The Road Frequently Traveled
What the West Virginia University baseball team will be facing this year is probably unprecedented in the history of the sport.
The Mountaineers are scheduled to play just eight of its 56 regular season games at their home facility this spring. One game will be played in Pittsburgh against Pitt while the other 47 will be a minimum of 2 ½ hours away from campus, including three Big 12 weekends in Charleston and another Big 12 series in Beckley. Those games in Charleston and Beckley are considered "home games" for the Mountaineers.
Because of that, West Virginia players will be missing a lot of class time during the spring semester.
“What we’re preparing to do might be unprecedented in college baseball with the travel we’re facing,” said first-year Mountaineer coach Randy Mazey. “I know some teams have had to play home games in some pro parks, locally, but we literally leave Morgantown every Thursday to get on the road.”
The WVU men’s basketball team faced something similar in 2000 when the Mountaineers were forced to play their home games in Charleston and Wheeling because of the asbestos removal work done on the Coliseum that completely shut down the facility.
At one point that year, West Virginia had a 13-7 record and was a contender for postseason play until it hit a wall and finished the season losing six of its last seven games. Three of those losses were home games – two in Wheeling and one in Charleston.
Mazey’s first WVU club will encounter a similar challenge later this spring when it has to make back-to-back weekend trips to Charleston in early May to play Big 12 home games against Oklahoma and TCU. Prior to that, West Virginia will have a three-game series against Kansas in Beckley, April 26-28.
Beckley is a slightly longer driving distance from Morgantown than Charleston.
“That presents a lot of challenges from an academic standpoint, from a fatigue standpoint, and from a strength and conditioning and nutritional standpoint, so we’ve got to stay on top of all those things,” Mazey noted.
Compounding matters is perhaps the strongest schedule in school history, which features conference road trips to Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State, and games in Charleston against Texas Tech, Oklahoma and TCU – programs considerably stronger than what West Virginia faced on last year’s slate that was rated the 155th toughest in the country by one online computer ranking service.
Throw in Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas in Beckley and non-conference games against Wake Forest, Indiana, Iowa, Pitt, New Orleans, Ohio State, Liberty, as well as the renewal of the Marshall series, and the Mountaineers are in for a very daunting task – one Mazey is already preparing his young team for.
“I tell our guys all the time, if you know you’ve got a big challenge going in to it, you can prepare for it and we have prepared them for the challenge with the unbelievable amount of travel,” he explained. “Great stories are written by teams who have had a lot of adversity and a lot of obstacles, and we’re definitely going to be facing that.”
Mazey concedes that West Virginia will likely be the underdog in every Big 12 series it plays this spring – the four on the road and the other four at home in Charleston and Beckley.
“There is not going to be a game in this conference that we play where we are not going to be the underdog, which to me, presents a great opportunity,” he said. “Whenever you are the underdog you’ve always got something to play for and the other team has a chance for a letdown, so we’re in a position to do some good things if we show up to play - which I think we’re very capable of doing that.”
Currently, Mazey and his coaching staff are concentrating on the things that they have control over – namely how hard they play on the field and how they conduct themselves off of it.
“I think what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to build a program,” he said. “Our goal is not to have one good season. When you’re trying to build a program, good seasons are just a part of it. It’s academics; it’s travel; how guys act on road trips; it’s community (involvement) and it’s fan support. If you want to have excellence in your program, the wins and losses on the field are just a part of that.”
With just modest expectations surrounding this year’s team, Mazey believes they can use that to their advantage if his players embrace it.
“Texas, Oklahoma and TCU, they’re expected to go to the College World Series every year and if you ever go into a season and you don’t have those expectations from a lot of people, it creates a tremendous opportunity and our guys are real excited about that,” he said. ‘Great stories can be written about this team if we do great things this year. We know that going into it, and we’re trying to prepare accordingly.
“I think the guys are all fired up about that opportunity.”
The team hits the road a week from this Friday when the Mountaineers travel to Jacksonville to play a three-game series with North Florida, Feb. 15-17.