As a first baseman, Jeff Mercer wasn’t required to cover a great amount of ground in a relatively short period of time.
This contrasts his current schedule.
On July 13, Mercer, a graduate of Franklin Community High School, was named head baseball coach at Wright State University, a Division-I program responsible for 124 victories during the past three seasons.
Suddenly, Mercer finds himself managing interview requests, speaking with potential recruits and their coaches/parents, surveying credentials of prospective assistant coaches and any number of other duties.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but bittersweet in a way,” said Mercer, an All-Horizon League Conference player for Wright State in 2008 and 2009 who served the past three years as a Raiders assistant coach for Greg Lovelady.
Lovelady this month became the head baseball coach at Central Florida. Among Lovelady’s first hires was Wright State pitching coach Justin Parker — Mercer’s best friend.
“Coach Parker was the best man at my wedding,” Mercer said. “At the same time this is a great opportunity to lead a program at a place I love. It’s an incredible honor and privilege to lead my alma mater.”
Wright State advanced to the NCAA Regional Finals each of the past two seasons under Lovelady. Mercer, who turns 31 a week from today, has been preparing his whole life to fill such big shoes.
Mercer played for his father, Jeff, Franklin’s baseball coach on three separate occasions — 1996-99, 2002-03 and 2010-11.
This experience benefited the younger Mercer both on and away from the baseball diamond.
“I would say the thing that prepared me most for this job is my dad. He got me to be organized and detailed and taught me how to work incrementally toward my goals,” Mercer said. “About my sophomore year of high school I knew I wanted to be a Division-I college coach.
“When everyone else is worried about girls and video games, I’m learning how to organize, how to build a resume and how to lead an organization.”
The eldest of Jeff and Pam Mercer’s four children, all boys, Wright State’s new head coach credits other aspects of his upbringing.
He laughs remembering the conversation he once had with his mother while driving back from a game in Indianapolis as a 17-year-old member of the Indiana Bulls summer baseball team.
“My mom played three sports in high school. She told me if I ground out to the shortstop one more time that she’s not coming back,” Mercer said. “The message was clear. If you’re going to be doing this you better be good at it.”
Mercer improved his skills enough to begin his collegiate baseball career at the University of Dayton, playing his freshman and sophomore seasons as a member of the Flyers.
His transfer to nearby Wright State — the campuses are only 12 miles apart — resulted in Mercer becoming a two-time First Team All-Horizon League selection. He picked up Conference Player of the Year honors as a senior after batting .357 with 26 doubles and 74 runs batted in.
Tragedy also factored into Mercer’s development both as a player and a man.
On May 29, 2006, Mercer’s brother, Daniel, lost his battle with brain cancer at the age of 18.
Mercer said the loss of his brother immediately transformed him from a hard worker into an obsessive worker. It’s a drive he now channels into attempting to sustain Wright State’s momentum as an emerging force in Division-I baseball.
In Mercer’s two seasons as a Wright State player the program won 54 percent of its games. As a Raiders assistant coach the number spikes to 69 percent.
Good things happen when Jeff Mercer wears green.
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THE MERCER FILE
Name: Jeff Mercer
Family: Wife, Stephanie
High school: Franklin (2004)
College: Wright State University (2009)
Major: Organizational leadership
Favorite teams: Chicago Cubs and Indiana University men’s basketball