The Virginia Tech baseball season opens in less than a week, and the coaches held their pre-season media day this past Wednesday. I was there to get the scoop on what’s going on in the program and to find out what to expect from the team this season. This is the first edition of the 2018 Hokies Baseball Notebook
Virginia Tech Opens with Tournaments
The Hokies open their season playing in a tournament in Myrtle Beach. Head Coach John Szefc said he was looking forward to the challenge that these kinds of games present early in the season:
“It’s very similar to what a regional would be. Not just the format but also the quality of teams that we’ll play,” Szefc said. “I think it will prepare us for postseason play because the teams we’re playing are good, they’re all pretty good RPI teams.”
Pitching coach Ryan Fecteau also acknowledged the benefits of playing a tough schedule in the first few weeks:
“The thing about playing really good teams early in the season, much like we’re doing this year, is it really shows your weaknesses and what you need to get better at,” Fecteau said. “You get exposed by those teams early in the season.”
The Hokies open the season on Friday, Feb. 16 at Coastal Carolina, with games against South Alabama, Oklahoma, and Kansas State each of the following days.
Building it in Blacksburg doesn’t just involve the stadium
Since Coach Szefc took over the program in June, his mantra for the team has been “Build it in Blacksburg.” With the new stadium coming this season, many people thought that’s what he was referring to, but his phrase has a deeper meaning.
“Well that whole term, I think a lot of people look at it and liken it to the building of the stadium and all the facility changes and that’s a part of it, but really for me the bigger part of it is building the inner workings of the program,” Szefc said. “It’s all about the players. If the players are good and dependable, they’re the same guys every day, and if they have strong personalities and they expect to have success and they do, then everything takes care of itself.”
The Hokies’ home stadium, English Field at Union Park, has undergone a major $20 million renovation over the offseason to turn it into a premier college baseball stadium. The renovations are scheduled to be finished by the home opener.
“The field will be [ready], I can tell you that,” Coach Szefc said. “As far as behind the field, I think it’ll be close.”
The renovated stadium will feature a new grandstand area along with 1,132 permanent chairback seats. The Hokies open their home schedule Feb. 27 against Radford.
Players have bought in to the coaches’ vision
One of the toughest jobs for a new coaching staff is getting players to buy into their vision and ideas, but the Szefc and his assistants say they haven’t had any problems with that.
“We try to communicate as best as we can with the players in what we’re doing day-to-day, how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it,” Szefc said. “I think if you’re good communicators and you can explain to them why and answer a lot of their questions it helps that whole buy-in process.”
Hitting Coach Kurt Elbin seconded that feeling.
“I think it’s been a little big of a changeup for the guys, but just like Coach Szefc said and even Coach Fecteau, there’s been complete buy-in and our older guys have done a really good job of accepting the way we want to do our business and go about it,” Elbin said.
To have a team that is already in tune with a new coaching staff is a great start for a program that has a good amount of experience players ready to lead the way.
The Pitching Rotation is Almost Set
Coach Fecteau touched on his rotation, saying that it’s not completely locked in yet, but Connor Coward has his spot staked out.
“He’s kind of the guy that’s really solidified himself at the top of that rotation,” Fecteau said. “We haven’t really decided who’s going to go what day on the weekends yet because we still have this week to get through.”
Fecteau said the coaching staff hasn’t gotten a chance to take a look at all of their pitchers yet, but should have the rotation set by Monday night. He also stressed that pitching will be a group effort.
“We’ll probably go with the four-man rotation and potentially pitch every single guy on the staff next week,” Fecteau said. “I think every guy’s going to have to contribute in some way.”
Coach Elbin and Coach Szefc met at UVA
The 2018 season won’t just be Coach Elbin’s first season for Virginia Tech, it’s also his first season working with Coach Szefc. Elbin said the two originally met at a recruiting weekend at UVA.
“It was a three-day underclass deal where we sit next to each other for three straight days and there was no angle to it, we were just talking baseball,” Elbin said.
The two didn’t have any contact after that weekend for roughly three years, aside from competing against each other, until one day when Coach Elbin called Coach Szefc for advice on a job.
“I had called him just for some professional advice on a job last summer,” Elbin said. “He gave me his advice and he goes, ‘I think there could possibly be some better things down the road for you.’”
On the day Coach Szefc was chosen as the next head coach at Tech, Coach Elbin shot him a text to congratulate him.
“Shot him a quick text just to say congrats, and Coach Szefc, being the tech wizard, I think wanted to call me but he facetimed me,” a laughing Coach Elbin said. “I didn’t answer and he ended up calling me back a couple hours later.”
Some Days the Team Practices Without Power
Coach Elbin talked a little bit about the difficulties of practicing in a construction zone while the stadium is being renovated, and the challenges they’ve faced.
“Just the other day we were doing some offensive stuff in Weaver and the lights were on and we had all the machines set up,” Elbin said. “Went to flip the machine on and they were like, ‘Hey we turned the power out into the outlets for about the next ten minutes.’”
Despite the struggles, Coach Elbin said he has no complaints.
“We’ve done pretty good by having backup plans, but some of those things are happening,” Elbin said. “At the end of the day, it’s worth it because you know what’s behind it.”