KNOXVILLE – Exactly eight months after being hired to be the head baseball coach at Tennessee, Dave Serrano met with the media one last time before getting ready to finally kick off his first season in a Volunteer uniform this weekend against Northern Illinois.
After 245 days on the job and less than 72 hours before his team’s first true test, Serrano’s message was one of excitement and anticipation in spite of the uncertainty about exactly what lies ahead.
“My coaching staff, myself and our players are excited about the road that we're about to go down together starting Friday,” Serrano said. “You never feel as a coach that you're ever completely ready to start, but we think we're as ready as we're going to be. I think how we'll start learning more about what we need to do as coaches when this team is playing other competition.
“(The members of this coaching staff have) been at places where the expectations have been higher right out of the gate, but I don't know if we've ever been more excited about what's going to start Friday. That could tell you that we're pretty excited and feel honored to be leading this program now and a long time in the future."
While Serrano is quick to point out that this team can’t and will not ever overlook any team on its schedule, Tennessee’s goal this weekend is simply to improve as a team rather than put too much of its focus on what Northern Illinois is going to do.
"It's about what we do,” Serrano said. “I haven't even looked at their stuff. I know they're going two left-handers Friday, Saturday and throwing a right-hander on Sunday. They're probably coming out of colder weather than we have, but it's not about what they do. It's about what we do.”
“I do know that this team is going to play hard. I think it's a very unselfish team, which is important. Those are things that are going to have to maintain themselves throughout the year. I said this early on, it's going to take a full roster of players and a full staff of coaches each day being at our best to reach the potential of what we need to be. And that's a great challenge to have out in front of us.”
VOLS UNVEIL NEW UNIFORMS
On Tuesday, Tennessee unveiled a new set of uniforms designed to create more of a traditional look for the Vols when they hit the field this season.
“It brings back a little bit of history to UT baseball and I think it gives us a sharp look,” Serrano said.
In addition to the team’s black batting practice top, Tennessee will also have separate orange and white tops with black piping and script Vols across the chest, as well as a traditional gray road uniform. The Big Orange will have their choice of plain white or pinstripe pants and will wear a black hat with an orange bill and an orange power T.
POSITION SPOTLIGHT: STARTING ROTATION
The Vols announced the starting rotation for the opening weekend against Northern Illinois on Tuesday.
As expected, junior Drew Steckenrider will get the nod on Friday. A power-arm that has hit as high as 97 on the radar gun, he will be making his seventh career start after doing so three times in each of his first two seasons at Rocky Top. The Lawrenceville, Ga., native has a career record of 2-1 and a 6.02 ERA in 29 total appearances to go along with 53 strikeouts in 46.1 innings of work.
"I'm going to be honest with you,” Serrano said. “With Drew, I'm kind of basing it on potential a little bit. I don't like to be that way. I'm hoping Drew is able to perform to the level that his level will take him. He is a guy that can pitch on Friday. He is a guy that can match up with some of the better guys in the SEC and guys around the country. It's just a matter of him being able to do it week in and week out.”
On Saturday, junior Zack Godley will be making his first start in a Tennessee uniform after leading the Vols with 28 appearances out of the bullpen last season. The second-year transfer from Spartanburg Methodist finished second on the team with a 3.38 ERA last year, striking out 34 in 32.0 innings and recording a pair of saves.
The most experienced pitcher on the Tennessee roster with 38 career appearances, including seven starts, junior Nick Blount will get the starting assignment on Sunday. The Loganville, Ga., product is 3-7 with a 6.98 ERA in his first two seasons in the Orange and White. A sinkerball pitcher, he has logged 78.2 innings, the most of anyone on the Vol pitching staff.
SEC COACHES POLL ANNOUNCED
The Southeastern Conference released its annual preseason coaches’ poll on Monday with Tennessee projected to finish sixth in the Eastern Division. While not the most ideal place to start the season, Serrano and his staff just see it as another opportunity and another challenge to overcome.
“We want to prove it on the field,” Serrano said. “You look at all the polls around the country, the Baseball America's and all that, that's someone's opinion. The game is still played on the field. We get that opportunity 30 times in the SEC and 55 times over the course of the year. My approach and my coaching staff's approach this year is every day that we suit up in a uniform, we get the opportunity to be the best team on the field that day.”
TICKETS ON SALE NOW
Season tickets, 20-game flex plans and individual game tickets for the upcoming Tennessee baseball season are now on sale.
While supplies last, any fan who purchases two reserved-seat season tickets will receive a baseball autographed by Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano. Those who purchase four reserved-seat season tickets will receive a jersey signed by the Vol skipper.
Purchase your season tickets now by logging on to www.UTTix.com or calling the ticket office at (865) 656-1200.
For the most-up-to-date information on Tennessee baseball, visit www.UTSports.com/baseball and follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter.
Head Coach Dave Serrano
(On why Tennessee is special to him)
"For me, it's a dream come true. That's selfish talking for myself. I've said this a number of times and I'll repeat it, I'm very proud to be standing where I'm at today and to lead this program starting Friday afternoon into the future. I'm very excited about this journey that we're getting ready to start. You look at who I've surrounded myself with. Bar none, it may be my best coaching staff I've ever assembled as one. It's not just the coaching staff. It's support staff. It's everybody. We're taking on a challenge as a pretty strong unit. We're going to have some challenges, but I think to a man, we'll stick together and that's what I hope our team does.”
(On whether he will call pitches)
"I'll do what I've always done. I'll suggest the pitches. I've gotten to know my pitchers pretty well, I believe. I'll never know them good enough. That will take a full season or more. I think they have a philosophy on what I try to do. They know my philosophy. At times, you'll see the pitchers shake me off and that's OK. I don't want to totally control them. I want them to know I'm trying to lead them somewhere, but if they're not totally committed then they're OK to shake-off with some pitches. They just better make the right pitch. I want my guys to feel that way. I can't project what a guy is feeling in the 100th pitch of the game with a runner on third and two outs. I have a feeling of what I want to do, but he might have a different feeling. I want to go with what he feels is best. Most of the time, I hope I'm right with what he's thinking too."
Senior Shortstop Zach Osborne
(On the pitching staff)
“Hopefully they will pound strikes and pitch with a good tempo. That’s how we infielders like it. They throw a lot of strikes and pitch with a good tempo to keep the game moving.”
(On the excitement about the baseball team around campus)
“This is my fourth year here and the last three years were a total different atmosphere leading up to the first game. I don’t know what to say. It is something different and I can’t really describe it.”
(On the team’s schedule)
“We are playing in the hardest conference there is, the SEC. You have to prepare for that and that is something our coaches did. They put together a great schedule to prepare for that kind of competition to help during conference.”
(On his goal for the season)
“I want to play good defense. I want to be strong at bat and the line-up. I want to be a good leader for the team. My biggest key is to be a good leader for a lot of the younger guys here.”
(On the pressure of being a senior leader)
“I look at that as something positive. I don’t want to look at that as negative. I like being in that role. I like that kind of pressure.”
Junior Outfielder Chris Fritts
(On the new coaching staff)
“This staff is really concerned with the little things, very microscopic things. They hold all us to such high standards. You don’t think you are capable of doing it then you go out and exceed your own expectations. They are about being very disciplined and handling your business. They are all about your effort. The only thing you can control is your effort every day. That is all they are really concerned about.”
(On the impact of the newcomers)
“There are so many new guys this year compared to last year. I remember walking into the first team meeting and it felt like I was a freshman all over again because I really didn’t know any of the guys whether it was freshmen or junior college guys. From then on everyone was really gelling. There is great camaraderie on this team. We are all motivated and on the same page. We are ready to go, prove people wrong and get this program where it is supposed to be.”
(On the offseason)
“I thought I worked hard before and now I really worked hard this off season. I have a new definition of hard work. I am just ready to play because the season is going to be the easy part. The games are going to be easy compared to our practices. We are so excited to go play because it is going to be fun. I don’t know if I have been tired from the off season. Those are crazy. I am staying in shape. This is the best shape I have been in my life. This is going to be fun and we are going to enjoy it.”