The Tar Heels have 15 freshmen on the Fall World Series rosters. With many significant roles for next spring up for grabs, there is a culture of competition that appears to be bringing out the best in the offense in the early going of the FWS.
"That is what every coach wants - competition," Fox stated after after Game 2. "In a perfect world we would have it at every position and it would be pretty even, which would raise everyone's level of practice, lifting and everything. Competition is something that we need because it makes everybody better or give in. So we have some competition that is good and we start over every fall and there is a spot open everywhere and guys have to work to earn it."
Senior Parks Jordan is competing for playing time and showcasing his versatility in the field, seeing time at first base. "(I'm) trying to get them to play straight up and as hard as possible," Jordan said. "That's why the Fall World Series is so important. It is about as close of a simulation as you can get. Making sure that they know that it is a high level all the way to the end of the game and you have to play hard and try the best you can and know the situation and play small ball. You have to be smart and play hard at the same time."
With player departures creating changeover at two thirds of the infield and outfield, a lot of new faces will be in new places for the Diamond Heels. Opportunity knocks - who will answer?
Pitching and Defense
The Diamond Heels got a tremendous performance from junior Benton Moss in the first game of the Fall World Series.
"Benton was phenomenal yesterday," Jordan said. "That is what you would expect of him. He's a junior with two years under his belt and he is really stepping up and taking a leadership role with the pitching staff and yesterday was a great example of that. He is a great strikeout pitcher; with that curveball he has a legitimate strikeout pitch."
However, the Tar Heels had uninspiring auditions for the starting rotation from the other three starters in the first two exhibition games - Trent Thornton (4 ER), Zac Gallen (7 ER) and Taylore Cherry (6 ER).
Fox was more concerned about the defensive play in the Fall World Series where the two teams combined for six errors in the first two games.
"Really, I think that is the biggest question mark for us," Fox said. "Are we going to be as good defensively as we were last year? We are going to have new bodies at a lot of different positions with the players we don't have. We'll have a different player at third, second and first, and Holberton's spot being able to catch and play in the outfield. I think that is the biggest key is how we are going to pitch and play defense? We are going to have to be good at it or we are not going to reach our goals."
The Tar Heels are a work in progress at this point and the rest of these fall exhibition games will provide a lot of guidance for who will win the competition for playing time.
Former Backstop Returns
Former Diamond Heel standout Mark Fleury has re-joined the program as an undergraduate assistant coach while completing his course work to graduate from the University.
"It is hard to believe Mark was here five years ago," Fox said. "It has been a long journey with him in terms of when he [first] got here to now. I commend him greatly to be back here to get his degree. I think it is awesome. To see that he would go through the minor leagues then come back here to get his degree in one year says a lot about Mark and his commitment to getting his diploma and we get the added bonus of having him on the field for us all year. It has been great."
The players have taken to the charismatic new coach this fall and his experience will add a lot to the dugout. "We love it," Jordan said. "We love Fleury. He is always having a good time and always brings a positive energy. Plus we know he knows what he is talking about. I know for sure that the hitters like him and especially the catchers love having him around because he is really good with them and he knows what he is talking about."
A Different Perspective
With the addition of Fleury to the coaching staff, the Diamond Heels divided up the staff for the Fall World Series, while leaving Fox out of the day-to-day coaching of either team.
"I think it is cool," Jordan said. "I like that. He is taking a back seat a little bit and watching the game from a different perspective. He gives us some different output like how we hustle or how we are getting on or off the field - more of like the fan base since he is sitting back a little more and not in there coaching us all the time but it seems to be working out for us."
Fox was all over the field on Saturday - and later in the stands - while giving feedback to players and discussing the game with his assistants.
"I don't like it," Fox admitted. "It is the first time that I have not been in the dugout. I don't know what the heck to do. This is the last year we are going to do it. I'm going to coach one team or the other. Either that or I'm going to sit in the stands like I did with my wife for a couple of innings. That gave me a little different perspective not caring who won or lost. I saw body language, I see a lot of that anyway. But it is a different perspective when you are sitting out. Unfortunately I can't just sit on the sidelines like in basketball and I have to go be somewhere I want to be down here where I can hear and be field level. It worked out well and we matched up our two type A's in (Scott) Forbes and Fleury and we matched up (Scott) Jackson and (Bryant) Gaines and that's the way it turned out with the voting so that is good. Obviously one team is two games up on the other one so there is some smack being talked in the locker room."