Coach "Razz": 500 Wins and Counting
By Sean Lynch
HERKIMER -- The morning showers parted as the sun sneaked through the puffy clouds at Veteran’s Memorial Field on a Tuesday afternoon in Little Falls.
Herkimer College baseball head coach Jason Rathbun was one win shy of eclipsing the 500-win mark at the field he dreamed of playing on as a young boy. April 20 was going to be the day Rathbun was going to achieve this milestone; a rain-shower wasn’t going to change that.
His smile is hidden behind a black Under Armour facemask, and he’s okay with that. If it means he’s with his guys, playing a game they love, and a game he loves coaching; so be it.
Rathbun's milestone win came in the first-game-of-two in a 16-6 win vs. Tompkins Cortland Community College.
“It felt great,” he said. “I’ve been around that field (Veteran’s Memorial Park) since I was a child because our Little League field was right behind it. Growing up, you’d aspire to one day play there. Over the years we’ve had great accomplishments on it. We’ve won Regional Championships on that field, I’ve had a lot of success as a high-school player on that field. There’s no other field I’d want to win my 500th game on.”
In Rathbun’s 15 years-of-coaching, success has been no stranger. Under his reign, the Generals have:
- Made appearances in 15 consecutive Region III playoffs
- Had a team batting average of over .300 in 15 consecutive seasons
- Had 18 All-Americans in the last 15 years.
After his two-year varsity baseball career at Little Falls, Rathbun served as a chef in the 3rd Infantry Division in the U.S. Army in Fort Stewart, Georgia. While serving, he played in a Summer League, and was recruited to play for NJCAA Div. I Florida Community College. Rathbun never played for FCC, as the birth of his son Andrew saw him come home to play for Herkimer College from 1999-2001.
Upon graduating from Herkimer in 2001, he accepted a baseball scholarship to Division II Erskine College, earning a 2.64 ERA his senior season.
If you focus deeper on the roots of success that the Herkimer baseball team has had under its most prominent figure, you’ll notice it’s not just the X’s-and-O’s that make him successful.
He connects with each of his players in an auspicabile way that brings out the best in them.
Sophomore shortstop Matthew Tobin wasn’t sure what his future looked like after leaving St. John Fisher College three years ago. “Razz helped me figure out who I was, and helped me realize that nothing in life is given to you,” Tobin said. “You have to work for everything you get.”
He took those words to heart: The West Canada Valley graduate’s 2019 freshman season saw him hit .295. Two years later, the UMass Lowell commit is hitting .339, and is playing an integral part of a Generals infield that is hitting a combined .446 in 25 games.
As the Generals were preparing for their annual spring slate of games down-south last year, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. What that team could’ve done together will be one of the greatest unknowns in the program’s history. Six players from that team moved on to play Division I -- four of them being pitchers.
The pandemic shut the whole world down. Masks became mandatory, sports around the world were put to an immediate halt, and leadership-skills were put to the ultimate test, but that didn’t stop Rathbun and assistant coach Lane Potter from trying to assemble a team for the future. Now that they have that team, their goal is to win until they can’t win anymore.
“When the pandemic hit, we didn’t really know who we were going to have,” Rathbun added. We have kids here from Japan, a kid from Texas, and a few transfers… We didn’t know what the makeup of the team would be until the final hour, but I’m really glad that these kids had faith in me and our administration here (at Herkimer) to provide them a baseball season, and have an opportunity to have some normalcy in their lives. At the end of the day, I think it was all worth it. They’re having fun, and playing the game they love.”
Lots of memorabilia is spread out throughout his office at the Office of Residence Life at Herkimer. Regional championship plaques, a handful of balls signed from players, and framed pictures with his players. He doesn’t know if any memorabilia from his marquee milestone will arrive, and he says it’s okay if it doesn’t.
“Honestly, it’s a moment you soak in, but then two hours later, I won my 501st game, so you kind of just move on and worry about winning even more games.”
It’s that mindset that has made Rathbun wildly-successful during his 16-year-tenure as the Herkimer College baseball head coach. Wins are always an honorable way to commemorate success, but it’s the small things, such as his attention-to-detail, jubilant personality, and baseball intelligence, that has allowed him to build a sustainable foundation for a dominant program. He isn’t infatuated with 500 career coaching wins, and with good reason: He’ll win a lot more than 500 games by the time it’s all-said-and-done.
Sean is a sophomore at Herkimer College and works in the sports department. He helps set up the athletic facilities for game-days, and most notably takes pictures at our athletic events at the college. Upon graduating Herkimer in May, he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. You can get a hold of him on Twitter: @SeanLynch845.