Former Major League pitcher Rick Croushore stopped in Harrisonburg last year to check about the possibility of being a volunteer coach with the James Madison baseball program.
A side trip to Winchester to see his former JMU coach turned into an even better opportunity — a part-time paid position as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for Shenandoah University.
"He was looking to get back into the [college] game," said longtime SU coach Kevin Anderson. "The kids love him. He is very knowledgeable about the sport. He hit the ground running and has not looked back."
"He was fun to play for but at the same time he kept us accountable," said Harrisonburg High School graduate Cade Templeton, a junior pitcher this past season for the Hornets.
Croushore had been coaching youth baseball in Arkansas for about 20 years. With his two children now in college, the Mount Vernon High graduate sought the opportunity to coach at the college level and looked to return to Virginia.
"I felt like it went well; my first recruiting class I feel is going to be pretty strong," Croushore, 49, said. "I got along great with the kids. I hated to see it come to an end [due to COVID-19 in March]. We were 10-2 and found ways to win."
Anderson was the pitching coach at JMU when Croushore was with the Dukes for two years in the early 1990s. The head coach was Ray Heatwole, who saw Croushore pitch in an amateur league in the nation's capital after two seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
Croushore said he and his father visited JMU the next day and Heatwole offered him a scholarship. A right-hander, Croushore accepted even though George Mason University had expressed interest before the Dukes.
Even though he was not drafted out of JMU, Croushore signed a contract with St. Louis in 1993 and worked his way up the minor league ladder. He made his MLB debut with the Cardinals on May 18, 1998, with two innings out of the bullpen against the Marlins.
His most memorable appearance came later that year in the game that Mark McGwire of the Cardinals hit his 62nd homer of the season to break the mark of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
On Sept. 8, 1998, Croushore gave up two hits and one walk while retiring two batters as he came on in the seventh for St. Louis starter Kent Mercker. One of the batters he retired was Sammy Sosa, the Cubs' slugger who was also chasing McGwire for the homer record.
In the fourth inning of that game, McGwire hit a solo homer off Steve Traschel for his 62nd round-tripper of the season.
"There are only two people who in the world who have that on video camera," Croushore told the News-Record. "And that is me and Dave Duncan, the [late] pitching coach. "I have a different perspective. He got it from the dugout and I got it from the bullpen. I ran in and got the whole ceremony with Mark and Sammy."
Croushore was the only rookie to pitch in the game — a nod from Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa for past success.
"That was pretty cool," Croushore said.
That came in his 34th appearance as a rookie for the Cardinals. He recorded the first save of his career on June 18, 1998, as he gave up one run in two innings in a 7-6 win at Houston over the Astros.
The JMU product was 0-3 with an ERA of 4.97 in 41 games with eight saves that season.
Croushore was 3-7, 4.14 in 59 games with three saves in 1999 for St. Louis.
He split the 2000 season between Colorado and Boston, as he went 2-0, 8.74 in six games for the Rockies and 0-1, 5.79 in five outings for the Red Sox.
His last MLB outing came October 1, 2000, as he gave up the winning run in the last of the 10th as Tampa Bay won 3-2 over the Red Sox.
The right-hander was 5-11 with an ERA of 4.88 with 11 saves in 111 games in the majors and also appeared in the minors for the Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays. His last pro appearance came in 2003 with the Orioles in the Gulf Coast League.
Croushore made it to the majors even though he didn't play for a college team the year after he graduated from Mount Vernon High in Fairfax County. That was because he was injured just before his senior year of high school.
He lived with his mother that year in Texas and took classes at the University of Houston, with an eye on becoming an accountant.
"It is funny how things work out," he said.
After coaching in Arkansas, where he played in the minors, Croushore wanted to get into college coaching. Last year he met with JMU coach Marlin Ikenberry about the possibility of being a volunteer.
"The next day I had lunch with Kevin. He said, 'Are you serious about this? Well, my recruiting and pitching coach positions are open. You can have both of them.' Things have worked out," Croushore said.
The spot opened at SU after former assistant coach Michael Scimancio became a volunteer assistant coach at Division I Seton Hall in his native New Jersey.
Templeton, who plans to play for New Market this summer in the Rockingham County Baseball League (RCBL), said Croushore helped him work on his cut fastball and stamina. "We definitely did a lot more running," said Templeton, who has played three years for the Hornets.
The Hornets had an ERA of 4.94 in 12 games this past season while opponents had a mark of 9.10.
"I could not be more happier," Anderson said of Croushore.