Sept. 23, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee baseball team opened its fall practice schedule on Sunday, hitting the field at Lindsey Nelson Stadium with plenty of energy.
UT head coach Dave Serrano and his coaching staff were encouraged by the team's intensity level and felt that the first day provided a solid start to what they hope is a productive fall.
"I saw a lot of energy which is kind of expected because it is day one," Serrano said. "I think the true test will be day two, to see if we can repeat the energy level we had today. Everyone was excited to be out here. It was a longer day for a Sunday because we didn't have school and I thought we got a lot accomplished. We weren't perfect in any area but I thought we put a lot of emphasis on the details of things and I was proud of how our guys responded to that.
With 25 newcomers on the roster - 20 freshmen and five junior college transfers - there are plenty of new faces around the diamond, but the Vols liked what they saw out of the newcomers on the first day.
"We are new in a lot of areas so we are going to see growth during some days and we are going to see guys taking steps back," Serrano said. "I thought the infield play was tremendous today. A.J. Simcox played a tremendous shortstop, so did Taylor Smart on the other team. I saw the pitchers get a lot of ground balls. The pitchers, for the most part, threw strikes, which was a big bonus especially because a lot of those guys were pitching for the first time on a Division I field in an official practice."
While the sheer number of newcomers will require Serrano and his staff to make some adjustments to when they will teach certain concepts, don't expect their overall philosophy or approach to the game to change.
"It does change what direction we are going in that we are going to simplify it and we're not going to throw the whole kitchen sink, so to speak, at them," Serrano said. "We are going to try to get them good at the things we think they need [to develop] the foundation they need to be a successful baseball player. That doesn't go away from my philosophy that we are going to need pitchers that are going to compete and throw strikes, we are going to need defensive players that can field baseballs and we are going to need guys that can put the ball in play. If we can walk away in the fall and realize that we are headed in the right direction in those areas, then we will be able to start putting more emphasis on some of the other aspects of the game of baseball.
Regardless of what they might work on during practice on any given day this fall, Serrano has one simple goal he would like the team to achieve each day.
"Each and every day, like I told the team, we want to become one percent better," Serrano said. "As long as we don't take steps back or take for granted the opportunity we are given out here and continue to work extremely hard and dedicate ourselves to becoming a better team and better individually, then we will be going in the right direction."
FRESHMEN IMPRESS IN FIRST SCRIMMAGE
To close out their first day of practice, the Vols held a six-inning scrimmage during which a number of freshmen began making their case for early playing time.
One of the most highly heralded players among this year's freshman class, A.J. Simcox recorded a pair of extra-base hits. The Colorado Rockies 32nd-round pick in last year's MLB draft and son of former Tennessee baseball assistant coach Larry Simcox, he had a triple and scored a run in the first inning before lacing a double high off the wall in left-center in the final frame of the scrimmage.
Although it was his initial foray into collegiate baseball, Simcox didn't try to make it anything more than what it was, another day at the ballpark.
"I hit the ball pretty well today, I felt pretty confident," Simcox said. "The more simple you make, the simpler it is. Josh Hamilton just says, "see ball, hit ball,' and that is what I try to do."
In addition to Simcox's two hits, freshmen Christin Stewart and Vincent Jackson had a double off the wall in right and an RBI single, respectively. Fellow first-year Vols Vance Vizcaino and David Houser also had base hits in the scrimmage.
On the mound, the Vols got solid first-day performances from freshmen Aaron Quillen, Matt Esparza, Trevor Bettencourt and Michael Flax, as well as sophomore Eric Martin and redshirt junior Blake Thomas.