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Listen to the Turtle with the Mike

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 Fodreams_3 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.

Hung around for a few innings. Returned the next day to look at another practice and intra-squad Mike_6 Turtl_7   game and to listen to the Turtle with the mike.

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.

TT also has the Golden Panthers hitting with wood bats until mid-February. No FIU player will be Wood_2 swinging the aluminum until then.

"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....Zeta_2 

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."

No Beg As far as the future of the crosstown series with the Hurricanes: "We'd like to play them 4 times a year," TT said. "But we're not going to beg. It's up to them."

PANTHER PAWSE

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.

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Pete, I'm routing for TT as much as anyone, but we all know only two sports matter--football and basketball. Baseball is a distant third. Our football program, and only our football program, will get our men's basketball program to the next level. We need to start filling up our new stadium, move to a BCS conference, and then we'll start investing in our basketball program the way we need to.

Surprised to hear Coach T still claiming he has difficulties at shortstop when Junior Arrojo is hitting so well. Junior has potential to have a great glove and he has shown in the practices that he has great range. He certainily had a good summer leading the Valley in assists and fielding %. If he doesn't let the head games get to him, he should be the guy for that spot. Glad to hear the coaching staff recognizes the talents of Evan Ellison. Can't always judge a pitcher by his size; ask all those big hitters over at UCG if they remember him. But no mention of the potential for Corey Polizzano? I'd think they would want to develop a lefty starter, too, and I am sure they know what they could have in him.
Expect to see some good hitting from Javi Sujo, possibly at third base, too. He's had a series of injuries but once he is cleared to throw again should be one to watch. Intersquad games a nice but can't wait until February.

FIU baseball is on the rise with TT!!

TT can outright recruit and evaluate talent. It'd be nice to keep playing UM after this season, but the relationship between Jim Morris and TT might not allow it. What a shame!!

Pete, thanks for bringing baseball news to the blog.

Pete,

I agree with you it is very impressive to see TT with the mic in his hand teaching the players the way he does. The players downright respect the new staff and are learning tons after having conversations with a couple of them.

I can't wait to get back to the stadium on Feb. 22 for the season opener against USC...it is going to be a blast, hopefully we can get a big crowd for the weekend series.

Try and find out what TT is planning on doing with Petika, I know he played 1B last year but with the transfer of Castillo I would think Petika will be playing a corner OF spot?? Thoughts!!!

As for order of sports, no offense to SR, but I go baseball, football, basketball....but they are all very close.

Roman, totally agree with you about Southpaw's comments. Well before FIU football came on board, the FIU baseball team had actually made it not only to several regional appearances, but actually made it to the Super Regionals back in 2000.

FIU football has not done anything in the few years it has existed. Obviously, I know eventually things will turn around for the football squad, and I hope sooner rather than later, but that does not mean you come and bash the baseball team.

Put me down for the home opener vs. USC. That's gonna be a great series and I'm sure the guys will not be intimidated in facing such a great school. Like TT said, to be the best, you not only have to PLAY the best, but BEAT the best!

SouthPaw you make some good points and to some extent, I agree with your comment, however there have been examples of schools doing it with basketball instead of football. Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Duke (I know they have an ACC football team however they're known for basketball).

Guys,

I'm not bashing the baseball team at all--I've followed them for years and I'm exited as the next FIU alum about what TT is bringing to this program.

I'm just saying that in the world of college sports and what puts your school on the map, football is #1 by a mile, with basketball in second place by a good margin over any other sport. Yes, there are a few examples of schools that have successful basketball programs with very unimpressive football programs, but those aren't the schools we need to model ourselves after. They've been able to achieve that status, for the most part, because of the conference's they're in. Our basketball program has a MUCH better chance for success if our football program survives. And our baseball team will only benefit as well. We need to move to a bigger, more prestigious conference, and only football will make that happen.

Based on the lineups used this fall, Petika is likely to be in left field. Clearly his bat is valuable.

Football and basketball obviously pay the bills at most major institutions. BUt there ARE a few places that draw huge baseball crowds. I've seen Mississippi State draw more in attendance than the actual population of Starkeville, MS. Football will always be king in the US but considering the ethnic make-up of South Florida, baseball should draw better. THere are more than 30,000 students at FIU. I'd start with trying to attract some of them.

Petika going to Left Field is a result of 3 first basemen with Townsend & Castillo. Petika is the more athletic of the three and you need all three bats in the lineup. Townsend & Castillo will battle for 1st with the other as the DH most likely. My question is where does Mollica & Lozanna end up?

So far they have had Mollica at second. Lozano and Arrojo are both playing short. Recall they need to field two teams for intersquad play. Freshman Kyle Radziewski most often is manning the other second base spot. The coaching staff does not yet seem to have determined which combination they like best, but Arrojo has more often been sent out in the squad with Castillo and Mirabal, who coaches expect to be the top catcher. Townsend is still at DH until he gets cleared to start throwing again, after his surgery in the summer. That should be any day now.

GLAD TO SEE TURTLE IS DOING WHAT ALL FORMER PLAYERS WANTED:

PLAY BIG TIME SCHOOLS! AND NOT DRIVE TO TALLAHASSE TO PLAY FLORIDA A&M!

DAM I IWSH I COULD HAVE BEEN THERE WITH TURTLE.

Thanks for the update on Essola, Pete. Too bad about the asthma, but a year as a redshirt will give him more time to bulk, so that may not be a bad thing. Nice to hear SR say he'll be a major part... he should be... that kid's got talent.

As for the other posts on here... I've never understood why a significant amount of people at FIU think "we gotta be good at basketball and football" while dismissing baseball's success as a nothing sport no one cares about. That's just not true. There's a huge section in this country that's nuts for collegiate baseball, and FIU could become a real contender every year, like a Rice or a Cal State Fullerton. Even Miami, for all their football success, is well known as a baseball powerhouse. They were good before the football team was. And this was before ESPN started to really promote their CWS coverage.

Miami hasn't been great in hoops and look what they've done. They got into the Big East and the ACC, for goodness sakes, so it sure didn't stop them getting into a major conference. With Miami's demographics and good management and promotion (not the crap the Marlins do), FIU baseball could be way bigger than FIU basketball. The only reason it isn't now is because Price, for all his being a nice guy, didn't really promote the program as much as he should have. That's on top of the general incompetence at FIU when it came to promotions. If Miami can draw 2-3 thousand to games, there's no reason FIU shouldn't have been able to at least get a thousand on a regular basis.

Anyway... the schedule intrigues me quite a bit. USC is one of the few coups Price made... gotta give props there. ASU is also good, and no real surprise, given Turtle's past. I would not be surprised if that's a home-and-home series. But the rest of the OOC is pretty pathetic, as usual.

I sure hope Turtle does better at scheduling than DP did for the future. We should not be scheduling crap teams like Wagner for a 4-game weekend series. Talk about giving people NO INCENTIVE to go watch ballgames on the weekend. The teams we need to schedule at home for weekend series need to be teams people will actually WANT to go see. You can't promote Wagner to people. On a similar vein... I'm THRILLED Florida A & M is off the sked. May we NEVER play them again unless they get any good. Why we had a home-and-home going for eons with them is simply beyond me. No one cared about that series, not even the thousands of FAMU alums in the 305.

When we do schedule small teams, do it like we did with Jacksonville, UNF, Tampa... 1-2 games on weekdays... and make them teams that are up-and-coming. UNF was a great D-II team before moving up and into the A-Sun (they took FAU's place, if memory serves me correctly). Tampa is great, too, and the tops of D-II baseball is certainly better than playing the FAMU's of the world. But we need more top teams, and if we have to travel to do it, then we do it. Miami needs to stay on the sked... hopefully it will.

Good job as usual, Pete.

Thanks all for the great information. Besides Stewart and Allen, who else is projected for the starting rotation? Also, with Petika moving to the OF, who is battling for the other two OF spots? What are the returning guys saying about Turtle in comparison to DP. They have to love the work ethic that TT demands??

Hey Pete, any other Sun Belt team have FIU's size in mens hoops? Two seven footers doesn't happen all that often in the Sun Belt.

Based on who they have put on the mound this fall, Corey Polizzano (he IS the only real lefty starter...) and Akeem Francis seem to be sure to earn starts in the spring. There is a whole hoard of freshman getting time, too, but it's tough to tell which ones the coaches like.
Appears Fuentes is set for right field. Center field is totally up in the air - several guys have been out there this fall. Hope they find someone. The freshman Ty Main from Maryland seems to want that job.
The guys who came back from last season are all okay with the hard work; pitchers are loving the help. Most seem determined to prove that they deserve their spots. There has been some feeling that players recruited by the current coaching staff are benefitting from favoritism a bit when compared to returning players or guys recruited by the old staff. But none of the players seem to let that bother them much. They just all do what they do as well as they can and they know they'll get a fiar shake.

I've heard from current players that the learning occurring during these practices is unprecedented. Now TT has to win!!

GO FIU!!!

I had a chance to go this week-end to check out the new and improved baseball team. WOW. Unless you have been involved with baseball as long as I have you can not appreciate the value of the instruction Coach Thomas is exposing these players to. The man leaves nothing to chance. Baseball is a very complicated games and Coach Thomas breaks it down to the smallest details. He makes notes about everything and then addresses it after the scrimmages. Baseball is a game of overcoming failure and constantly preparing for the event (the game). Those who prepare the best usually win. There is no doubt that Coach Thomas has these young men PREPARED. Someone asked to compare TT to DP baseball wise, it is like comparing Optimist ball to college. THIS IS D1 baseball. The other was a joke.
AS you know Baseball IS the only GAME.

I am looking forward to the start of the season. TT sounds serious.

Thanks for all the info to Pete and others here! Please keep it coming, along with the new faces we are gonna see this year, and possible signing recruits for the 2008-09 season. Again, thank you...and keep it coming...

Oh..another thing. If Essola is not playing this season, that makes even thinner our team depth, in my opinion. We only have 11 players on this year's roster, one being a walk on..so with Essola out, it is down to 10 players for the whole season!! I don't know about you guys, but this really concerns me, particularly since there are always reasons some players can't play a game or two (hopefully, not any long term injury this season).

There are now only 2 forwards on the team (Gacesa and Galindo), with 2 centers (Hicks, and N'diaye). So, actually, I would say while we have two huge playes, the rest of the forwards are thin in numbers....So, don't expect to see Fuller playing many minutes, if at all, at a guard position.

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