth coach in four years, that’s up to Greenspan. With Greenspan, the ‘Cats are led by someone who has successfully recruited and coached not just drafted players, but players who have undoubtedly made it in the MLB; someone who is known for recruiting at each program he was with; someone who knows how to win.
Part of Greenspan’s statement read: “This program will be built around the student-athletes. My job is to identify, recruit and develop young men to reach their highest potential individually and collectively as a team.”
Sounds standard, sounds cliché, but at the same time, Greenspan’s entire coaching career points to doing just that.
There are many seasons in the making before Northwestern will be where it wants to be, and Greenspan has players and staff to win over. But, for the first time in a long time, it’s worth believing in the future of Northwestern baseball.