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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Lopez teaches players life’s lessons

    Ryan Caseyassistant sports editor
    Ryan Casey
    assistant sports editor

    casey at the pen

    There’s baseball, and then there’s life. To some, baseball is life, but Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez tries to help his players make the distinction.

    Evidence? Two weeks ago, when speaking with Brian Anderson, a former Wildcat now with the Chicago White Sox, I asked him what the most important thing he had learned during his time as an Arizona Wildcat was.

    His answer? “”Life.””

    “”He incorporates life with baseball out here,”” freshman center fielder T.J. Steele said of Lopez. “”It’s real important, because you never know if you’re going to move on or not, so it’s always good to learn about more stuff and make sure you got your life in order ahead of you.””

    “”We’re not all going to be big leaguers,”” Lopez often tells his players, “”but we should all be big-league human beings.””

    The coach unquestionably knows his baseball – his track record includes a national championship at Pepperdine, 842 career wins and two National Coach of the Year awards – but what he teaches his players on the diamond that will help them off of it is most intriguing.

    “”Yeah, that’s a big one for me,”” Lopez said when asked about whether he incorporates life with baseball. “”So I’ve got some guys in the big leagues. So I’ve taken three different programs to the College World Series – national coach of the year twice.

    “”Someone would say, ‘Boy that’s really special.’ You know what? Those are nice moments. Those are great moments in my life. But are they who I am as a person?””

    Lopez often uses the word “”trivial”” in describing accomplishments on the field, from conference championships to national championships.

    “”I know someone’s going to read that and say, ‘How can he say that? That’s how he makes his living,'”” he said. “”But it really is (trivial).””

    He has come to terms with the fact that the lure of a professional contract is hard to turn down – “”We want them to go to class, we want them to get their degrees, but we understand the reality that when they get offered $1.7 million, they usually leave,”” he said with a laugh – but he makes a point that those same players who leave his program early often return to finish their studies.

    “”The excitement of pro ball wears off after a couple of years – I mean this, I’ve been doing this for 25 years,”” Lopez said. “”They all kind of come back and say, ‘You know what, Coach? I need to get that degree.’ I’m always more excited about that than anything.””

    Lopez can easily name off at least a half-dozen players (current St. Louis Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein and current Oakland A’s second baseman Mark Ellis, who both played for Lopez at Florida, among them) who have gone back to school to finish their degrees.

    “”It really is a tough lifestyle,”” he said. “”There’s a reason that people are accusing people of being on major steroids because there’s so much pressure to continue to produce, and it gets old. After a while, they come to the realization, ‘You know what? I probably do need my degree.’

    “”It’s not for the first couple of years, because it’s too exciting,”” Lopez added. “”It’s like ‘I got to go hit more, I got to lift more, I got to run more … I don’t have time to get back to school.’

    “”But after they get in the big leagues for a couple of years, they say, ‘You know what? This is a tough world, I think I do need to get that degree so I have something to fall back on.'””

    It’s not the two National Coach of the Year awards that make Lopez a great coach. It’s not even the national championship he won at Pepperdine. No, it’s much more than that.

    “”Everything we do on the field is to get us prepared for the upcoming weekend and for an opponent, and for the game,”” said junior shortstop Jason Donald. “”But really, I think the underlying theme for everything is he’s preparing us for the real world.””

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