When Belmont Athletics Director Mike Strickland hired Dave Jarvis to coach the Bruins baseball team 14 years ago, he realized Jarvis would be at a disadvantage.
Belmont didn’t have a home baseball field.
Bouncing around from the Nashville Sounds’ Greer Stadium and Shelby Park in East Nashville, the Bruins didn’t have a place to call home until midway through this season. In April, they opened their new baseball stadium at recently renovated Rose Park, which will also house the school’s soccer and softball fields along with a track.
But for more than a dozen years, Jarvis didn’t have one of the biggest college recruiting tools in his back pocket — facilities. Yet, he didn’t let that keep him from building a baseball program that was transitioning into the Division I level.
“I never heard one complaint from Dave. I have never heard one complaint from his players over the years,” Strickland said. “Sometimes they weren’t sure where they were playing from week to week. It is tough. We go down to Florida and see their facilities. Then we know what we’ve got. That’s hard. That’s tough recruiting and that’s tough in a lot of ways. But he has overcome that and that is not an issue. We are about baseball. We build baseball teams and we go out and play.”
And the Bruins have played their way into their first NCAA Regional, as Jarvis leads Belmont into a matchup against host Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. on Friday at Hawkins Field.
The 52-year-old came to Belmont in 1998 after four years as an assistant at Murray State, where Strickland served as athletic director until 1996. Needing a baseball coach to take over for Dave Whitten, who was pushing 70 years old at the time, Strickland didn’t have to go very far.
“There wasn’t any question in my mind who I wanted to go after,” Strickland said. “He has done a marvelous job for us.”
Jarvis had served as a head coach, compiling a 324-152 record in nine years at Three Rivers Community College in his hometown of Poplar Bluff, Mo.
Being a head coach at the Division I level was a different animal. Whitten, however, stayed on for the next three years and served as pitching coach.
“He knew some of the shortcomings and changes and upgrades that needed to be made,” Jarvis said. “He stayed with me ... and what an honor that was to have him involved in it. That gave me a head start.”
Meanwhile, Belmont still tried to find a home field. In the summer of 2007, the university signed a lease with the Metro Parks and Recreation Department, which allowed Belmont to spend $7 million for new facilities. But that operation was halted when nearby residents of the Edgehill neighborhood sued to halt the contract.
Still, Jarvis’ faith in his administration and Strickland and BU President Bob Fisher didn’t waver as they pushed for the completion of the Rose Park facilities.
“It was extremely evident to me that they were doing everything within their power to try to make that happen,” Jarvis said. “Yes, there could have been many frustrations in that whole process and in that 13-and-a-half-year period, but the bottom line was it very evident to us and to me, especially as a head coach, that they were doing everything in their power to make it happen.”
Jarvis has rewarded his bosses this year by guiding Belmont to its first Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship. The Bruins surprised many last week when they went undefeated as the sixth seed.
“It was one of those moments where you really feel good for your friend and all he has accomplished and you feel good about what he has done,” Strickland said.
It was a long time coming for Jarvis, who had never reached an NCAA Regional in his collegiate or playing career. And it came four years after a disappointing finish in the 2007 A-Sun tournament. Needing just one win to claim the title, and having two chances to do so, Belmont faltered twice against Jacksonville.
“Adversity makes us better and dealing with that frustration and those difficult losses probably has made me a better coach,” Jarvis, whose career record at Belmont is 393-365, said.
To those who know him well, his coaching abilities were never in doubt. Nor was his genuineness, which quickly shines through.
“Just personally for me, he has been a great friend,” Belmont senior captain Derek Hamblen said. “He has given me every opportunity I could ever ask for. I just thank the Lord for him and just being able to be a part of this. It is definitely humbling. I can’t say enough about him.”
The feeling is mutual in the coaching community.
“He is a gentleman,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “I think if I am a player, I would love to play for him. He is caring about the kids. He is in it for the right reasons. He is a teacher but at the same time he has great admiration for his kids and he loves them. When you are a parent and you send your child off to school to play for someone, that is the type of guy you want to play for.”
On the flip side, Jarvis feels fortunate to be coaching.
After playing catcher at Three Rivers Community College and Arkansas State, he spent a short stint playing at the semi-professional level. Shortly, thereafter, he ventured down a similar career path and hasn’t looked back.
“I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to try to get into coaching and teaching. ... I have been blessed to ever get to coach college baseball for one day and now I am finishing my 29th year and season of coaching college baseball,” Jarvis said. “For it to evolve to where now I am the head coach at a Division I program at this wonderful institution in a beautiful city like Nashville. The good Lord had a much better plan for me than I could have even envisioned for myself.”