From a college walk-on to MLB's doorstep, the former Pirate is excelling in pro ball.
Annual event gathers alumni and friends to raise funds for Seton Hall Baseball
Pirates will play 18 BIG EAST games and face powerhouses Oklahoma and Arizona.
Rob Sheppard was named the head coach of the Seton Hall baseball program on June 30, 2004, becoming the 17th head coach in the history of the baseball program, and just the third since 1948. He inherited a winning tradition and legacy left by his father, Mike Sheppard, Sr., who won 998 games in 31 years as coach from 1973-2003.
Rob is no stranger to the Seton Hall program, having served as an assistant coach for nine seasons under Mike, Sr. After seven seasons as top assistant to his father, Rob was promoted to associate head coach during the summer of 2001.
Sheppard has built an experienced coaching staff that includes former Seton Hall pitcher Phil Cundari, Pirate standout Mark Pappas, as well as former professional Eric Duncan.
Seton Hall is coming off its third straight season of at least 34 victories, finishing with an overall record of 37-19, the most wins since 2000. Sheppard's Pirates went 18-6 in BIG EAST Conference play, also the most wins since 2000, and earned the #2 seed in the BIG EAST Tournament. After beginning the season with losses in their first nine games, the Pirates won 37 of their final 47 games, including a stretch of 13 straight wins, which culminated in a victory over Michigan at CitiField, home of the New York Mets. Seton Hall finished the historic season with a top-50 RPI and was ranked as high as 19th in the nation by Baseball America.
Following the season, six members of the team signed professional baseball contracts and four were selected in the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Amateur Draft. Giuseppe Papaccio was named a Third Team All-American to highlight the team's several individual accolades. Sheppard earned NJCBA Coach of the Year honors.
The prior year, Seton Hall won 34 games and earned the #3 seed in the BIG EAST Tournament thanks in part to winning BIG EAST road series at Louisville and St. John's.
The 2011 season resulted in one of the most successful campaigns of Sheppard's tenure, with the Pirates capturing their first BIG EAST Championship since 2001 to advance to the NCAA Regionals. Seton Hall earned an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament when it defeated St. John's University, 4-2, to win the third conference title in program history. The Pirates defeated second seed University of Arizona 4-0 in the opening round of the NCAA Regional and ended the year with 34-25 overall record.
The individual accolades poured in for the players and coaching staff throughout the year. Senior hurler Joe DiRocco was selected as an ABCA Third-Team All-American - first Pirate to earn the distinction since 1997 - and was also an All-BIG EAST First Team honoree and named NJCBA Pitcher of the Year. Sheppard was recognized as the ABCA East Region Co-Coach of the Year for the first time in his career.
During his first three seasons, Sheppard continued to force a hard-work ethic into his team, and watched it pay off. After finishing the 2006 season 17-games under .500, the Pirates ended the 2007 season 25-25. In 2008, Sheppard's crew reached the 30-win plateau and the BIG EAST Conference Tournament for the first time since 2001.
In 2009, Sheppard and his staff coached nine players to New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association (NJCBA) awards. The honorees included Keith Cantwell, who was named the Co-Pitcher of the Year, as well as Dave Phelan, Will Walsh, and Henry Warner who were honored on the JNCBA All-Rookie Team.
In addition to the in-state recognition, Sheppard had five of his players named to the postseason All-BIG EAST Teams, the most since 1995. Cantwell and Chris Affinito were named to the first team, while Sean Black and Matt Smedberg took home second team honors, followed by Matt Singer who earned his place on the third team.
The 2008 season also saw nine players named to the NJCBA squads including Corey Young - NJCBA Pitcher of the Year, and Chris Roach - NJCBA Rookie Pitcher of the Year. In addition, Young and Greg Miller were honored with post-season, All-Conference awards with Young earning All-BIG EAST First Team accolades, and Miller being named All-BIG EAST Third Team.
The highlight of the 2006 campaign came when the Pirates upset No. 11 Notre Dame and won two of the three games in the series. Dan McDonald was an All-BIG EAST Third Team selection and nine players were named to the NJCBA team with three first team selections: Luis Fernandez, Dan McDonald and Dan Merklinger.
In 2005, freshman Dan McDonald was named the NJCBA Rookie of the Year, the first SHU player to receive the distinction since 1999. John Walsh, Tim Pahuta and Dan Merklinger were also honored by the NJCBA, earning first team, and a pair of second team honors, respectively. The Pirates had two MLB draft picks, with Pahuta and Tim Sabo being chosen in the 18th round. Pahuta was taken in the 534th overall pick by the Washington Nationals, while Sabo followed at the 545th overall pick by the Chicago White Sox.
Sheppard was the acting head coach in 2004, guiding the Pirates to a 17-33-1 record. Seton Hall was hampered by injuries, but managed to post some noteworthy accomplishments in his first season. SHU took a 4-2 decision over 4th-ranked Notre Dame at Owen T. Carroll Field on April 23, and followed that with a memorable 20-0 win over Villanova on "Mike Sheppard Day". Senior Joey Scott was named the NJCBA Co-Player of the Year and also earned All-BIG EAST Second Team honors, while senior Chris Noonan was picked in the 17th round of the MLB Draft by the St. Louis.
During the 2001 season, Rob earned his first head coaching experience at the collegiate level when he served as interim head coach while Mike, Sr., recovered from triple bypass heart surgery. After a slow start with Seton Hall winning just three of its first 12 games, he rallied the Pirates to a 14-4-1 record in April. After clinching a BIG EAST Tournament berth in the final weekend of the regular season, Sheppard guided Seton Hall to three straight victories and the Pirates' first conference championship since 1987.
In the NCAA Clemson Regional the following week, Seton Hall defeated top-seeded South Alabama twice to advance to the championship round. It marked the Pirates' most successful run in the NCAA Tournament since 1984. After helping Seton Hall to a 34-23-1 record, Sheppard was recognized for his efforts as he was selected NJCBA Division I Coach of the Year.
A 1992 graduate of Seton Hall's Stillman School of Business, Sheppard was the third member of his family to play middle infield for the elder Sheppard. Older brothers Mike and John played shortstop and second base, respectively, in the 1980s. As a college player, Sheppard helped Seton Hall to four BIG EAST Tournament appearances and served as a captain of the Pirate team that finished as the runner-up at the BIG EAST Tournament during his senior season. That year, Sheppard ranked fifth on the team in hitting and led the squad in sacrifice bunts with 15. Sheppard concluded his collegiate career with a .278 batting average, 130 hits and 58 RBI in 158 games as a Pirate.
Sheppard broke into the coaching profession in 1993 as an assistant coach with the Vailsburg American Legion team which reached the New Jersey state finals three out of four seasons. In 1994, Sheppard served as the interim head coach for the Immaculate Conception High School baseball team. Sheppard is the latest in a long line of family members to become a head baseball coach in New Jersey. Mike Sr., served as head coach of Seton Hall from 1973-2003. Rob's oldest brother, Mike Sheppard Jr., is currently the head coach at Seton Hall Prep, while his brother John is the head baseball coach and athletic director at Morristown Beard Prep School.
Sheppard holds master's degrees in Business Information Systems (December 1996) and Sport Management (May 1997) from Seton Hall. He and his wife Kelly currently reside in Millington, NJ. They have a 12-year-old son, Robert Jr., born during the Pirates' trip to the 2000 NCAA Tournament, and an 11-year-old son, Patrick.