Last Wednesday at the district administration building on Main Street, Athletic Director Dr. Dustin Smith introduced Chad Mercado as the new head baseball coach of the Greenwood Bulldogs. Mercado replaces Trey Holloway, who resigned effective at the end of the school year.
After leading the Diamond ‘Dogs to a 6A state championship in 2018 and a 20-9 finish this spring, Holloway decided to leave coaching for the private sector and the opportunity to spend more time with his family and coach his own three young sons.
Mercado spent his last six years as an assistant coach with the Class 5A Beebe Badgers. Greenwood and Beebe played in the same league this past season under the new classification and conference realignment of the Arkansas Activities Association.
From 2009-2015 Mercado was the head coach of the independent Diamonds Baseball Club, which showcased top players from all over Arkansas, and helped over 100 players continue their athletic careers beyond high school.
As a player, Mercado was a catcher for Pratt Community College in Kansas, making the All-Jayhawk second team, and Southeast Missouri State, graduating from Southeast in 2008.
He played college summer baseball for the Covington Lumberjacks of the Valley League, winning the league championship in 2005 and garnering an all-star berth in 2006.
Coach Mercado also earned his Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Central Arkansas in 2012. He is also known statewide as one of the pioneers in bringing unmanned aerial aircraft instruction to the public school setting. He will continue working with the drone program at Greenwood.
He and wife Samantha have two young children, Penelope, age five, and Theo, 18 months.
The new GHS coach is a native of Maumelle, Arkansas, and has been a lifelong baseball fan, something he credits to his family upbringing.
“My dad worked in baseball when I was young,” he said. “So I grew up on baseball around college and professional baseball fields. Both of my brothers played, and I was around their games before I could walk.
“We always considered ourselves a baseball family, and I just stayed in the profession, which has been an awesome thing.”
Mercado also played basketball in junior high but gave it up to concentrate on baseball in high school, a decision he now regrets.
“I played basketball up until ninth grade,” he explained. [But] I wish I would have kept on playing basketball, because I love it. But at that time, I wanted to play college baseball, and then ultimately try to pay play professional baseball.
“At the time, I thought focusing on one sport was the right thing to do. Now I feel like I would have been a better athlete [if I’d] kept on going [basketball]. That's some of the experiences I want to give [my players], letting them learn from everything I've done and let them be the best athletes and the best Bulldogs they can be.”
The new Diamond Dog head coach said the opening at Greenwood came along at just the right time.
“It was perfect timing for us because we were in the process [of talking] with a couple other schools.
“We've been incredibly fortunate,” said Mercado. “There were a lot of openings this year for baseball, and we were getting attention from some pretty special schools, including Greenwood. We actually thought we were going to do something completely different.
“[Dr. Smith] made some phone calls, trying to do some background, and he heard my name and [that] I had a relationship with Coach Holloway. I'm sure he talked to Trey about me, and then talked to some other guys that know me and coached against me,” explaining the recruiting process.
“He [called] my [Athletic Director], and by the time he contacted me it was almost an 11th hour deal. [He said] ‘I really want to tell you about my job.’
“And that's just the way they made us feel from the [start],” said Mercado. “It would be a huge move for us. We've never lived in that area. It’s a new community. But the more we thought about it, the more we researched, the more we heard about Greenwood, it started to resonate with us, and we knew this was the right place to be.”
Asked about what attracted him to Greenwood, the new coach said, “Community is the big thing, setting my family up, to put them in a position to be successful and have an opportunity to be involved in the community. That's my number one priority.
“You can be a baseball coach in all kinds of places, but you can only have a community like this in very specific places. That was the thing that drew us here.
“Every coach wants talent,” he said. “They want good players [and] support. From a communication side, talking to Coach Holloway, then playing against guys in the same conference and being able to see how they operate – how they do things – how they interact with each other.
“That was incredibly important to us, because I come from an excellent school district. Beebe was a great place. They're just so loyal. There's trust there. There's communication. And those were things I saw here [too]. That’s truly the only reason we felt comfortable doing this, because we felt so strongly about the potential for those relationships.
Asked about his favorite professional team, the new coach provided an unexpected answer – the Cleveland Indians.
“My dad was a scout for the Indians,” said Mercado. “That's actually what got us to Maumelle – we left Tennessee or Virginia. Dad had several different coaching jobs and decided he wanted to get into professional baseball and scout.
“So they moved to Maumelle. That was kind of a central area for him. At the time the Indians were terrible. [But] their scouts were responsible for [signing] a lot of the guys that came up and really made an impact with that 95-96-97 team that was really good.
“I can still think back to being a kid and saying, ‘Daddy, why are the Indians so bad?’ And him saying they're just really young. They're gonna be good. And then the next thing you know, they've got four or five all-stars and they're in the ALCS every year, so I'm stuck with it since then, and I love the Indians.”
Mercado says his father and family knew MLB superstars Sandy Alomar, Jr., Kenny Lofton, and Carlos Baerga before they became household names in the professional baseball world of the 1990s.
That led to a question about his favorite baseball movie.
“Bull Durham is the greatest baseball movie, if not sports movie of all time. And Major League is right behind it,” said the coach.
The coach was also asked about today’s world of Major League Baseball. There are some disturbing trends. Strikeouts are way up, as are walks and homeruns. There’s a glut of power pitching with guys throwing 95 to 100 miles per hour, and much less action on the base paths with fewer stolen bases and fewer manufactured runs.
“There's always a trickle down [effect],” said Mercado. “Some of it is good, and some of it’s not good. I think the crazy thing, especially in our conference, is just about everybody's got a power pitcher, at least one of them. And there's a lot of teams that have two.
“I've got a huge amount of respect for our conference, because it's so good. In my opinion, it's the best conference in the state, no matter of classification. I mean, it's a gauntlet,” said the new coach.
“Most of the teams have two or three division one [college] players, which is awesome. I love that. But I've got to make sure those guys understand that running the bases is fun. Stealing bases is fun. Hitting and running is fun. Drag bunts are fun.
“Every now and then I go back and watch those major league games from the mid-90s to early 2000s, and there's so much more pitching. Those guys aren't just throwing it down the middle. There's way more execution of the fine details of baseball.
“That's why I love it so much, because there's so much action, in between a pitch being thrown and a guy hitting the ball. So that's my passion. [Hopefully] the kids can hold on to [that] and embody and learn.
Mercado also harbors a passion to help his players reach the next level, whether it’s college baseball or the professional ranks through the MLB draft.
“For a long time, when I first started coaching, I wanted every kid to have a good experience,” he said, “because baseball has given me so much.
“[But] I realized it's not really about that. There's so much more that goes into it besides playing college baseball or being the starting center fielder for your high school. That's my number one priority, but that doesn't take away from the fact that I'll do whatever I can for these kids to get them where they want to be.
“Making sure they understand where they fit in. Are they asking the right questions in the recruiting process? Are they falling in love with the bright lights, or even the little lights? Are they going to the right baseball program for them?
“I've got a lot of friends in college baseball. I've got friends that have a lot of experiences, and I've had my own experiences. So I just try to advise [players] the best I can and make sure the parents understand and have [the proper] expectations.”
The coach also explained his aggressive style of play.
“I just hate being on first base,” he said. “You're just a double play waiting to happen. I want kids in scoring position. I want guys being able to read balls in the dirt. You know guys are going to get thrown out, that's just part of it. So I'm gonna value outs, of course, but it's fun being aggressive. It's fun running hard. It's fun diving. It’s about running to second base or scoring from second or scoring from first on a double.
“The plays I remember making most in my career aren't necessarily throwing guys out or home runs, it's hustle plays. So that's what I want. I want hustle plays and I want it to be part of our identity.”
Asked how much he knew about next season’s crop of Bulldogs, the new coach laughingly referred to the spray chart he kept for the Badgers, logging the hits of the opposition when playing Greenwood.
“I can definitely give you some good information on about 12 of them as far as tendencies goes,” said Mercado. “But I really want to take this summer to learn about them. And for me, it's more important to learn their personalities. Their talent is going to speak for itself.
“I want to get to know the kids and have a relationship with them and understand where they're coming from and how I can help them. There's a whole lot more that we've got to develop here besides a batting average. So that's going to be my goal, to build relationships.
The coach also acknowledged that weightlifting will be a big part of his program.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That's something I feel like we're going to have pretty good synergy across all the [sports] programs. I got to talk to Coach [Rick] Jones the first day I came up here, and we share a lot of the same philosophies about the weight room.
“So I think it's going to fit in really well with the things I want to do. And just looking at the kids’ faces today and seeing where they're at, I think they're going to enjoy it. So bigger, faster, stronger. All that stuff. If we're going to be aggressive, you want to be fast. I'm excited.”