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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Arizona baseball: New year, new faces, new mentality”

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

One year after what Arizona baseball head coach Andy Lopez called a “”nightmare”” of a season, the UA baseball team finally has a clean slate. With 23 newcomers, a new attitude in place and official practice underway, the season of redemption is on the horizon for the Wildcats.

Last season, the team struggled with off-the-field issues and “”lacked character,”” according to Lopez, a flaw that resulted in a middle-of-the-road 30-25 record. But this season, with a larger emphasis on off-the-field performance, the Wildcats are poised to bounce back. 

“”The thing I’ve been asking these (younger) guys is this: show me the right attitude, show me the respect — for life, for yourself, for academics and for the game of baseball,”” Lopez said. “”And if you show that on a daily basis, you’re talented enough.””

Lopez has been preaching this philosophy of integrity off the field since the moment workouts and skills sessions began. This certainly isn’t new for Lopez — he has been atop the UA baseball-coaching ladder for nine years now — but last season it didn’t stick. And with 20-plus new faces this season, the emphasis is that much greater to ingrain the Arizona baseball attitude into the players early and often.

For a Wildcat baseball player, a missed class or study hall equals a seat on the bench. But with so many youngsters experiencing their first taste of collegiate baseball, the attitude, so far, is sticking, and the idea of missing practice or skipping class has been unappealing.

“”I think overall they’ve just really bought into the system — the hard work, what we’re trying to do here towards one common goal,”” said pitcher Daniel Workman, a redshirt junior. “”They want to work hard, they want to succeed and they’re not individuals.””

It would be easy to argue that with so many freshmen from so many backgrounds, near-instant chemistry isn’t possible. But the coaches and more seasoned Wildcats have placed a large emphasis on starting off the season right, and the youngsters are responding.

“”(The young players) are growing up and being men day by day and can hold their own,”” said Jett Bandy, sophomore catcher and Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American last year. 

“”Everyone’s young, but I think we’ve brought the guys up well,”” added Bryce Ortega, junior infielder and last year’s First Team All Pac-10 selection. “”Everyone seems to be catching along and all of the guys like one another. The chemistry is pretty good from my eyes.””

While a handful of the youngsters have already impressed the players and coaching staff, their skills and poise should only improve with the Wildcats playing their first 26 games at home.

To put that in perspective, they don’t play away from Jerry Kindall Field until April 1, the longest consecutive home game streak at Arizona since the 1967 season. With so much player turnover from last season to this season, it wasn’t a coincidence that Arizona won’t leave Tucson for a game for almost a month and a half.

“”We knew we’d be young, and we devised a schedule where we knew we could get some college experience (at home) before we actually went on the road,”” Lopez said.

“”That’s going to be important for the new guys this year — playing in a home atmosphere from the get-go,”” Workman added.

Although the team only returns four position players and two starting pitchers, a powerful mentality is in place, and UA baseball is moving in the right direction early in the season. Players and coaches alike are confident that, with the new year, new faces and new mentality will come newfound success.

“”I think we have a lot of potential,”” Ortega said. “”I think this season is going to be better than what most people might perceive.””

 

That’s what HE said

Head coach Andy Lopez on handling all of the young players “”I told our staff we need to be patient, we need to be encouraging, we need to teach real hard, and, when we see them feeling sorry for themselves, that’s when we need to get on them. They came here, and hopefully their expectations are as high as where they should be, and that’s to go out and have a good year.””

Junior middle-infielder Bryce Ortega on this season “”A lot of trust is there that wasn’t there last year. This year I trust that everyone knows their signs and knows their responsibilities down pat, and I think that’s really going to show on the field.””

Freshman infielder Seth Mejias-Brean on playing with so many other freshman “”You kind of build that bond together … I like that we have a lot of younger guys that I can group up with for the four years that I’m here.””

 

Arizona picked fifth

The Wildcats are slated in the fifth position in the Pacific 10 Conference preseason coaches’ poll, behind defending conference champion Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, and Stanford. Arizona finished fifth last season with a 13-14 record in the Pac-10.

 

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