Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting closer

I know...  Its been a while since I've posted anything, or at least its been longer than I've intended it to be.  Since my last post, we've played several games, both against true opponents and our own split squads.  We're beginning to show signs of the potential we know we've got, though we're no where near a finished product yet. 

I don't really know what the origin of our biggest obstacle lately really is.  I can't be certain if it is just coincidental, whether its a manifestation of the "summer ball" phenomenon that has swept the country, or even if it is my own perception, skewed by recent success and a few more years under my belt as a coach.  Whatever the case, the obstacle I'm speaking of is the one I wrote about last week.  The good news is that we're making headway.  Last Friday was the best practice we've had all fall, though not for the reasons you might think.  It isn't that we played really well or that we were perfect, because we weren't.  What made it a good practice was that our guys began to start getting after it.  We started to see some competition that had been absent until then.  We were able to carry that over to Saturday, and it led to two well played ballgames against ABAC, one of our Georgia rivals. 

This week has been a solid one, we intrasquaded twice, and our offense is starting to emerge...  This of course happens at the expense of the pitching staff, who left a bit to be desired at times, but overall, the quality of the baseball we're playing has increased. 

I think we're probably very close to where we want to be in terms of understanding our system and the way we run our plays...  Things need to be cleaned up, but there is very little confusion anymore.  On the other front - the one that matters the most (in my opinion anyway) - the competitive front, I'd say we're closer to only about half way there.  We're starting to compete in spurts, and if you watch us play, you'll see it here and there.  Very soon I think we'll be at a point where a core group of guys emerges with the right attitude, skill set, and production to lead us into the spring campaign.  Once that happens, the rest of the bunch will probably take notice and we'll be much closer to where we expect to be. 

Tomorrow we take our crew down to Troy University to square up with two  ACCC-North opponents, so it will be another opportunity to see how we've progressed.

Monday, September 13, 2010

We need some tough

For as much talent as we can put out on a baseball field, what we need a little bit more of at the moment is some toughness.  Now, I'm not talking about "pick on the little guy and let's go start a fight" toughness, I mean game toughness.  I'm also not talking about performing poorly.  Lord knows there is a big difference between playing your ass off all falling short and backing down when its time to rock and roll.  Sure, we've got some guys who have gone out there and stood up, but we have a few more than I'd like that are faltering a little bit when faced with the challenge that college baseball presents.

For some, I think it is the culture they are not used to.  Alot of guys don't like being asked to deal with the pain of getting hit by a pitch or the pressure of throwing inside to opposing hitters.  For others, being faced with similar competition is the obstacle that needs to be crossed.  Those guys don't know what to do when the guy across from them is just as good as they are, they suffer from a sudden lack of confidence.  In alot of ways, I can almost understand...  You've been a star for the last few years and now you're fighting for a job, fighting for respect, and the guys you are competing with and against are as good as you are or maybe even better.

How do you conquer that?  Well, as Lou Holtz would say, "You stand up in front of your opponent and you look him in the eye for 60 minutes.  You hitch up your trousers and you say 'Hey baby, here I am now!  Why don't you try to run through me now!  Let me see you disrespect me with my nose to your nose.  Let's see what you think of me when my face is to ya.'"

Alright, so maybe that's a little dramatic, but the idea is gold.  At some point, you've got to stand up and take control of your own destiny.  Lenny Dykstra is no motivational speaker, and it would seem he's made a few miscues in the business world, but in the book "Moneyball" (which you should read), Michael Lewis writes a quote about Nails that sums it all up: “Billy [Beane] remembers sitting with Lenny in a Mets dugout watching the opposing pitcher warm up. ‘Lenny says, “So who’s that big dumb ass out there on the hill?” And I say, “Lenny, you’re kidding me, right? That’s Steve Carlton. He’s maybe the greatest left-hander in the history of the game.” Lenny says, “Oh, yeah! I knew that!” He sits there for a minute and says, “So, what’s he got?” And I say, “Lenny, come on. Steve Carlton. He’s got heat and also maybe the nastiest slider ever.” And Lenny sits there for a while longer as if he’s taking that in. Finally he just says, “Shit, I’ll stick him.” I’m sitting there thinking, that’s a magazine cover out there on the hill and all Lenny can think is that he’ll stick him.’”

I've heard alot of debate on whether or not this is the sort of thing that can be taught, and to be honest, I'm not sure.  I do know this though:  Whether it can be taught or not, it can damn sure be learned if a guy wants it bad enough.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

That's probably the best way to describe our first action against other people this fall.  In 4 games, we've pretty much covered the gamut of ways you can play.  We've been good in one, bad in one, played ok and lost, and played ok and won.  On the bright side, we haven't tied yet, and with such a young group, this sort of inconsistency is at least somewhat expected.  The trick will be making sure it doesn't last too long.

In our opener at Andrew last Friday, we got a near perfect performance on the mound out of Dustin Dunagan, John Mark Ramsey, Daniel Szathmary, and Brian Alder in a 5-0 shutout to start the fall.  The bats were a little quiet for my taste, but we did hit some balls hard, and Austin Jamieson posted 3 hits to pace us on offense.  Game 2 wasn't as tidy.  Our pitching was solid, with the exception of a rough second inning for Hayden Martin, who was having some issues with soreness.  Hayden felt himself tightening up after the first, but like most players, he felt like he could keep going and get the job done, so he went back out in the second.  Unfortunately, his command lapsed, and the Tigers were able to put together a rally.  The big inning wouldn't really be the difference in the game though, as our offense was unable to get going, and we dropped game 2 6-1.

On Saturday, we headed up to Alexander City to play in CACC's fall Tournament, which is almost a misnomer.  These fall "tournaments" are really just round robins where several teams get together to play in front of some scouts, but they are great because you get a chance to play more than one opponent without having to make a second trip anywhere. 

In game one, we teed off against Calhoun CC, a perennially strong team in the northern division of the ACCC.  Calhoun, as expected, was a good offensive club that really forced our young guys to throw some pitches and battle through some tough innings.  Thankfully, our offense showed up as well, and we were able to outscore Calhoun in a fairly poorly pitched game (for both clubs) 9-7.  The Zachs: Helewski and Mays, as well as Matthew Vollenweider each pitched brilliantly at times and ordinarily at others, but overall continued to provide solid work for us on the bump.

Game 2 looked like it was going to be a straight up pitcher's duel, as lefty Michael O'Neal impressed against Panhandle Opponent Gulf Coast CC.  Mickey provided three quick innings against GC, but their typically strong pitching stymied our hitters as well.  The entire game was really either about how good both teams could pitch, or possibly about how poorly each team was hitting this early in the fall.  If it weren't for Cody Dykes having an uncharacteristically bad outing in which he couldn't seem to get a feel for his off-speed pitches or get much jump on his fastball, it probably would have been a 3-2 or 2-1 type of game.  As it was, Cody was having a rough a go, and they were able to jump on him for 5 runs to beat us 7-2.  Our offense wasn't very good for the first 6 innings of the game, showing little life until Trace McDaniel provided a pinch hit single in the seventh.  After two quick outs, Neal Chambless and Ty Abbott turned in back to back doubles to get us on the board and plate two runs.  It didn't do much to change the outcome, but at least it gave us something positive to take away from an offensive perspective.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cutting our teeth

Starting last Thursday, we finally got into some game action, and our new guys are getting a chance to get a  taste of what college baseball is all about.  In all, we've done pretty well thus far, with most players adjusting well and giving a good look.  Obviously, we have a lot of work to do and a lot of room for improvement, and we'll get an even more definitive look at what we've got when we toe the line against somebody else on Thursday.

Its hard not to be excited about our young pitching, even if its only been 3 games.  As expected out of a young group, we're a little wild at the moment, but we've run out at least 5 or 6 guys that I would put ahead of where last year's horses were when they were at this point as freshman.  The real question will be how they develop and grow moving forward, but for right now, the future looks bright.

Offensively, we need to get some guys going, but the offense is always the last thing to come around.  Half of it is because hitting is hard.  The other half is because it takes a while for some guys to hop on board and get outside of their comfort zone.

Each of our intrasquads so far has been very close on the scoreboard, and that speaks well for us as a whole because it means we're as deep as we hope to be.  Today is our final test run before we roll into someone else's back yard, and after a good day of work yesterday, I think we'll have a great game today.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The first bad day

A rainout on Sunday forced us to push practice a day back to Monday, but it felt like we never really got out of bed.  I guess you expect to have a rough day here and there and every team on the planet goes through some growing pains when you start working with a new group.  That's probably the best way to describe it, too: growing pains.  We're currently carrying a roster filled primarily with freshman, so with all the new information they are being presented with, on top of the physical demands being placed on them, there are bound to be some days that aren't as good as others. 

You also have to toss in the fact that we were playing a BP intrasquad, and those are typically a little less exciting than a regular game.  A couple guys were playing out of position too, and of course, the ball always finds you when you're playing a new spot.  These issues, while contributing factors, weren't the problem though.  The problem was that we had several guys going through the motions.  More than 1 player cruised around the bases, didn't hustle into position to make a play, or just plain dogged it at times, and while errors aren't good, they don't bother you nearly as much as when your team just isn't playing hard.

I chalk it up to several guys just not quite understanding that there is a difference between where they've come from and where they're at.  What used to be good enough, often doesn't cut the mustard anymore, and that is just another of the lessons that will be learned before we step on the field for opening day next spring. 

On the other hand, if you're really going to teach them all that they need to know, you almost have to have some rough days to expose the areas that need the most attention.  In that regard, it's kinda a catch-22.  You don't want to have a bad day, but if you don't have a rough one now and then, it gets awfully easy to overlook some of those little things that mean alot.