Former MTSU baseball standout Pride headed to Hall of Fame

Heading into the 2000 baseball season, Middle Tennessee was on a two-year slump, finishing both 1998 and 1999 under .500, an anomaly for legendary head coach Steve Peterson.

Peterson knew he needed to make a change to interject some life into his team if they were going to get back to the winning level they were used to. One of those changes was moving maybe his best hitter to a new place on the diamond.

For his first three years at Middle Tennessee, Josh Pride was mainly an outfielder and played a little third base. He was a dynamite hitter, being named the second Louisville Slugger All-American in team history and the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 1999 after hitting a then program single-season record 22 home runs with 53 RBIs and a .382 batting average.

Admittedly, Pride was the team's backup catcher if they desperately needed someone to fill in, but he'd never played behind the dish consistently, only a few games here and there in high school at Nashville's Franklin Road Academy.

Before his senior season, Peterson told Pride he was going to move behind the plate.

"That was a little shocking," Pride said. "I was, I guess, our second-string catcher my first three seasons. But, that's where Coach Pete told me I needed to be."

The move worked, and now, almost 20 years later, Pride is being recognized by Middle Tennessee as an inductee into the Blue Raiders Sports Hall of Fame.

"The first thing that went through my head was just how much of an honor it is," he said. "I know the time and effort that my family and coaches put in to get me to that level. To get that recognition is quite honorable."

At first, the Blue Raiders' 2000 season looked as if it was going to end up like the previous two.

With Pride behind the plate, they had just a 3-9 record through 12 games. However, things were about to turn around.

A seven-game winning streak started Middle Tennessee in the right direction, and after the 3-9 start the Raiders went 30-12 the rest of the regular season, putting them on a roll heading into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

The blue and white won all four games in the OVC tourney, qualifying them for the NCAA Clemson Regional where they went 2-2, losing twice to the host Tigers.

During the run, Pride was taken in the 23rd round of the MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies as a catcher. He finished his Blue Raiders career as the program's all-time home run king (44) and in the top 10 of several other offensive categories. He's now third in homers.

"One of the reasons I chose MTSU was it wasn't a country club," he said. "You had to earn a spot and outwork the next person. That year I really had to work, and it was so rewarding and taught me a lot that I've carried into my career."

Pride's professional baseball career was brief. He played in high A ball for two years before retiring and eventually getting into real estate investing.

He's taken a lot with him from his days in Murfreesboro some 20 years ago, including how to make the most of a new situation and be a leader when facing adversity.

The next time he returns to Middle Tennessee, it'll be as a member Blue Raiders Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that's been a long time coming.

"I wear my emotions on my sleeve," Pride said. "To finally get that acknowledgement, the emotions might take over, and I might completely forget what I plan on saying.

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