Knudson: 'Crash' Higgins Passes Wisdom on to Rebels
By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. InsiderMarch 26, 2012
Okay, it might be something of a stretch to call Kevin Higgins the Crash Davis of Mountain West baseball, but if you’re familiar with the story of the fictional movie character from Bull Durham
, you can see definite similarities.
In the movie, Davis, played by Kevin Costner, is a career minor league catcher given the task of helping younger players with a little God-given ability to learn to play baseball the right way. Higgins, now in his second season as an assistant coach at UNLV, was also a minor league catcher. And middle infielder. And occasional outfielder. And yes, he even pitched a time or two. Higgins put the ‘U’ in utility.
Coming out of Arizona State, Higgins was destined for stardom. He earned All-America honors as a second baseman for the Sun Devils. He was first-team All-Pac 10 twice, a Tri-Captain and recipient of the Mr. Sun Devil Award for Leadership. After being drafted by the San Diego Padres, he spent five seasons in the organization. He won the Double A Texas League batting title in 1990 and three seasons later, finished the season as the Padres starting catcher. In between, he learned to play every position on the diamond.
But a long career in the big leagues was not his destiny, and after retiring, Higgins returned home to the Las Vegas area where he had also spent time playing for the Padres Triple-A team and went into coaching. He coached with Padres’ Triple-A Vegas club and even spent time doing color on the local radio broadcasts. He then went into the banking industry, where he spent 12 years before the bottom fell out of the economy in 2007. A return to baseball was in the cards.
Current Rebels head coach, Tim Chambers, knew of Higgins baseball background and brought him back to the game as an assistant during Chambers’ tenure at the College of Southern Nevada. While an assistant there, their star pupil was Bryce Harper, who’d become the first player drafted in the Major League draft by the Washington Nationals in June of 2010. While at CSN, they captured Region and District Championships and placed third in the 2010 Junior College World Series. When Chambers got the UNLV job before the 2011 season, Higgins was named the Rebels’ hitting coach.
Chambers saw the value in Higgins wealth of experience as well as his straightforward approach to teaching the game. Higgins found the players at the college level a little more willing to learn than those in Triple-A.
“In Triple-A, you’ve got guys who’ve already been there (the big leagues) and guys who are on their way up and think they have it all figured out,” Higgins said as we talked before a UNLV/Air Force game. “These kids here, they don’t always get it right away, but they are more willing to listen.” Higgins laughed: “Sometimes they look at me funny like, ‘How do you know all this?’”
“It’s not like I invented any of this stuff,” he continued. “I got to learn this stuff from guys like Rob Picciolo and Bruce Bochy and lots of big leaguers. I’m just passing it down.”
Rebel hitters have responded well, although sometimes it can be a frustrating experience for the coach. “They come back to the dugout and ask me what’s wrong with their swing,” Higgins grinned. “I tell them, ‘Nothing. If there was something wrong with your swing you wouldn’t be here. Just start swinging at good pitches.’”
Until they make a sequel to Bull Durham
, we’ll never know if Crash Davis ever went into coaching. If he did, he would have done it exactly like Kevin Higgins.
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