By Dale Goodwin
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Coach Steve Hertz is not just synonymous with Zag. He defines the word.
Sure, his teams won 637 games, most in Gonzaga University history. But victories do not define this man. His love and care for the young men and women, players and coaches, he has mentored over his 39-year association with Gonzaga is his true measure.
On May 11, the field at Patterson Baseball Complex was renamed Coach Steve Hertz Field, presented by Washington Trust. On July 31, Hertz retires from GU after a long and distinguished career.
While those who have played and worked with Hertz over the past four decades will attest to his high character, work ethic and genuine approach with people, Hertz is quick to give credit to those who have influenced him most.
"Bob Finn ('88) had just lost his best friend, Dave Machtolf, to a car accident. Dave's funeral was the same day as a big doubleheader with a very good Washington State team," Hertz recalled. "I didn't expect to see Bob at all that day. But as I was preparing my lineup for the nightcap, Bob came running down the fire line, in suit, tie flying, and said to me, 'I want the ball.'"
Keep in mind that Finn had never started a college game, and was a middle reliever for the Zags. Hertz told Finn, "My first priority is to protect you. You've been through enough this week." But Finn insisted, "Please, give me the ball."
Hertz did, and Finn pitched a 7-1 win.
"It was one of the best decisions I ever made, and Bob taught me that heart and character matter more than just about anything else," Hertz said.
Zag great Jason Bay ('00), longtime major leaguer, had been communicating with Hertz when his father, William Hertz, was dying.
"I told Jason one morning that I thought this might be dad's final day. Jason told me he'd hit one out for my dad. Dad died that afternoon, and later that night, I saw that Jason had hit a home run. He called and said, 'That was for your dad.'"
Influence goes both ways.
Born and raised in Southern California, Hertz began his Gonzaga career in 1970. He would pitch three years for the Zags, play three seasons of minor league baseball, and return to GU in 1976 as an assistant to head Coach Larry Koentopp. Two years later Hertz replaced Koentopp, taking that team to within one game of the College World Series.
"I'll never forget the semifinal game against UNLV," Hertz recalled. "Tom Gorman was twirling a nifty 11-hitter. He was tiring. We were in the ninth inning, two outs, tying run on third, we led 3-2. I had Wade Leitch throwing gas in the bullpen. I was a nervous young coach. I left the dugout to call for my closer. I got to the foul line, and Gorman sticks out his hand and says, 'STOP.' I keep going and he says, 'Get the hell off my mound.' One of the best things I ever did was turn around and walk off the field. Tom's next pitch resulted in a slow roller to first base. Game over."
Gorman, Bay and Finn were among many former players in attendance at the field dedication, paying homage to Hertz. Also in attendance were his and wife Vicki's six grown children, including Gretchen, who flew in from Bogota, Colombia, and Jessica, who flew home from Germany. The other siblings there were Sarah, Christine, Heather and Steven, all six Gonzaga grads.
Steve gives credit, first and foremost, to his wife -- "my partner, every day, every game, my number one draft pick." With their kids and 11 grandchildren, they will soon celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary. Vicki, a longtime teacher, recently retired as supervisor of student teaching and field experience at GU.
Steve retired from coaching in 2003 after 24 seasons as Zags' head coach, giving way to his longtime assistant Mark Machtolf. Hertz took two teams to the NCAA Regionals and was named conference Coach of the Year four times. He moved to director of external relations for athletics, and was later named senior associate athletic director for major gifts. He was instrumental in raising money for the baseball stadium, Luger Field for soccer, Stevens Center for tennis and golf, McCarthey Athletic Center, and the Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement, among other initiatives.
Every day, in every way, Steve Hertz exemplifies what it means to be a Zag.