South Carolina Baseball Press Conference Quotes
Feb. 1, 2009
Columbia, S.C. - South Carolina head baseball coach Ray Tanner met with the media on Sunday afternoon as the Gamecocks get set to begin the 2009 season. Carolina opens the year on Sat. Feb. 21 at 2 pm with a three-game series vs. Duquesne in the team's new baseball stadium. Here are comments from Coach Tanner as he previews his club heading into the year.
Could you talk to us a little about how a home field advantage this new stadium is going to be compared to The Sarge?
"I always felt that Sarge Frye Field was a home field advantage because of our great fans. Hopefully the numbers will increase here, but that has been an integral part of our program since I got here: it's been the fan support. You can have good teams, you can have a great facility, but if you don't have people, and the passion and enthusiasm from your fans, you're missing something. There is no doubt in my mind when we had the great runs to Omaha, it was a huge factor, no matter who came in to play us, whether it was Miami or North Carolina or East Carolina during those years. When you had to line up against us at The Sarge, we felt like we were in good shape."
Can this place help you guys win? Could these guys play up to their new facility?
"I think that it factors in. I really do. We got some things going for us. We're in a brand new ballpark. We got almost every stitch of our clothing is brand new with Under Armour on board now. Coach Holbrook is in the program for the first time. I think that you have things that maybe can make a difference, the intangibles, where you raise your level of play a little bit, and hopefully that will equate to a few more wins, some games in the balance. I think that kind of energy and those things are positive, and you get in position on good things to happen."
I guess the tangibles are that you don't have Reese and Smoak to pencil in?
"We don't have the resume. We don't have the credentials. Some people have asked me `Are you disappointed about the rankings?' and so forth. I would have been a little surprised if we have been given too much consideration because when you look at the statistics coming back on the resume, it's really not there. We lost a lot of people. Now, do I think we are going to be bad? I really don't. I think we got a pretty good club. I think that these guys are capable, but you don't win games on potential, you win games on performance, and they got to go out and prove that they are good players. But I know that there are a lot of guys in uniform today that they aren't expecting to have a bad year hear. They are thinking that `yeah, we lost some great players in (Justin) Smoak and (Reese) Havens and (James) Darnell and (Phil) Disher and those guys, but we are expecting to be the same kind of club."
You aren't surprised that just based on reputation, you would have gotten some love in the preseason?
"No, I think that there were some other teams that you get bypassed just based on the people that you don't have on your roster. That doesn't mean a lot to me. I would like to be there at the end of the year that means you have won enough games. But I didn't expect to be in there in the preseason."
Who will replace some of the players from last year, who are some of the key people?
"I think that you have to get some power from Parker Bangs. He's a guy I think is on the cusp of becoming a power-hitting guy in the program. (DeAngelo) Mack is a guy that has been good, but he has to be even better. (Whit) Merrifield, I thought, has a Freshman All-America year last year; he's got be a little bit better. We got to get Justin Dalles and Brady Thomas, guys from behind that plate that are pretty good, and they got to perform. Drew Crisp has to have his best year yet. We really like Jackie Bradley, Jr., who has had some issues with the blood clots, but we are hoping to have him even by opening day ready to go. Those guys got to perform. You are in a league that if you don't perform, you are not going to win like you want to."
"Bangs is going to pitch, he is going to play a little bit of left field, he may play some first base, but right now he is probably a pitcher, DH, and maybe a left fielder. We worked him out in left field this fall, and were pleasantly surprised that he was a little bit better defensively than we expected the guy to be there, he hadn't really put in time out there. And Drew Crisp is probably going to open the year at third base, although he can move around. He can play a little short, he can play some second, and so we'll see what happens with our other guys."
Up the middle?
"Scott Wingo and Casey Rihn at second, Bobby Haney at short, he has played pretty well there defensively, he has to move the stick there a little bit better, but he is a proven junior college player, and he has done a pretty good job with the glove."
You mention Brady Thomas, is he giving Dalles a push at catcher?
"He is a left-handed hitter, he's a good receiver. Dalles maybe has a little bit better throwing arm, maybe a touch more power. And then we got Kyle Enders. Kyle was a starter there for us a year ago, and he's banged up a little bit right now, but hopefully he won't be lost for too long."
At first base?
"Jeffery Jones looks like he is going to be the guy over there. He's a left-handed hitter and a junior college kid out of Texas. He's a solid player, and a very good hitter. He can use the other side of the field, but he's got enough power to get some balls out. So it looks like he'll be the guy there opening day."
How does the rotation shake out right now?
"We got a little of time left, but it looks like it is going to be Sam Dyson up front, Blake Cooper will be in there, and probably one of the freshmen (Adam) Westmoreland or (Nolan) Belcher will fill the other spot opening weekend."
Westmoreland is a pretty imposing guy on the mound, isn't he?
"He is, he's a hard guy to square up. He's a big guy, he throws hard, but you can't see him real good either. Hitters in the fall, our hitters just did not see him good. The ball comes from behind his back a little bit. And then you got Belcher. All he knows is winning. I think he lost two games since he was a freshman in high school, and one was out of relief on short rest. They are two special freshmen, but then again, I said it earlier, I think they will be pretty good freshmen, worst-case scenario. But if they are Freshmen All-Americans, then our team is different."
Talking about having a lot of new pitchers, do you kind of have a feel for them in the fall or is now when it kind of starts to shake out a little bit more?
We think we got a feel for them. I mean, there is no question about it because we had a lot of work this fall, and you have bullpens in the off-season and the pre-season we had skill work going on. This is our first official team day. We think we got a feel for them, but you know, guys now can perform. Give you an example, Jordan Propst. You know here you got a junior in a program that never came out before. He's a pharmacy major, he's 6'2", 165 in high school, and now he's 6'4" 210. He was a student body try-out guy. It's pretty impressive. Is he ready? I don't know. He's going to get the ball today, and he is probably going to get it two more times before the first pitch is thrown. Does he establish himself a lot better than he did in the fall? He could. So those are the things you try to answer a few questions.
Have you ever had any of those moments where you walk out here and say, `you know, they told me forever I was getting a stadium, and now I finally got one?'
"There have been a lot of days I've spent, by my own admission, I've probably spent too much time out here since the ground was broken. I've been consuming. It's been fun. I know the builder, I know the architect, I know the super attendant, I know the assistant super attendant, I know the subs, and it's kind of scary. I know some construction verbiages I never knew before. It was just a great experience. Sure I would have like to have had it 2-3 years ago, where Smoak and his group would have been able to play here, but you know, I don't know if we've missed very much. By taking some time, we've been able to get everything in here. It's been exciting. There have been some times where I've done a slow walk and went around and just looked at everything. I went down in the grounds keeping area, and it's really a special ballpark. It's really a big league facility without the upper deck. We've talked about making renovations and improvements, but it turned better than I expected. But you can't do it without passion, you can't without fans. It's not going to happen if we don't sell tickets and come to the ballpark and generate revenue where you can run a program in the black. We've got to get the stadium paid for, but this is everything I kept saying throughout the process. We've got to make out fans happy, we've got to accommodate them, and we certainly got to recruit players. It's got to be a player friendly, fan friendly environment, and I think we've accomplished that."
Who gets the credit? The players, coaches, the fans, everybody?
"I really think so. I mean, you got to have tradition. You go back to Coach Richardson and Coach Raines; they took teams to the College World Series. Baseball is very strong here; we've been consistent. Players deserve a tremendous amount of credit, but the passion of our fans. When I first got here, we (were not selling many) season tickets, and I went out to as many civic groups as I could to get people to come back to the ballpark. You can't win without great fans. You can have great teams, but I think you are limited to what you could do without the passion from your Gamecock faithful. That has helped us tremendously. We've had a couple different presidents during this process, we've had a couple different AD's, and I have to give Eric Hyman a lot of credit because he had vision that if we are going to do it, we've got to do it right. We just don't make improvements; we try and get to the top. We could have cut corners in this ballpark and maybe have made it a little bit smaller, saved a little bit of money, but that is not his vision. His vision is that you got to make it as well as anybody else has got. And that is the same going on with the Dodie right now, building the academic center."
I know you are going to say this is great for recruiting, but you recruited excellently before...
"We did. We had some good players; there is no question about it. I think what this changes is not in the state, but it changes it nationally. In the past, when we made contact with a lot of national players, we could sort of get their attention, we could even get them on visits, but we didn't have the wow factor, and there wasn't a lot of loyalty. If a kid grows up in this state, there is some loyalty there, whether it's for Clemson or whether it's here, it's sort of built-in. A facility won't run them away. But when you are dealing with a national player, they don't have that. You need some of the wow factor to get the over the hump. We've already made an impression with this facility with some guys on a national scale."