Calling all arms. That is the gist of coach Randy Mazey’s recruiting pitch as he starts his first season as West Virginia University’s new baseball coach.
After spending the last six years helping TCU become a national power, Mazey is bringing his expertise to Morgantown where he will be guiding a Mountaineer program that is making a gigantic leap into the super-competitive Big 12 Conference - a league that has a combined 15 College World Series appearances among its members.
Having spent some time in that part of the country, Mazey knows well what West Virginia is getting itself into in the Big 12.
“When you look at the best teams, Texas has always been about pitching, pitching, pitching,” Mazey said recently. “TCU lately has been pitching. Oklahoma has always been good [at pitching], and especially with the way the bats have been scaled back the last couple of years, if you have good arms on the mound you can stay in games. If you give up seven or eight runs in today’s game it’s really hard to compete.”
Mazey, a former all-ACC pitcher at Clemson, is a strong proponent of fielding teams with good pitching and strong defense. He figures with those two, at least his teams will always be in games.
“If you only give up two or three runs you always have a fighting chance,” he explained. “If you get three hits in one inning you can tie the game up at any time so you can manufacture offense, but it’s hard to manufacture pitchers.
“You have got to have the horses in the stable who can go out there and shut some people out and you’ve got to go deep – you’ve got to go 10 or 12 guys deep in the bullpen,” Mazey continued. “If the starter gets run out in the fifth or sixth inning you’ve got to have somebody there who can stop the bleeding. It all starts on the mound and you manufacture around that.”
Mazey also noted that having a strong pitching staff can have a residual effect on a team’s offense, specifically, a better-prepared lineup because hitters will be facing outstanding arms in squad games.
“If you don’t have good pitching in the inter-squads and you score 12 runs every time you play then you’re not really preparing yourself for those kinds of arms,” Mazey said. “We have to get those kids here first and develop them. If you go into a weekend and you face better guys than you’ve ever seen then you’re really fighting an uphill battle. My first thing is to get the good arms here.”
Mazey and his coaching staff have spent the last month scouring the country for the best available players and he is pretty pleased with what was left out there, and also with what his coaches were able to sign on such short notice.
“My assistant coaches have been warriors the last three weeks and we’ve been very successful with the kids we’ve signed,” he said. “We’ve got several from Texas, Oklahoma and Florida so we’ve had some success, but for the future of the program Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia will be our lifeblood. If [prospects] come and see the transition we are going through and the excitement that is surrounding the program right now I think we can keep some of those northern kids here.”
Mazey believes being in the Big 12 will carry a lot of weight when he battles it out with Ohio State, Kent State, Penn State, Pitt, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech and other local schools for the top area prospects.
“With us joining the Big 12 I think this is an opportunity for kids who live in the radius around Morgantown to feel like they are going and playing in the south because they are playing in a southern league, but still stay close to home,” he said. “It’s really encouraging for me to see Kent State and Stony Brook [reach the College World Series). Maybe it’s shifting to the northern teams where kids are staying closer to home and not having to go to the south to play. We’ve pushed the season back a little bit and I think northern baseball is on the rise again.”
Mazey said when the current players return this fall all of them will have a clean slate. He won’t immediately turn over the roster the way many new coaches in the sport have done in the past.
“With the new APR [academic progress rate] you can’t just come in and do that,” he said. “Ten years ago, if the situation arose you could cut 20 kids and bring 20 new ones in but you can’t do that anymore – not that I would want to do that anyhow – but coming here with all of these [returning] players everyone has a fresh start. I don’t know any of them. I came in here saying I am not going to cut anybody, and I haven’t done that, so I’m going to give everybody a fair chance to make the team.”
Workouts down at Hawley Field this fall may more resemble baseball camp for the first few weeks as Mazey and his staff learn their personnel and the players learn how Mazey wants them to play.
“It’s exciting for us,” he said. “We are going to start from ground zero and it’s going to be baseball fundamentals 101. We’re going to teach them how to catch, how to throw and all that. It re-energizes you as a coach to be able to teach the fundamentals again and I think the players are going to be excited to get coached that way. I just wish we started tomorrow.”
And when the Mountaineers eventually get around to playing their first Big 12 schedule, Mazey said it will be a memorable experience for his players – and also for the teams that have to come to West Virginia to play the Mountaineers in March and April when the weather is still a little cooler around here.
“I think the thing we’ve got going for us right now is our kids are going to be really, really excited to be playing in the Big 12. I don’t know that Texas, OU and some of those people are going to be really excited about flying [to West Virginia],” he said. “They’re not used to that. The league is not spread out that far and most of the trips are bus trips for everybody in that league. It’s going to be a weekend on their schedule that they are probably not going to be looking forward to and I think that’s good. Maybe we will be able to ambush some people that way.”
Mazey said when he was at TCU the Horned Frogs always dreaded playing games at Air Force because of the frigid temperatures in Colorado Springs during the springtime.
“We would go play Air Force every year and when you go up to play Air Force it’s always going to be cold, there is hardly ever going to be fans in the stands, so it’s a bad baseball atmosphere all the way around,” he said. “It’s tough to play good like that, but our kids when we go to Texas or TCU and there is 5,000 or 6,000 people there, it’s pretty easy to get jacked up for that.”
Mazey hopes one day that Morgantown is also a dreadful experience for visiting Big 12 teams, with one exception, of course, “I just hope we are going to have the fans,” he said.
The coach believes the proposed new ballpark in the University Town Centre will take care of that. He noted that every program that has built a new stadium over the last 20 years or so has experienced an immediate spike in performance.
“I’m hoping that happens here,” he said. “We’re just recruiting to an artist’s rendering right now. Wait until we lay the bricks and walk a kid through that facility. That will really help.”
Now that Mazey has wrapped up recruiting for this summer, he can now take a little time to figure out where everything is in Morgantown. However, he does have a pretty good handle on where to eat, though.
“I’m going to tell you one thing, there are a lot of chicken wings in this town,” he laughed. “And I’ve had almost all of them.”Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.