Mercer happy to be home at Indiana

It’s roughly a three-hour drive from Bloomington to Dayton, Ohio, two Midwestern towns Jeff Mercer has learned to call home.

As he navigated the interstate on Tuesday afternoon, his first full day as Indiana’s baseball coach, the 32-year-old allowed his mind to wander between moments in the present and visions of the future. It was a joyous day for Mercer, and not merely because of professional reasons.

Less than 24 hours after he was officially named the 25th coach in IU program history, Mercer returned to Dayton to carry his newborn son, Grady, out of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Grady was born six weeks early on June 20, but on Tuesday, the Mercers went home complete, ready for the horizon.

So on the drive to Ohio, Mercer, the former Wright State head coach, had lots to reflect upon — his new team, his growing family and the way his father, Jeff Sr., warmly shaped him in a way that made all this possible.

It was, indeed, a full day.

“I think the most exciting thing for me is that I’ll get to raise my son the way my dad raised me to be a Hoosier,” said Mercer, a native of Bargersville. “That is the most exciting piece for me, to share in the traditions that my dad shared with me. Growing up to be a Hoosier was something tremendous. I’m excited that my son gets to share that experience as well.”

After only two seasons at Wright State, where his teams won 77 games and qualified for an NCAA Regional this spring, Mercer is now locked into his dream job as the coach at IU.

Although Mercer didn’t attend Indiana, he knows the school well. His father served as an assistant baseball coach at IU in the late 1980s and he grew up a rabid fan of Indiana athletics.

Now, he’s ready to assume control of the Big Ten’s premier baseball program, eager to realize the dream he’s fed since he was a child.

“I grew up admiring my dad and what he did,” Mercer said. “Growing up and being shaped by the people in this community, where so many of them are passionate about Indiana University, growing up a fan of the sports programs and watching every basketball game, every football game and certainly every baseball game, it means so much to me. I’ve always wanted to be a part of Indiana and I haven’t been able to until this point.”

It all changed last week, when Mercer learned of former IU coach Chris Lemonis’ departure for Mississippi State, one of the nation’s most renowned college baseball programs. Mercer was immediately hopeful he’d be considered for an interview. The rest, he believed, would take care of itself.

At Wright State, where he received All-Horizon League honors as a first baseman less than a decade ago, Mercer earned his way. After working a few volunteer assistant jobs after graduation, Mercer received his first paid assistant gig at his alma mater in 2014.

When former Wright State coach Greg Lovelady left to take the Central Florida job after the 2016 season, Mercer was promoted in a flash. He made the most of his 24 months in the boss’ chair, signing Wright State’s first top-100 recruiting class and posting six wins against ranked opponents, including a series victory at Clemson to open his tenure.

At Indiana, Mercer has a vision for how he hopes the next chapter of his coaching career will unfold. At IU, the Hoosiers are equipped to battle on the national level, and Mercer has a plan for building Indiana’s next College World Series contender.

“We’re really going to focus on the mound,” Mercer said. “We’re going to have a terrific pitching staff. We’re going to have some electric bullpen arms. We’re gonna be a program that can really match it up out of the pen. We’re going to have a back-end guy that can really nail a game down.

“Offensively, we’re going to run a lot. We’re going to steal bases. I like to be able to teach guys how to have a professional at-bat. I feel it’s very important. I want people to come to the ballgames and I want you to be excited because there’s electricity in our athletes. If you watch the game at the highest level, you watch what Oregon State’s done, you watch what teams that are going to the World Series are doing and that’s how they’re built. They’re built through a defensive paradigm. They’re built to match up. They’re built through speed and power.”

Although the Hoosiers lost some big arms and powerful bats to last month’s MLB Draft, the team appears to shape up nicely for next season. Mercer is only beginning to make contact with the roster he’s inherited, all while saying goodbye to those at Wright State and making moves to build his coaching staff at IU.

“The staff that will be in place will be a staff that’s a cornerstone to our player development,” Mercer said. “That will be the hallmark of this program. Kids will come to Indiana because they want to be great, they want to win a championship and they want to play Major League Baseball and sign contracts. So the cornerstone of our our program will be player development.”

Getting players to the next level means helping players realize their dreams — and Mercer knows something about the power of dreaming.

On Monday, he captured a goal that’s been a lifetime in the making. On Tuesday, he pictured all the further joys to come.

Now, he’s a Hoosier in full — a Hoosier at last.

“Not only to be able to come home and be a part of Indiana University, but to be able to be back in my home community with the people I care about so much, I’m just incredibly blessed and fortunate,” Mercer said. “I’m excited about it.”

(Photo courtesy of Wright State)

4 comments

  1. Warmer weather for the 2019 home schedule would be great for the new coach to have a great welcome from the I U Baseball fans.

  2. While Lemonis did a good job it never seemed like a great fit. He was always just passing through.

  3. Given that he’s back home in Indiana and wants to raise his children in the environment he was raised, maybe IU can keep this talented young man as its coach for a long, long time. You have to love his passion for the state and IU.

Comments are closed.