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@Vol_Baseball Report: Healthy Competition

Oct. 10, 2013


JORDAN RODGERS

Crossing the state of Tennessee from Memphis, Rodgers joins the Volunteers from the Memphis University School. A 6-foot-1, infielder and right-handed hitter, Rodgers couldn't wait to arrive on Rocky Top.

"Coming in I was very excited; I couldn't wait to put on the uniform," said Rodgers. "It has been a dream come true. A kid grows up dying to play Division I baseball.

"To get on a team like this - the team has just welcomed the freshmen in. We're having a great time. There's a lot of improvement and I'm loving it here. I'm loving every bit of it."

Rodgers, who played shortstop at the Memphis University School, led the Owls to two straight regional championships and back to back state runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012.

With his leader mentality, Rodgers can be heard across the diamond.

"I'd definitely say I bring a lot of energy," said Rodgers. "I'm a high-vocal guy; I talk a lot to the pitchers during the game. I like to say I'm just a grinder. I work really hard and try to get the best out of my abilities to make the team better."

A dual-sport athlete in high school, Rodgers was named a Mr. Football finalist in the state of Tennessee after passing for 2,851 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior. He's been able to take the traits he's learned from playing quarterback and apply them to the game of baseball.

"The characteristics I learned playing football definitely carry over," said Rodgers. "They were some of the best memories of my life. It made me a better leader and more competitive. I learned how to lose and how to win. The characteristics I learned from football are definitely paying off right now."

In his first at-bat on Thursday, Rodgers' patience at the plate also paid off when he flew a ball onto the left field porch at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

"It was just a good at-bat," said Rodgers. "He put a good pitch in there and I got a good swing on it. I'm just glad it bettered the team."

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With just two weeks of fall ball remaining, Dave Serrano and the Tennessee baseball coaching staff continue to emphasize the importance of each opportunity, and remain encouraged by the healthy competition across the diamond.

"When you play intrasquad games it's sometimes hard to evaluate certain situations," said Serrano. "We're trying to install into our guys that each and every day we're playing for something, and that's hard to do in intrasquad games.

"But in my third year now, I see a lot of good athletes out there on the field. I see depth in the pitching staff, which creates competition which is a good thing. We still have a long ways to go - I keep stressing that - but I really like the ingredients we have. We just have to keep fighting, get tougher and continue to get better as a team."

FRIDAY NIGHT GUY

With former Vol right-hander Zack Godley playing in the Chicago Cubs organization, the Vols' pitching competition is wide open and they're all after one thing... To be the Friday night guy.

Senior Nick Williams, who's started 20 games over his career, is in the mix but more concerned with getting better as a complete staff.

"That's always the goal for me - to be the Friday night guy," said Williams. "But we've got a lot of competition here in the pitching rotation. We just have to work hard, push each pitcher every day and get better as a staff each day. It's not sealed that anyone is the Friday guy, Saturday guy or Sunday guy so you have to keep working every day to try and fill that role."

One of just five seniors, Williams knows he needs to be more vocal and take on the role of a leader this season.

"I'm more of a quiet guy and like to lead by example," said Williams. "But every now and then you have to step up and be more vocal. That's what I'm working on this year - trying to be more vocal for the team."

INFIELD FLEXIBILITY

One area where competition seems to be highest is across the infield. There are currently six Vols all taking reps at second base, shortstop and third.

"That's one of Coach (Greg) Bergeron's philosophies," said Serrano. "He likes his infielders to know each and every spot. I'd say A.J. (Simcox) is probably the only one who hasn't been moving around."

There's actually a method to the madness for the Vols.

"What I like - and this is part of our philosophy in recruiting and it's taken a couple of years - you look at every guy on the infield, excluding the first basemen, and they were all shortstops in high school," said Serrano. "That allows them to move athletically to a lot of positions, whether it's one of the four infield positions or even play in the outfield. It's a good thing to have; it's a good problem to have."

Seeing reps at both third base and shortstop this afternoon, freshman Jordan Rodgers is embracing his ever-changing role.

"I played a few different positions in high school and on my summer ball teams," said Rodgers. "[The coaches] told me they're going to expect me to be versatile and they're going to put me where they need me. I like the role they're putting me in; it's been a great journey so far."

Coach Serrano also knows that over the course of a long season, injuries are bound to happen and wants to be prepared if and when they do.

"You see a lot of flexibility and it allows us to have competition and depth in a 55-game schedule throughout the year, where we know some guys are going to get dinged up," said Serrano. "Now our challenge as a coaching staff is finding some time for these guys to continue to develop once the season gets here, and to be able to spot-play some guys that may not be the No. 1 guy at that time."

FARRAGUT TO ROCKY TOP

With true freshmen Eric Freeman, Nick Senzel, Kyle Serrano and Jammer Strickland making the short trip from baseball powerhouse Farragut High School to UT, the Vols now have six former Admirals on the roster.

One of two returning Farragut alums, Williams was happy to welcome the newcomers and is excited for what their future holds.

"It's always good to have fellow alumni from Farragut here are at the University of Tennessee," said Williams. "They've all been performing well right now so hopefully once the season starts rolling we're all going to play well."

Sophomore shortstop A.J. Simcox also played high school ball at Farragut.

GOMES RETURNS HOME

Former Tennessee baseball standout and current Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes (2007-08) returned home to Knoxville following the Tribe's playoff push this season.

Gomes, who led the Indians with a career-best .294 batting average (min. 200 ABs), took in Tuesday's practice and scrimmage.

A video interview with the Vol For Life is below:


 

 

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