MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The hard part now begins for West Virginia University’s new baseball coach Randy Mazey.
The last time West Virginia made an NCAA tournament regional was 16 years ago in 1996, and during that time, the Mountaineers have been essentially a middle-of-the-pack program in a middle-of-the-pack baseball conference in the Big East. Now, awaiting the Mountaineers is the Big 12 – one of the premier conferences in America.
“West Virginia has significant challenges,” noted John Manuel, college editor in chief for Baseball America. “It doesn’t have a tradition of winning baseball, so I think they did pretty well (hiring Mazey) considering that as their track record. He was turning around Charleston Southern and he won at East Carolina - he won 51 games one year and that’s hard to do.”
But winning on a similar scale at West Virginia University will take time, patience, great effort and a lot of local support.
“I think a lot of it is the facility commitment, which I think is there, and assuming there is that commitment from a facility standpoint, I think West Virginia can do a pretty good job in the Big 12,” said Kendall Rogers, former college baseball writer for Rivals.com who is now writing for PerfectGameUSA.org. “I’m not going to say they are going to be on the same level as Texas, but they can be a good program.”
What Mazey has to offer potential Mountaineer baseball prospects in this part of the country is the opportunity to play in the Big 12, and Rogers believes that in itself will open kids’ eyes.
“The thing is, and I’m sure Randy realizes this, is that (West Virginia) is kind of a unique opportunity,” Rogers said. “You look at where West Virginia University is located and you’ve kind of got a nice little base. You can go down into the Carolinas and Virginia to get players. You can also tap into Pennsylvania and Ohio and those areas. You’re not really a southern school and you’re not really a northern school, and I think he’s going to be able to tap into both of those areas.”
Rogers noted that Missouri is currently going through a similar transition moving from the Big 12 to the SEC.
“It’s a different dynamic,” he said. “You are not on an equal playing field as everyone else now. Instead of going to Ohio State or going to Pitt and playing in the Big Ten or the Big East, you’re going to the Big 12 to play against Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and programs like that. I think it gives them a leg up with some kids right off the bat.”
Manuel pointed out that northern schools can be successful in college baseball. Of the 16 teams remaining in this weekend’s Super Regional, three – St. John’s, Kent State and Stony Brook – are located in cold weather climates. Of the three, St. John’s and Kent State have had a long history of baseball success.
“Kent State has had numerous first-round picks,” said Manuel. “St. John’s has had big leaguers – Frank Viola and John Franco – there is tradition at those schools.
“Stony Brook is probably a better example,” added Manuel. “Stony Brook has only been a Division I program for 12 years. They are in Long Island and they have better weather than some of the northern schools (in the state) and that’s the one thing you have to sell – that your weather is better than your competitors.”
Manuel said that Stony Brook has a big supporter in long-time major league pitcher Joe Nathan, who has helped the program with facility improvements through the years.
“I’m impressed with what they’ve done, and they’re the biggest surprise of those three teams (still remaining in the tournament),” said Manuel. “They have built their tradition in painstaking fashion. They’ve just worked at it. It takes work. It takes dedication and you grind it out just like you grind out a baseball game.”
Rogers doesn’t think climate will be that much of an issue for the Mountaineers, especially now that they are in the Big 12. Several schools in this part of the country have experienced success playing in a similar climate.
“You look at Kentucky and you look at Louisville and Virginia and my guess is those climates aren’t too different than West Virginia,” he said. “I don’t think weather is that big of a concern; I think the biggest thing is being in a (major) conference and now having a good coach to kind of lead the way through. I think what Randy is going to be able to do is go across the country and get guys.”
Manuel said the bottom line for the Mountaineers to become competitive in the Big 12 is going out and getting good players, especially a couple of good arms.
“It’s the same thing everywhere. The quickest way to doing it is getting those couple of arms,” he said. “At Kent State, they have an ex-big leaguer as a pitching coach in Mike Birkbeck. They have a recent tradition of being very good at pitching. Their best pitcher this year tops out at 86 (mph) – so you don’t have to have a big arm.”
And according to Rogers, getting good players shouldn’t be a problem for Mazey, who is known as one of the best recruiters in college baseball.
“He has a great reputation as a fantastic recruiter, he’s got a good reputation as a pitching coach and overall, he has a good reputation as a pretty good guy,” said Rogers. “I’m really happy to see him back there. I think he really deserves it. You look at the job he’s done at TCU. He’s a dynamic guy and I think it’s a great hire. I can’t think of many hires that would have been better than Randy in terms of someone who is going to go out there and work hard.”
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