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Hallmark is in his fourth season as the Owls’ pitching coach after previously working with the program in a host of different roles. Credit head coach Wayne Graham who made the innovative choice in 2013 of having Hallmark, a longtime catcher by trade, as the Owls’ “rookie” pitching coach. The move may have seemed unconventional, but was in fact simplistically brilliant. Hallmark the catcher had already worked with a host of different types of professional pitchers at the minor league level for the better part of a decade.
It’s only been three years for Hallmark in the role, but it’s hard to describe the move as anything other than a resounding success. Last season the Rice pitching staff finished 12th in the NCAA in strikeouts-per-9 innings (8.8). Hallmark’s hurlers registered the fifth-highest single-season saves total in school history (18) while also finishing among the NCAA’s top teams for ERA (3.16), hits allowed per 9.0 innings (8.2) and WHIP (1.27). A total of five Rice pitchers were selected in the 2015 Major League Draft last summer.
In 2014 the Rice pitching staff finished 13th in the NCAA with a new school record for ERA (2.56). The Owls were also 20th in the nation in both fewest hits allowed per game (7.7) and WHIP (1.19). Rice pitchers registered 18 saves while also finishing with the program’s lowest number of walks since the mid 1980s (192 walks in 573.1 inn., 3.0 per game).
Individually, Hallmark trained Owl left-hander Blake Fox to consensus All-America honors and to selection as the 2014 C-USA Pitcher of the Year. In two years Hallmark helped convert Matt Ditman from a walk-on bullpen catcher to ranking among the Conference USA leaders in saves (9), ERA (1.83), opponents’ batting average (.198) and WHIP (0.90).
Ditman went from near-obscurity to suddenly being drafted by the world champion Royals last June. He (nor team ace Blake Fox) was not even the highest Owl drafted in 2014. That honor went to former Owl stopper Zech Lemond, who Hallmark helped groom to taking on a new starting role. It was no small conversion going from closer to starter, but with Hallmarks’s tutelage Lemond ended up getting selected by the Padres in the third round as the 86th pick overall.
In 2013, Hallmark’s debut as the new pitching coach, the Rice pitching staff set a new single-season school record, and finished second among the NCAA statistical leaders, for shutouts (12). The Owl staff also finished 12th in the nation, and led C-USA, in team WHIP (1.15), while also placing 18th in the country with the league’s best ERA (2.83).
Along the way the rookie pitching coach saw his staff set the school record for strikeouts in a single game (23), as well as finish 31st in the NCAA in strikeouts-to-walks (2.5-to-1) and 37th in strikeouts per nine innings (7.7).
Hallmark has helped train Lemond (who was still a reliever at this point) into all-conference honors. The Rice staff of Austin Kubitza, Jordan Stephens and John Simms all but swept the pitcher’s spots on the C-USA All-Tournament team.
The major league draft was certainly an independent validation of Hallmark’s ability to develop pitchers. Both Kubitza and Simms were selected in the 2013 draft, and the duo’s respective pro careers are moving forward.
When the task of recruiting was added to his list of responsibilities Hallmark hit the ground running. As a former Rice student-athlete, Hallmark is uniquely qualified to identify the top prospects from across the nation who could not only play at the elite level that the Owl baseball program has reached, but also thrive in the University’s challenging academic curriculum. In addition to a host of prep accolades bestowed on his classes of signees, two of Hallmark’s current Owls were drafted by the major leagues but chose to enroll at Rice.
The 2013 season was Hallmark’s first year with the pitchers, but prior to that he also built a pretty impressive coaching resume working with other areas of the program. Hallmark coached the Owl hitters, but he also trained the catchers and worked on the defensive skills and positioning of the outfielders.
Hallmark helped the Owls rank among the C-USA leaders in hits, doubles and runs scored in 2012. That year Rice outscored its opponents by more than 140 total runs and averaged a steady 5.6 runs per game. With 106 doubles Hallmark’s hitters showed they could hit for extra bases, but the players also had the skill from his daily training to lead the league in sacrifices and disciplined-enough to draw 279 walks in 60 games.
Offense was only part of the story. On defense, Hallmark’s outfielders were well-coached, consistently put in the right spot, and reached a defensive-potential they might never even knew they had. In 2012 Hallmark’s outfielders threw-out an eye-opening 14 opposing runners who were attempting to reach an extra base.
As a former catcher for coach Graham, Hallmark started 56 games in 1995 to help lead Rice to its first 40-win season in 11 years. In that second-to-last season of the Southwest Conference, he batted .354 against the league with a .430 slugging percentage, scored 57 runs, and 14 stolen bases in 16 attempts.
Hallmark was selected by Kansas City in the 18th round of the 1995 major league draft and played professionally for nine seasons. He reached the AAA level in the Royals’ organization. Hallmark was part of three consecutive championship teams in the minor leagues from 1997-99.
Playing primarily as a catcher and outfielder, Hallmark hit over .300 three times and stole 30-plus bases five times in his pro playing career. He twice stole more than 40 bases (2000 and 2002) and was selected to play in two minor league all-star games.
Hallmark continued to pursue his Rice degree in the off-seasons and earned it in human performance in 2002. He played his final pro season in 2003 and began his coaching career. He worked one season at nearby Saint Thomas High School before returning home to Rice (where he was a member of Brown College).
A Houston native, Hallmark was a two-time all-district honoree in baseball in 1991 and 1992 at Westbury High School. He went on to earn all-conference honors at Alvin Community College in 1993 and 1994. He was named to the all-Southwest Conference team in 1995.
Hallmark is married to the former Jada Sanders of Kingwood, Texas, a 2001 Rice graduate (Sid Richardson) and four-year letterwinner who set school records for the Owls’ swim team. Jada served five seasons as an assistant swim coach at Rice. Both Hallmarks coached their respective Owl teams to C-USA Championships in the spring of 2011. The couple have four children, Christian (10), Tanner (8) and Grayson (6), and Georgia (2).