FARGO — Jeff Ditch was an assistant baseball coach for Tod Brown at North Dakota State for three seasons, but the two first crossed paths in the early 2000s when both were assistant coaches for other universities.
They crossed paths while scouting and recruiting.
“I always admired his work ethic,” Brown said Monday afternoon. “He was a hard worker, paid attention and was a good talent evaluator.”
Ditch, 53, died unexpectedly Sunday.
“It’s kind of a shock to everybody,” Brown said.
Ditch, from Abercrombie, N.D., graduated from Richland High School in 1984 and graduated from Valley City State in 1989. He was a Bison assistant for the 2017 through 2019 seasons before taking a job in commercial real estate after the 2019 season, remaining in the Fargo area.
“He certainly is going to be missed by many,” Brown said. “He was really the nicest guy I think I’ve ever met. … He was always willing and able to do whatever he could to help you. It’s hard to find people like him. He was a throwback.”
Ditch was the head coach for 11 seasons at Indiana University of Pennsylvania before he took the job at NDSU as the team’s hitting coach to return to his home state. He was the winningest coach in program history with 253 victories. Ditch spent nearly 30 years coaching college baseball, including NCAA Division I stops at Penn State, Cincinnati and West Virginia.
“He was very loyal, very patient and had a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. He kept things simple,” Brown said. “He had a good calming demeanor about him that in critical situations made players play their best.”
Ditch also was a Little League coach for Bison head men’s basketball coach David Richman, who is from Wahpeton, N.D. The two later became colleagues at NDSU.
“It’s sad, it’s heartbreaking, just a really good dude,” Richman said. “He was just passionate. Passionate about the game of baseball. Passionate about the student-athletes. He was just a tireless worker.”
Brown offered this memory of Ditch. During his first fall with the program prior to the 2017 spring season, NDSU had to practice at Fargo North High School, waiting for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks season to end, so the Bison could get back into Newman Outdoor Field.
“Our players needed to work out, kind of an on-your-own, no-coaches-allowed,” Brown said.
That late August, Ditch dropped ball buckets and other equipment, but couldn’t be there while the players worked out. Brown said he came back three hours later, to help Ditch lock things up and pick up equipment after the players were done.
When Brown got to North baseball field, Ditch’s truck was there, but the players said they hadn’t seen him.
“About 10 minutes later, here he comes,” Brown said. “So he drives over there, sets up all the equipment for the players and the coaches can’t be there. And he goes out for a three-hour run and comes back and loads it back in his truck and leaves.”