Feb. 5, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Having brought 18 freshmen and 21 total newcomers into the program this year, the Tennessee baseball team knows that this season will be one in which it is constantly searching to define itself as a team. Through the first half of their preseason practices, however, the Vols are pleased with the progress they are making.
"I've seen a lot of good things," Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano said. "We won't know exactly what direction we need to go as a team until we start playing outside competition and the n we'll have to go back to the drawing board and fine tune some things that we see the opponents are doing to us. I have said this many times and I won't stop saying it; I'm really excited about this team and I'm excited about what the future will bring."
Part of the reason Serrano and his staff brought in as many new players as they did this season was to help create increased competition for starting spots all over the diamond.
So far, so good as players continue to battle it out at virtually every position.
"I think second base is a position with [competition between] Taylor Smart and Jeff Moberg," Serrano said. "The outfield is kind of a flip of a coin with what direction we will go. We have five or six guys that are battling for three spots out there. Obviously the pitching staff will be an ongoing competition throughout the whole year, depending on who's pitching well and in what spots, and I think the catcher's position is doing some things.
"We have some things in our mind with how we will start out but I also think some things will change like they have with every year I've been in coaching. How you start the season isn't how you finish the season most of the time with who's playing."
While the path will certainly take twists and turns along the way for the Vols this season, they know the challenge starts under the bright lights in Las Vegas in just 10 days. Where it will end, however, will be determined by how they respond.
"We realize that we have a lot of growing up to do individually and collectively because we're so new, but that's what's so intriguing about this, is that we're not going to be the final product for a long time, and we might not even be the final product this year," Serrano said. "I know this team is going to play hard together, this team is going to play together and this team is going to have a lot of fun competing together."
OPTIONS ABOUND ON PITCHING MOUNDThe mound at Lindsey Nelson Stadium has seen a steady flow of new faces through the first half of preseason practice. While some might see that as a potential cause for concern, Serrano instead sees it as an opportunity, not only for those throwing the pitches, but for himself as a coach as well.
With 10 freshman hurlers on the roster, the second-year Tennessee head coach knows that he has a lot of options to work with. Exactly how he will deploy those options continues to be a work-in-progress though.
"I'm just trying to be creative with our depth," Serrano said. "This will be one of my biggest challenges ever. I'm not worried about it, I'm excited about it. There's a chance on the first weekend we'll go with a senior on Friday and then three freshman to follow, with a lot of freshman out of the bullpen. It's going to be exciting to see the growth of these young men and to see how they go out and compete. I know they're going to be nervous, but I am going to try to keep them as calm as possible, and try to keep a simple game plan. Hopefully they'll grow up sooner rather than later and they'll start feeling that they belong quickly and before we get to SEC play."
WORKING ON THE MENTAL GAMEIn the weeks building up to the start of the 2013 season, Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano has been quite open about the closeness and unity this team has already displayed despite having so many new players on the roster. Much of the credit for that can be attributed to the work the team has put in with mental conditioning coach Brian Cain.
The best-selling author has been working with the team throughout the fall and early portions of preseason practice to help the Vols maintain the right mindset for different situations, both on and off the field. His efforts have helped contribute to a rapidly-developing sense of camaraderie and family within the program.
"I don't think there's any better year to bring in someone to work with our team in the mental game than this year, because we have so many new faces that are hitting the Division-I trail right out of the gate," Serrano said. "Brian does a fantastic job. I've known Brian since my days at Cal State Fullerton and he was very instrumental with the magical year that we put together in 2007 at UC Irvine, with a team that no one expected to go to Omaha, and we did.
"He continues to reiterate the mental toughness and the things we have to do when the game starts going fast on us. I just said it to the team yesterday, we have got to start using those skills when the game does start going fast on us because it goes fast for all of us. Just like life, life speeds up on us and sometimes we have to pull back and take a deep breath and gather our thoughts and continue to plug forward."
FAN APPRECIATION DAY COMING UP
The Tennessee baseball program will host a preseason fan appreciation day from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, Feb. 9 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Admission is free as fans are invited to come tour Lindsey Nelson Stadium, meet the team and take a few swings in the new indoor batting cage facility.
Fans who attend this event will receive two free tickets to UT's contest against Ole Miss on Sunday, April 21, and a selection of Tennessee baseball items.
They will also be able to interact and get autographs from members of the team, put their name in for raffle drawings for a variety of items, including the chance to throw out the first pitch at a future game and participate in a silent auction for autographed memorabilia from former Vol legends like Todd Helton and R.A. Dickey, as well as MLB Hall of Famer George Brett and much more.
Serrano will provide a season preview and participate in a Q&A session from 11-11:30 a.m. in the MVP Club Room. The team will then begin practice at noon before holding a scrimmage at 1:30 p.m.
BUY YOUR SEASON TICKETS NOWSeason tickets for the 2013 campaign are now available. Make sure to purchase your seats now by visiting UTTix.com. Single-game tickets will go on sale Feb. 11.
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.