So far what have been your impressions of the fall practices leading up to the Fall World Series?
“We will be going without some of our top guys -- [Kent] Emanuel and [Michael] Morin have been shut down -- but it is going to be good for our guys to get out there and play for a little competition. I think that they have gone great. We have thrown a lot at these guys between their practice, their lifting, their class and their school work. As a freshman it is hard to get acclimated to the demands of being a student-athlete as a baseball player. We have good leadership on this team - that has been evident; good senior and junior leadership. I think our guys have improved as the fall has gone on pretty well.”
One of the most interesting stories around college baseball this fall is that Nike has allowed schools that are under contract with them with a waiver to be able to use other manufacturer's bats. What are the Diamond Heels going to with this opportunity this season?
“We have always used Nike bats and Nike has always treated us so well here at North Carolina so it is just something Nike decided to do and quite honestly we still think that their BBCOR bats are the best ones. So most of our guys will be using that bat. They have a choice and they can use whatever they want but for the most part our guys like the Nike bat we used last year. They like it a lot. I think Nike makes a good bat and the best part is bats are kind of like gloves from a certain standpoint and if a kid gets comfortable with a bat he will want to use that bat and now they can use any bat they want to.”
How are the teams selected for the Fall World Series?
“What we do is pair them up, a pitcher with a pitcher and we have senior captains and have a World Series draft and the guys kind of draft their own teams and it is not done by the coaches. We do pair them up and have a lot to do with the pitching rotations and we coach them but for the most part the guys decide who is going to be on whose team by picking them. They don’t know who is paired with whom so that makes it tricky and kind of fun. We try to match it up as evenly as possible and put guys in different roles, especially on the mound. We may have some guys who have been starting that may be relieving and the other way around, guys that are relievers may be starting now. We try to divide them up as evenly as possible where when we go it is pretty evenly matched as possible for the games.”
Are there any positions where depth is a concern for the Diamond Heels, I recall back a couple of years where Mike McKee headed out from behind the plate to man right field in the fall. Are there any other spots where people may be playing out of position this fall?
“I don’t think so. I think we will have enough depth to have it fairly straight up. We have had a couple of injuries but nothing too severe. Most of our injuries have been sickness, like mono or pneumonia or whatever is going around. So hopefully all of those guys will be available to play. So I don’t think we will be out of position too much, maybe a little but I don’t think a lot.”
There are a significant number of freshmen pitchers and two-way players joining the Diamond Heels this season. Can you give an update on this deep class of hurlers?
“The only two-way guys coming in were [George] Carter, [Peter] Hendel, [Luis] Paula and [Adam] Griffin. Paula and Griffin are the only ones still doing both. Carter and Hendel decided on their own to concentrate on their pitching. Pete Hendel will not be pitching in the Fall World Series. I think Griff has done well at both and he has been fighting some sickness with strep throat and that kind of stuff. Those guys will do both in the Fall World Series and George will just pitch. We have been pleased with what we have seen. Your time is limited in the fall. You basically have six weeks as far as the team goes to evaluate what you have and you try not to make too many judgments too early because freshman look different because they are trying so hard to get acclimated and their bodies are not used to the wear and tear of everything they are doing. We have been happy with all of them. You will see [Benton] Moss, [Chris] O’Brien probably working in the starter's role but could work as a reliever as it depends on how their team decides to use them. Moss will definitely work as a starter. Mason [McCullough] could do either one and so could Paula. [Chris] McCue had a lot of innings in high school so we shut him down. He is close to being ready. He may throw in a limited basis during the Fall World Series. He is on his third bullpen this week and it will depend on how he is feeling. We will only use him and Shane Taylor as low pitch counts as they both were resting based on the number of innings they pitched. [Trevor] Kelly will pitch out of the bullpen as well as Griffin and Carter will work as a swingman either starting or out of the bullpen.”
How does having a talented pair of catchers returning in senior Jacob Stallings and sophomore Matt Roberts make your job easier in handling the pitching staff?
“You cannot put a price tag on how valuable it is. I feel like we have two of the best defensive catchers in the country and I think that they are offensive as well. Matt Roberts has improved a ton. He had a tough year with a broken hand and he is extremely talented. Jacob is Jacob and he is very good and a leader. Matt has the same qualities. It gives us some flexibility and when you are two deep like that you feel really good and don’t have to wear somebody out. So we are excited as we can be about that position.”
Do you project the role for the pair working like the Tar Heels used Tim Federowicz and Benji Johnson a few years ago alternating behind the plate and at designated hitter?
“Yes, I think that very well could happen. They both bring a lot to the table and they both are ready and outstanding catchers. When you have that flexibility it helps you so you can move some guys around.”
Can you discuss the competition for playing time this fall projecting forward to the regular season in the spring along with the depth in the pitching staff?
“I think the more competition the better. That is your goal as a coach to bring in a better player every year. That is how you win and keep your program winning. It not called over-recruiting, it is being good. The more depth you have and the more competition you have the better you are going to be because every player knows that they better work and bring it every day or they are going to have trouble being on the field because at this level everybody is pretty good. We do think that our pitching depth is one of the strengths of our team. It will allow us to match up pretty well and we put a big emphasis on our bullpen, but we also feel like that the one thing that we want to make an improvement on and try to establish hopefully a four-man rotation and when you have five games you have a spot starter.”
What is your perspective on the ACC expansion bringing in Pitt and also Syracuse, which does not field a varsity baseball team?
“Syracuse does affect us. It is all usually football driven and that is the way it goes. I think Pitt is a good program so you know it is cold up there but yes it is what it is. We will just kind of roll with it and deal with it. We feel like we have a great league and with the teams we add will definitely add to a great league.”
Can you discuss the difficulties of scheduling in the fall balancing academics along with getting in work for the pitcher bullpens leading up to the Fall World Series?
“I think we take a lot of pride in being well planned. Coach Fox is extremely organized and we are all extremely organized and our guys know where they need to be and what time they need to be there. They know when practice is going to finish and when their classes are obviously and their meetings with their tutors and their study hall. It is up to the kid to start learning time management and knowing that, 'I am a little different and I have to do things a little bit different than the average student so I can be the best baseball player I can be from getting my rest to eating right to using my time wisely.' I think that helps our guys because they know everyday what they will be doing.”
2011 Fall World Series Schedule
Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2:30 p.m. (if necessary)