Jan. 26, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -The Tennessee baseball team completed its first outdoor workout of the 2014 season on Sunday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, as the Vols engaged in an 11-inning intrasquad scrimmage to highlight the afternoon.
The Volunteers officially began their preparations for opening day on Friday, but were forced inside for the opening two practices by unfavorable weather conditions.
With sun in the forecast on Sunday, the coaching staff and players were excited to get things going on Robert M. Lindsay Field.
"The first thing the team is going to hear from me is `what an awesome day,' head coach Dave Serrano said prior to practice. "It's an opportunity for us; we've been indoors for the first two days, and that's the way the ball bounces sometimes. It's not an excuse. It's our first set of adversity that we have to overcome as a team.
"Now we have the opportunity to get outside. We're going to take full advantage of it and play as many innings as possible within our time limit. I just hope our players, individually and collectively, are as excited as I am to get out there on our own baseball field."
As he hoped, the players were indeed every bit as excited to finally get outside on Sunday.
"It feels great to finally get on the field," said junior infielder Will Maddox. "We've been waiting for it every day and the weather just hasn't allowed for it with how cold it's been. It's an exciting day today to be able to get out there finally."
Senior outfielder Scott Price, the team's top returning hitter with a .361 batting average last season, was also pleased to be peeling off the layers for Sunday's scrimmage.
"It's going to be awesome to finally get out there," said Price. "It actually warmed up to about 40 [degrees] today so I think everyone will be in short sleeves and we'll see the leggings come off. It will feel good; it will be good to get back on the field for the first time officially this spring."
THE TIME IS NOW
Entering his third year as leader of the Diamond Vols, Coach Serrano and his group believe all the pieces are in place to make a run and achieve their expectations in 2014.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the time to win is now," said Serrano. "We've had enough downs in this program over the last two years. And now I think we're finally at that stage with our ability, our talent level and our makeup. What's there not to be excited about? We're undefeated right now. We have yet to be beaten."
The boost of confidence can be directly associated with the massive boost of depth on the Vols' roster.
"It starts with depth; it starts with quality depth," said Serrano. "And I think for the first time I can stand here and say that we have that. We have good arms, we have guys with good stuff and we have guys with different styles. I have some tough choices to make over the next four or five weeks leading into SEC play, and that's a good thing. Not only on the mound, but in the field too. As coaches, we have some tough decisions."
At the end of the day, depth is much more than just replacing a man when he's injured. Depth will allow the Vols to compete at every position day in and day out.
"That competition will continue to push our starters to do well because they know there's someone just as good as them behind them," said Serrano. "That's what I think breeds championships - when you have depth. With the rigors of a 55-game schedule, things are going to happen; guys are going to come up sore and we're going to have some injuries. But I finally feel that we have guys that can step in and take over without missing a beat. Especially on the mound - we can go 10 or 11 deep now and I feel we have SEC caliber pitching. The only negative is some of them just haven't done it yet."
Senior right-handed pitcher and Knoxville native Nick Williams used the Vols' depth to back up the high preseason expectations.
"I feel [the expectations] are realistic," said Williams. "We've got a lot more depth at every position so that's going to help a lot. We're all competing for a job out there, which is always a plus. You have to compete [within your team] in order to compete in the SEC. With how we're going about it in practice and how we're getting after it, I think our expectations are reachable."
Williams also backed up Coach Serrano's feelings on the deep pitching staff.
"This pitching staff is a lot more mature this year. We have a lot more arms; a lot more quality arms. We're filling the zone up in practice, competing and having fun out there. That's the main thing - we have a lot more depth. I think the pitching staff is going to do really well this year."
Williams added that he doesn't believe these preseason expectations to be a stretch and had a simple answer for those that do.
"They haven't seen our team yet. We have a lot of quality players on this team. We have a lot of hard workers. Our expectation is to make it to the postseason and we believe that. We're going to work every day to get to the postseason. One step at a time; we'll get there."
19 DAYS UNTIL FIRST PITCH
The start of the 2014 Tennessee baseball season is just 19 days away! In January and February, UTSports.com will count down the days remaining until the start of the Vols' 2014 campaign (Feb. 14) with looks back at the many players who donned jersey numbers 30-1.
The baseball season in Knoxville kicks off on the diamond on Feb. 14 when the Vols host the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks at Lindsey Nelson Stadium at 4 p.m.
The 2014 slate is highlighted by 33 games in Knoxville, including early nonconference matchups against Purdue (Feb. 15-16) and UNLV (Feb. 21-23). The Vols open with a 13-game homestand, starting things off with three straight days of doubleheader action.
Today, we take a look back at one of the all-time greats to ever toe the rubber on Rocky Top and current member of the Kansas City Royals, Luke Hochevar.
Visit today's jersey countdown here.
BUY YOUR SEASON TICKETS NOW
Season tickets for the 2014 campaign are now available. Make sure to purchase your seats now by visiting UTTix.com. Single-game tickets and the SEC package will go on sale in early February.
For more information about Tennessee baseball and a complete weekly practice schedule, visit UTSports.com/Baseball, follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter or like the Vols on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/VolBaseball.