Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Ready or not, here it comes. The season is finally in our sights. We have just nine more days until the opening day first pitch is thrown in DeLand, Florida and we are doing our best to get ready for Missouri.
We had a great night on Friday with one last look backward in honoring our past before we focus completely on the present. As always, Tim Tolokan was our flawless master of ceremonies and did a fantastic job of keeping the 4th Annual UConn Baseball Preseason Dinner rolling as Tom O'Connell and Pete Walker received Distinguished Alumni Awards and Lee Mazzilli was the guest speaker at the beautiful Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford.
The players and coaches get geared up for the dinner every year and we all take the dirty uniforms off for a night and put on the jackets and ties. We relish the opportunity to thank many of our best supporters in the Dugout Club, interact with the media and enjoy a nice dinner together before heading back to practice at 7 am on Saturday morning.
It is so important for all of the players and coaches to take the time to remember that we are part of a rich history and a program that is much bigger than just us. It is very humbling for all of us to be a small part of a heritage that includes five College World Series appearances, Hall of Fame coaches and over 120 players that have gone on to careers in professional baseball. It is just as rewarding to see so many of our successful former players return to meet our team. Overall, the 200+ people in attendance helped us to turn the page and honor our past by setting the right tone to win and win the right way in 2008. We owe that to those who have come before us and to those who stand with us as we aim for a BIG EAST Championship.
Our preseason practice is in full swing with full days of lifting, conditioning, hitting, pitching and defensive work taking up 3-4 hours a day for six days a week. We have had more than a few bumps in the road. Several of the players are banged up. We had already lost one of our top returning starters for the year before we got started on February 1. Sophomore Greg Nappo had Tommy John surgery in October and we won't see him toe the slab again until 2009. We've also lost Doug Jennings, Matt Karl, Will Musson, Doug Elliot, Steve Hajdin, Dennis Accomando, Mike Nemeth, Pierre LePage, Gordon Stevens, Harold Brantley Jr, Dan Mahoney, Mike Olt, Erik Turgeon, Julian Gestewitz, and Elliott Glynn for parts of our preseason training.
Instead of meeting as a team in our batting/pitching facility, or in the Mark R. Shenkman Training Center, some days we'd have better luck taking attendance in the training room. It seems as though the stomach flu that hit with a vengeance for the first couple weeks of practice has run its course (pardon the pun), after claiming a dozen or so players and three coaches. I just hope we are getting the kinks out before the season is in full swing.
The injury that is toughest for me to stomach is David Erickson's. Our co-captain, who we all call "Rock" because he is a very mentally and physically tough competitor that has already overcome a lot in his four years with us, will miss the first few series this season. I never want to see anyone go down, but his is the most nauseating injury for me because he has already successfully rehabilitated and battled back from arm trouble and was about to be at full strength competitively for the first time in a long time.
The other reason is that I'm partially responsible for his latest mishap. Because we had so many sick and injured position players missing from practice in the Mark R. Shenkman Training Center last Thursday evening, I told half of our pitchers to run the bases in order to simulate real game conditions for our outfielders and infielders to practice relays and cutoffs. I never like having our valuable pitching staff do things with which they are not familiar, and when Rock slid into home awkwardly and broke his fibula, it confirmed my instinct to keep pitchers away from the basepaths. Rock will bounce back, and I expect him to have a fantastic season, but I really wish I hadn't asked our pitchers to run that night. I've always coached by trusting my instincts, and most of my disappointments have come when I've gone against them.
Things could always be worse, and we are all doing a good job of trying to stay positive and prepare with those who are at practice on any given day. The guys that are unable to practice fully are doing a good job in the training room to rehab their respective injuries and we are all continuing to march toward opening day. I am a big believer in the saying, "That which does not kill us only makes us stronger." I just wish I wasn't saying it in my sleep lately.
- Head Coach Jim Penders