Walking out of Pharmed Arena the other day heard the voice emanating from the FIU baseball diamond.
The voice, which inflected a southern drawl, was authoritative and was talking baseball. But it did not say: "If you build it, he will come", but rather was constantly teaching the fundamentals of baseball.
Had to get closer to the baseball stadium to check this out. Upon entering the stadium, there was new FIU baseball coach Turtle Thomas, microphone in hand, instructing his Golden Panthers during a break in an intra-squad game.
From watching a few practices this week, the impressions I got were that the Golden Panthers should be a fundamentally sound team this year -- in other words, mental mistakes should not lose games anymore. Is all the talent on the FIU baseball team yet, well, we'll find that out starting in late February against USC.
TT spent each practice drilling his team on the details of the game such as how to take a lead off first base, judging a pitcher's pickoff move and always backing up on the play no matter what position you're playing in the field. Plus, there was plenty of discipline, if players did not run on and off the field to their positions in between innings, then TT called them out on the mike.
But what kept standing out was the constant teaching of the game by TT. Just things that are not as glamorous as a home run, but just as important to the game. Such as when a third baseman incorrectly picked up a slow roller down the third base line. TT stopped the game and showed the player how it's done.
"It's a little heavier bat makes their hands, arms and forearms stronger," TT said. "It's got a smaller sweet spot so your hands have to make the barrel find the baseball a little bit more. We do not pick up a piece of aluminum until the middle of February."
Among some of the other Turtle thoughts from a conversation with the FIU baseball coach:
"It appears we are strong in the corners [1st base, 3rd base, left field, right field]. We still need to improve up the middle a little bit: catching, pitching, shortstop, center field."
Pitchers Steven Stewart and Chris Allen, who were hurt last season "have thrown very well to this point and have come back pretty strong."
With 5 games per week this season with the NCAA changing the schedule to a later starting date to give northern teams more home games, TT says he's trying hard to find 9 or 10 pretty good pitchers.
Among some of the guys TT mentions are swinging the bats well: Junior Arrojo, who through 4 games leads the team in hitting. Jorge Castillo (Louisville transfer), Tyler Townsend, John Petika and Enrique Cepero, whom TT says: "He's made a jump. He's using his hands a lot more to hit and not so much his body."
TT also would like to establish roles in the bullpen, unlike the traffic jams in years past with the FIU 'pen. If the season started today, TT says lefty Evan Ellison would be the closer.
And as far as the starting pitchers, TT says he does monitor the pitch count on his pitchers.
No more of "He's bigger than me and he wanted the ball." fiascos. Need a refresher on that quote check out "The Beauty of Baseball" blog in the GPP's archives (April 12). Look for this beautiful photo....
TT expects to sign between 12 and 14 players by November 21, NCAA baseball signing day. And he would like to schedule "the big boys" every season like USC, Arizona State this season. TT said FIU will play every Florida school in the next two years with the exception of the Gators, who have not returned calls. FIU visits FSU next season along with playing UCF and USF.
"If you want to be one of the big boys, you have to play the big boys and you have to win," TT said. "You don't just have to play them, you HAVE to win. You have to play some good people to get your guys to understand this is the level of play and the talent level you got to have to go to the Super Regionals and the College World Series."
Messod: SR said Cedric Essola is expected to redshirt this season, because he has asthma issues. SR did say that Essola "is a major part of the immediate and future plans of FIU basketball." Speaking with SR, the projected starting lineup is: PG Michael James, SG Kenneth White, SF Chris Fuller, PF Alex Galindo and C Russell Hicks. But like any sport, that can always change.
UltimateFIUFan: I'll look into the practices and have an answer for you in the next blog.
From the responses in the latest hoops blog, there's no surprise that football is still king around these parts, even with the 18-game losing streak. Let's see if baseball is on second base or third base with your responses.
Will be getting back to the gridiron and the pigskin in the next blog.