Bundle Up, College Baseball Begins Friday
While we scrape off our car windows and pay the kids to shovel the driveways, the West Virginia University baseball team is plowing its way through another Snowmageddon headed toward Charleston, S.C.
When they get there, hopefully sometime before noon on Friday, the Mountaineers will face eighth-ranked Louisville in the 2014 season opener.
Yes sir, take off the gloves, the ski masks and your thermal underwear because college baseball season is here once again – Anchorage U. style!
“In college baseball it seems like forever from the end of the last season to the start of a new season,” said West Virginia second-year coach Randy Mazey. “It seems like it’s been 10 years since we played Oklahoma State in the conference tournament. Everybody is champing at the bit to see a different colored uniform and getting tired of playing against each other (indoors).”
That opinion may change once they get outside. The current weather forecast in Charleston shows temperatures in the high 30s with a nice little squall coming off the Atlantic. However, tomorrow the thermostat is expected to creep up into the 50s, which would be like 85 around here.
All joking aside, Mazey is anxious to see how his team will fare against, perhaps, the most ambitious schedule in school history, which, seemingly, is only missing the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers this year.
“I think part of being a college baseball player is playing against really good teams and going to some really neat places,” Mazey said. “We are going to Charleston, S.C., one of the prettiest towns in America. We’re going to Myrtle Beach, San Diego and Las Vegas. Who wouldn’t want to do that in their college years?”
For the next month and a half you can catch Mazey’s Mountaineers just about everywhere, from South Carolina to California before West Virginia opens its home slate on March 25 against Pitt – that is if all of this snow we’ve gotten melts by then.
Despite staring at such a grueling slate, Mazey believes he has a baseball team that is up to the challenge.
“I’ve seen teams play in the College World Series with less talent than what we’ve got,” he admitted. “They’re capable but it’s how much they put into it. Those teams that are less talented that make it to the College World Series are the teams that have great leadership, great work ethic and don’t let anything bother them and can overcome adversity.”
Mazey says building a successful college baseball program comes in stages, from the initial development of the program to the actual winning that comes after that. Then comes the expectation of winning on a regular basis.
He believes this year’s team might be good enough to skip a stage in the overall process.
“That first stage was the fun stage – no expectations,” he explained. “We were ambushing people and we can’t do that anymore, but this stage is just as fun as the last one. This is the stage where you have expectations of playing in the postseason and when this stage is over the next one is playing in the postseason consistently, Super Regionals, and then the next stage after that is (reaching the) College World Series.
“There is a progression of when you’re building a program that you’re supposed to go through, but occasionally a team comes along that screws that whole deal up and can jump one stage ahead,” added Mazey. “I think we’ve got a team a little bit like that that thinks, the heck with it, let’s try and get into a regional.”
The Mountaineers have a schedule that can get them there - if they can keep their heads above water with 19 opponents this season ranked in last year's RPI top 100, including 11 in the top 65.
There are only two teams on this year’s schedule that had an RPI higher than 200 last year – Marshall and Penn State – and only seven opponents had an RPI worse than 100. Yes, it’s safe to say that no Mountaineer team has ever faced a schedule this daunting.
“When we recruit kids and they look at a schedule that’s what they want to do (play against the best teams),” said Mazey. “We want to coach against people like that, our kids want to play against people like that and the fans want to see teams like that, so hopefully year in and year out we’re going to load the schedule with good competition.”
The key, of course, is winning enough games against such a loaded schedule to be in the mix for postseason consideration at the end of the season.
“It’s going to be a feeling-out process and we’re going to learn as we go, but these first 15 games last season was kind of a feeling-out process between the coaches and the team and the team and the coaches, and I don’t think that will be the case this season,” Mazey noted. “We’re going into the season with some expectations that we’ve got a good club and these first 15 games are going to be really, really important for us.”
Mazey believes all teams take on the personality of its coach and he wants his players to be confident in their abilities because he’s confident in their abilities, otherwise he wouldn’t have recruited them.
“I believe they can win every game that they play,” he said. “If I didn’t believe that then there’s no way they will believe that. I kind of like their mentality right now. I still think they feel like there is a chip on their shoulder. After the season we had (tied for third with Oklahoma in 2013) they still picked us seventh in the Big 12 and I think everybody in the locker room felt like we were going to be picked higher than that, so I’d like to send my thanks out to everyone who voted.”
“In the Big 12 us being the northernmost team it may always be that way. Who knows if we are ever going to be voted ahead of Texas and Oklahoma? I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. I like being the underdog because it’s easier to motivate the team as an underdog.”
Right off the bat, the Mountaineers will get another opportunity to play the underdog role against Louisville Friday afternoon.
“We’re playing a team right out of the gate that is figuring to go back to Omaha,” Mazey said. “They’ve got one of the best pitching staffs in the America and it’s a barometer for us to see how good we are right out of the gate.”
Bundle up, because college baseball begins on Friday.
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