September 17, 2007
The Tennessee baseball team opened fall practice Monday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, taking the field for the first time under new head coach Todd Raleigh. In addition to the hard work taking place on the diamond, the bright future of the program also loomed in the form of dirt, steel and concrete as work continued on the first phase of baseball stadium renovations down the third-base line.
Since his hiring in June, Raleigh has been eagerly awaiting his first opportunity to see his players on the field.
“We’ve got new coaches, a lot of new players and a new philosophy,” Raleigh said. “There are a lot of different ways to win games, but we’re trying to inject our way of playing the game. We’ve done some individual and group work to this point, but now we’ve got a better opportunity to see what we really have. Fall practice is a very important time.
“We’re looking for some leaders and looking for some people to step up. We lost a lot (from last year’s team). We lost three first-rounders. We lost 48 of 59 starts on the mound. We’ve only got seven home runs returning among the outfielders. So we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to win games.”
Senior utilityman Andy Simunic is Tennessee’s top returning hitter after batting .333 with 75 hits in 2007.
“There’s a lot of excitement in the air right now,” Simunic said. “There may be a little nervousness as well as we try to get a feel for how things are going to happen on the field. We’ve already got an idea of how things are going to be off the field, as far as academics and things like that. But overall I think everyone is really excited.”
Tennessee’s fall roster features nearly 40 players, including a handful walk-ons who were retained following last week’s open campus tryouts and are hoping to earn a spot on the team this coming spring. The Vols return a total of 12 letterwinners.
Raleigh said he’s eager to evaluate his talent in game-like situations.
“I’ve got to figure out who can come in and get us a couple key outs,” Raleigh said. “Who can give us a big hit off the bench? That’s what I’m looking forward to finding out this fall.
“It seems like I was hired 10 years ago. Between then and today feels like a really long time. This is the biggest day for me so far.”
The Vols’ fall practice is slated to conclude on Oct. 21 and will be highlighted by an Orange & White World Series. The dates and format for that inaugural intrasquad competition will be announced in the coming days.