SPRINGFIELD — Rutherford culminated its search for a new baseball coach this week and introduced Steven Cheney to players, parents and boosters during a school ceremony Tuesday.
Cheney steps in as coach to replace Jon Hudson, who left the job three weeks ago to return to his native home of Kentucky. Cheney, who previously served as an assistant baseball coach at Gulf Breeze for the past three years, said that meeting players and their parents ranks atop his list of priorities as he settles into his new position.
“I’m very excited,” said Cheney, 28. “I cannot wait to get started, and I wish the season started tomorrow. I’m excited to meet the players and see what they have to offer.”
Cheney, who also will serve as an instructor in the school’s physical education department, formerly played collegiately at Gulf Coast. He was drafted in the 25th round by the New York Mets in the 2006 Major League Baseball draft, and he spent three years toiling in the minor leagues before an assortment of arm injuries — multiple tears to his labrum and rotator cuff — forced him to abandon his pro career.
Cheney said the abrupt curtailment of his pro career only hastened his introduction to coaching.
“Adjusting was easy,” he said. “I’ve always had a passion for coaching. As soon as I was done, I jumped into coaching. I had the opportunity to be the assistant coach for three years at Gulf Breeze, and I’m familiar with high school players and the way things are done.”
Cheney praised his predecessor, Hudson, and the assistant coaches who helped lead the Rams to two consecutive district championships. He noted that he intends to retain each of the team’s assistants “as long as they want to come back.”
Addressing his assembled players, Cheney said that he expects to build upon the success of the past two seasons. The Rams advanced to the Region 1-5A championship this year and finished one victory shy of a berth in the state’s Final Four.
Said Cheney: “22-5 sounds good, but 27-0 sounds better. I want to bring home a state championship, and that’s our goal.”
County athletic director Kirk Harrell said he understood Hudson’s desire to return to his native home, and he credited the search committee for sifting through candidates before selecting Cheney.
“We had some great candidates, and it made the job easy and hard,” Harrell said.