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Catching Up With UConn Baseball

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

This past winter I told Coach Penders I thought writing a weekly blog would be a great idea to help keep alumni, recruits and donors more involved with our program. I even mentioned to him that perhaps I would write a couple. So far, coach has run with the idea and submitted very good pieces.

This past weekend we were swept by Cincinnati at home by a grand total of five runs. We didn't play our best in the field and it could be argued that we handed them all three games. So, after our worst conference weekend of the year Coach P asked me this morning if I would like to do the blog this week. So, like I would hope one of our players would do for another, I'll wear this one for the team. I do not write nearly as well as Jim but here we go.

As I was trying to figure out what to write for this blog I have a dozen or so different thoughts on my mind. These load-bearing thoughts are this week's "To-Do List" and they have nothing to do with baseball.

In the past two years I have gotten married, got a dog, bought a house and I'm WEEKS away from becoming a father. I have taxes, mortgage, finishing the nursery, water in the basement, trips to the DMV, cars that need servicing, birthing class and a bunch of other "grown-up stuff" that I have to check off the list. Why have I done this to myself? Times like this make me think back to when I was sitting in the clubhouse with a whole team full of guys trying to avoid the dreaded to-do list. Minor League Baseball keeps you safe from all of those nasty grown-up problems.

Professional baseball is like the witness protection program for guys avoiding real life. So why did I give it up? Because I realized that even though I don't always love a to-do list, I respect what it stands for. I love the fact that I have a family that's about to get bigger, a house that I can call my own and a number of projects that I've already checked off the list.

We've reached and passed the midway point of the season. We spend so much time preparing for something that seems to go by in an instant. At this point we still have questions about certain roles and positions. At this critical juncture in our season we need to be very aware of our team's current to-do list. What are the tasks that we have to accomplish to make this season end the way we want it to? Right now we're 16-15 overall with a 5-7 record in the BIG EAST. We have five BIG EAST series left to go. Four out the five are against teams that are currently ahead of us in the standings. If we're going to make the tournament this year we'll have earned our berth and should be well prepared for the postseason.



On top of our eternal to-do list is to help our players get better as the season progresses. The way they approach the game is our number one point of interest. Coach Penders always speaks with our team about A.C.E. (Attitude, Concentration and Effort). He also talks about respecting the process and approaching the game pitch by pitch. I often tell the pitchers how important their daily routines are. Most college players love the "adjustment of the week" and will try anything to make a quick fix. Hitters and pitchers alike are guilty of this. We need to make sure as coaches that we help our players build a consistent approach instead of allowing constant tweaking. True confidence for a baseball player comes from their belief that everything they're doing, routine/process, is going to make them successful. A number of our freshmen hitters have started their first campaign off with a bang. It's amusing to see how they have responded when they finally have some failure.

"Coach, do you think my swings getting a little long?"

"Do you think I should back off the plate?"

"Are my hands too high?"

One rarely hears questions like this come from our upperclassmen. Pete Fatse comes to mind when thinking about the evolution of a college hitter. As a freshman last year, Pete would come into the dugout and ask Coach Dez about his swing after almost every at-bat. Pete has a great swing but, at that time, didn't completely trust his approach. This led to Pete having very hot and very cold streaks. This year he has been much more consistent and has asked very few questions about his stroke.

Pitchers are no different. When you're in high school and you have great stuff you don't have to worry about a routine or mental preparation, you just throw the ball and guys swing and miss. But, when you get to college the strike zone shrinks a little, the hitters' plate discipline is better and they're not swinging and missing like they used to. That's when a little bit of fear and doubt comes into the equation. I would bet that almost every good pitcher out there at some point has had this fear and/or doubt. I know I went through it. John Folino is our Friday night starter. The junior from Quincy, Mass. had thrown a grand total of 20.1 innings in his first two years here. He looked as though he could never get comfortable on the mound. On his own this summer, John figured out how he needed to approach the game. Now the doubt and the fear are gone and John trusts his stuff and his routine. Opposing hitters are swinging and missing again. If I remember from my writing courses correctly, I'm supposed to try and sum everything up here toward the end.

My point is simple I guess. College baseball really does get you prepared for your everyday life of the future. I have a number of things to accomplish on any given day and if I "let the game speed up on me" I'm sure to mishandle the ball, swing and miss or throw four straight balls. But if I have a good routine that I trust I can knock out one task at a time and be successful. If our players can do this for the rest of the season we will be fun to watch and will win a lot games. Now please excuse me, I'm off to birthing class. Remember to breathe, hee-hee-hee-hoo, hee-hee-hee-hoo.

Justin Blood Assistant Baseball Coach/Pitching Coach