Opening Day has finally arrived for college baseball. It is a day that stirs up many different emotions, even among people that have been around the game for years. So, today, we let seven coaches explain in their own words what Opening Day means to them.
Andy Cannizaro, Mississippi State
Mississippi State opens at home against No. 25 Texas Tech
“It’s awesome. It creates so much energy and it gives you the light at the end of the tunnel. Baseball is such a hard sport in terms of, your players report back to campus in August for school, you go an entire fall semester, holidays, January, halfway of February before you finally get to play somebody. So the excitement is at an all-time high before you every play somebody because you’ve been practicing against each other since August, so to speak. It’s a great feeling to see all the fans get into the ballpark. The field is as pristine as its going to be and the bunting is all around the ballpark. There’s so much energy with Opening Day and its one here that Mississippi State does right. I can’t wait to get this season started.”
Chad Holbrook, South Carolina
South Carolina opens at home against UNC Greensboro
“It’s a special time. We’ve already started the journey, but from a competitive standpoint, that’s where it starts. The excitement you get from that game, you probably don’t get it again until the opening of the (Southeastern Conference) season or opening NCAA tournament play. It’s an exciting time. New teams, new faces, some expectations and a lot of things that go into it. It’s great to be a baseball coach or player on Opening Day no matter whether you’re in pro ball or college.”
Dan McDonnell, Louisville
Louisville opens against Alabama State in the Clearwater (Fla.) Tournament
“It’s so much fun to finally play somebody else. We’re fighting in college baseball to have games in the fall—you can only intersquad so much. The kids work so hard from the time they show up on campus. We’re ready to play. It’s so much fun. When there’s somebody else in the other dugout, it’s on. That’s where you’ve got to show your toughness, you’ve got to be ready to compete, you’ve got to enjoy it and there’s no fear, you can’t be afraid of losing. You’ve got to embrace it, enjoy it. It’s such a fun time of year for everybody, for the players, the coaches, the fans, the parents. It feels like a long time coming.”
Steve Owens, Bryant
Bryant travels to New Mexico State
“Opening Day to me is a chance to test the competiveness of our players, the preparation, if we’ve been able to get them up to game speed where they understand what it takes. We’re hoping we’ve accomplished that. One thing we’ve always been lacking in coming out of a gym and playing outside in the winter, it limited our intersquad opportunities. This year we have a new indoor facility. We’ve been able to intersquad. We’ve been able to play a lot. Holding runners, playing defense and base running are things we’re hoping do better this year than in the past because we’ve been able to practice it. Opening Day is exciting. Ultimately, it’s just one game, but it’s exciting to get out there and practice and get ready to play on a Friday night.”
Troy Percival, UC Riverside
UC Riverside faces Nebraska and Percival’s former Angels teammate Darin Erstad at the Angels’ complex in Tempe, Ariz.
“I know one thing, it can’t come fast enough. I think any coach is going to tell you playing intersquad games and seeing the same uniform for the last six, seven months, you get really burnt out and we are ready to see a different uniform and see if we have prepared ourselves well enough to go out and compete with anybody in the country. I think there’s a little more excitement this year because I saw last year—we played (Arizona), we played them very well. We went 1-1 against them and their coach was very complimentary at the end of the day. Utah was a very strong pitching staff and we competed day in and day out with them while we were there. And knowing now that we have enough pitching to continue on throughout the week and do those things, I’m just very excited to get it going. I am real tired of sitting at my desk all day waiting for a 2 o’clock practice. I want to play.”
John Szefc, Maryland
Maryland opens against Ball State in the Clearwater (Fla.) Tournament
“I think college baseball is made up of stages. Fall is a stage, the offseason is a stage, you go through preseason. For me it’s the end of another stage. I know a lot of guys get very excited about Opening Day and I do, but it’s just the beginning of another stage. The nice part of it is your guys are playing against themselves for so long. It gives you a little bit of a barometer to measure your guys on, which I think every coach wants. It’s the combination of a ton of preparation and recruiting. You want to get guys to campus and prepare, prepare, prepare. It’s a little bit of a culmination of that preparation, not that you stop preparing, It’s really the end of one stage and the beginning of another.”
Dave Van Horn, Arkansas
Arkansas opens at home against Miami (Ohio)
“Probably a little more than it has in the past just because of how we finished last year (a 13-game losing streak). (Nine of our last 14 games), we were playing Texas A&M, (Louisiana State) and Mississippi State. We were involved in the famous Possum Game (LSU’s comeback from a 9-1 deficit following the appearance of a possum on the field at Alex Box Stadium). Just a lot of things this team wants to get out of our head and move on. Anything that could have gone bad, it felt like it did. Most of it was self-inflicted. We’re excited as all teams are just get out on the field play somebody else and move on to 2017. We don’t talk about last season too much unless it’s a teaching type of moment. We’re not dwelling on it but we learned a lot from it as a team and as a staff. (Opening Day) can’t get here quick enough.”
News and Notes
Atlantic Coast Conference: Clemson junior catcher Chris Williams hurt his left hand and will be out four to six weeks. A catcher in junior college, Williams (.245/.342/.413, 8 HR in 2016) was primarily a corner infielder last season. He moved back behind the plate this fall to replace Chris Okey, the 43rd overall pick in last year’s draft. Without Williams, Clemson will rely on junior Robert Jolly (.217/.339/.250) and freshman Kyle Williams, who stands out for his catch-and-throw ability. . . Louisville announced its rotation for this weekend at the Clearwater (Fla.) Tournament, with juniors Brendan McKay (12-4, 2.30) and Kade McClure (12-0, 2.54) filling the first two slots as expected. Freshman righthander Michael McAvene will round out the rotation, beating out sophomore righthander Bryan Hoeing and freshman lefthander Nick Bennett. Coach Dan McDonnell said McAvene has taken a step forward since fall ball. “Going up against a lot of our hitters and some of our lineups was tough on him and really helped prepare him,” McDonnell said. “It was a good, healthy competition.” And it isn’t necessarily over. McDonnell said the Cardinals intend to use their 13 games before the start of ACC play to continue to evaluate the pitching staff and either Bennett or Hoeing could get the nod next Sunday when Louisville hosts Nebraska-Omaha.
Big 12 Conference: Texas Christian freshman lefthander Nick Lodolo was the highest drafted player last year not to sign. Lodolo was selected 41st overall by the Pirates, but instead the California native chose to uphold his commitment to TCU. He headlines the Horned Frogs’ fifth-ranked recruiting class and is slated to make his college debut Sunday against Penn State, following righthanders Jared Janczak and Brian Howard in the rotation.
Big Ten Conference: Maryland third baseman Brandon Gum, a grad transfer from George Washington, is still recovering from a shoulder injury that limited him to 11 games last year and required surgery. He won’t be able to play third for the first few weeks of the season, but can hit and should help lengthen the Terrapins’ lineup. . . Ohio State righthander Yianni Pavlopoulos led the Big Ten with 14 saves last season. The redshirt junior will move to the rotation this season and is slated to make his first career start Saturday when Ohio State faces Delaware in the Sunshine State Series Classic in Kissimmee, Fla. The Buckeyes will also welcome back redshirt senior righthander Jake Post, who will start Sunday after missing last season while he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Pac-12 Conference: California freshman righthander Jared Horn was the highest ranked player on last year’s BA 500 not to sign (No. 32), and will now start his college career in the rotation for the Golden Bears. Horn is slated to start Saturday against Cal Poly, following sophomore righthander Tanner Dodson (4-5, 3.36) in the rotation.
Southeastern Conference: Tennessee closer Kyle Serrano pitched in his first intersquad game last weekend as he recovers from Tommy John surgery last spring. His stuff looked good, and his fastball sat 93-94 mph. If Serrano is able to return to full strength, he gives the Volunteers a premium arm to go with some talented young pitchers. Tennessee’s recruiting class ranked No. 18 in the country this fall, led by high-profile righthanders Zach Linginfelter, Andrew Schultz and Garrett Stallings. That trio, combined with righthanders Hunter Martin, Serrano and Will Neely, and lefthander Zach Warren, who pitched for USA Baseball’s Team USA last summer, gives the Volunteers a much improved pitching staff as they try to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since their College World Series appearance in 2005. . . Arkansas sophomore righthander Isaiah Campbell (3-1, 3.69) may be sidelined this weekend against Miami (Ohio) due to soreness in his right arm. The Razorbacks announced righthanders Blaine Knight and Trevor Stephan will start the first two games of the series, but left Sunday’s game as TBA. Coach Dave Van Horn told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that Campbell could still fill that slot, but a decision won’t be made until the weekend. Campbell has taken a step forward since last season and has the potential to be a first-round pick next June.
Other conferences: USA Baseball announced this week the assistant coaches for the Collegiate National Team this summer, which will be led by head coach John Savage (UCLA). Troy Buckley (Long Beach State), Larry Lee (Cal Poly) and Rick Vanderhook (Cal State Fullerton) will serve on the staff, giving it a distinctly Big West Conference flavor. Dave Snow (Padres) rounds out the staff, as he returns after serving as the CNT’s pitching coach last summer. He also has experience coaching in the Big West on his resume, as he coached Beach from 1989-2001. Team USA will host friendship series this summer against Cuba, Japan and Taiwan. . . The Ohio Valley Conference will expand its tournament from six teams to eight this year. The No. 1 seed will get a first-round bye, while Nos. 7 and 8 seeds will meet in a play-in game before the tournament continues with a traditional double-elimination format. Southeast Missouri State won last year’s tournament.