NEW YORK - A week away from the start of the 2012 campaign, head coach
This is the first of a two-part preview with the second part, a position-by-position look at the squad, to be posted next week.
Q: Last season, Columbia started off well but finished with a 19-25 record and 9-11 mark in the Ivy League. What can you take away from last year?
A: You always try to look at the positives and look at some things you can do better. Last season we had nine one-run losses and it came down to little things, why we didn't win games. Generally speaking, we didn't hit as well as we would have liked. I thought our pitching was good enough to have us be successful as far as the conference goes. Early on our pitching and defense carried us, and we got off to a pretty good start with the bat and then kind of leveled out. In the end we were losing a lot of close ball games and it came down to the little things. When we don't hit enough, not turning double plays or giving up an extra free base, it cost us. It's tough to play perfect baseball when you're not hitting as much as you would like to, to give you a little more comfort, a little more room for error. I think the effort was there. I think it was disappointing because that senior class was very talented and we just weren't able to put it together enough to give us a chance to be in the race late in the season. And not to take anything away from Princeton. They had a really good year and some really good players and they have all those guys back again.
Q: Several Columbia players had strong summer league seasons last year. How do you see that carrying over to this season?
A: I think it's crucial for our guys to play in some of the best leagues in the summer for their own personal development and obviously that helps us too. In the Cape League, the Northwoods League, the Coastal Plains League, the NECBL - the level of play in those leagues is extremely high and the guys are facing very good pitching every night. The pitchers are facing very good hitting every night and are continuing to get reps - as many at-bats, as many innings, as many live plays - and working on their game. After the three months in the spring, it's important for them to continue to get another two, two and a half, months of baseball and get at-bats to work on some things and try different things. When you're playing at a high level with the other guys around you, you learn from other guys from other programs from all across the country. I think it only benefits them in the long run. There's no question it benefits us.
Q: The weather in February has been as warm as it's been in recent memory. How does being outside nearly every day help the team prepare for the season?
A: We definitely have an advantage here with our turf. It's been a huge help since we've gotten it. In 2008, we got it and we've been fortunate this year to be able to get outdoors and play at game speed. We've altered our practices a little bit to incorporate intrasquad games, simulating a game every day that we're out there. We've been able to do some more hitting with the guys and we can do some live defense every day, which is the best way for us to learn and for them to get better. You're limited indoors, there's no question about it. It's not the same as being outside on a 40-45 degree day and picking up a bat and hitting because we're going to be dealing with that [weather] for two or three weeks of the season before it starts to get warmer.
Our preseason has been very good as far as the energy level and I think some of that has to do with being outdoors. The guys like it. There's a different feel and a different focus level when the they know we're going to our field today and that's definitely a positive aspect. I feel like there's a little bit of an edge this year for our guys. I think they've got a bitter taste in their mouth from last year and the experience that they had not being as successful as they thought they were going to be and as we wanted to be. We also have a lot of young guys who are talented and there are a lot of jobs in competition right now between veteran guys and freshmen and I think that the guys need to know that they need to bring it on a daily basis if they want to be in that lineup or have a shot at getting in that lineup.
Q: What do you see as the strengths of the team this year?
A: Definitely our pitching staff. Even though we graduated two weekend guys inand who were four-year starters and key components of our team, I think the amount of depth we have on the pitching staff is definitely our strength. We have [Pat] Lowery, [Tim] Giel and [Stefan] Olson as three out of the four weekend guys looking ahead and then you've got competition for that fourth spot with two sophomores - [David] Speer and [Zack] Tax. I have a lot of faith in both of them. They're very competitive, they get guys out, they know what they're doing. Then we've got some younger guys that have come in and have shown that they have some ability to compete for that spot as well. It's a comforting feeling to know that we have some veteran guys to rely upon in our pitching staff.
The other aspect that we did a good job with last year is defense. We fielded .964, second best in the conference, and one of the highest percentages we've ever had here and we're returning the bulk of that defense. Defense and pitching - those are two things we try to stress day in and day out that those two aspects are going to show up to the field every day. As much as we want to hit and hit and hit, I think our pitching staff is going to give us a shot to be in every game, and that's what we're going to ride.