June 17, 2011
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OMAHA - Texas A&M head baseball coach Rob Childress, along with coach Ray Tanner from South Carolina, coach Brian O'Connor from Virginia, andcoach David Esquer from California, met with the media today at TD Ameritrade Park to talk about the upcoming College World Series.
Texas A&M makes the trip to the College World Series this week for the fifth time in program history. The Aggies will open play on Sunday at 6 p.m. (CDT) against defending national champion South Carolina, will then face either Virginia or California on Tuesday.
Quotes from today's press conference available below:
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to TD Ameritrade Park. Let me give you a short introduction. David Esquer from Cal, in his 12th season. This is the fourth time he's brought the Bears to the NCAA Tournament. This year they were 37 and 21. Winners of the Houston regional and the Santa Clara super regional. Rob Childress of A&M, in his sixth year at College Station. This is the fifth time they've been in the NCAA Tournament, 43-21-1 on the season. They won the College Station regional and the Tallahassee super regional.
UVA, Brian O'Connor in his 8th year. This is the 8th time he's taken a team to the NCAA Tournament, 54-10 on the year. They won their regional at Charlottesville, and super regional at Charlottesville.
And Ray Tanner in his 15th year at South Carolina. This is his 12th NCAA Tournament team. Of course they're the defending national champions, 50-14 on the year, and they won the regional and super regional at home in Columbia.
First of all, Coach Tanner, since you're the defending champ, give us an overview of your team, and welcome to Omaha.
COACH TANNER: Thank you very much. It's really a great honor to be here. I think all of these coaches up here will tell you the same thing. Getting to the postseason is never taken for granted, and getting through a regional and super regional to end up in Omaha is really a special thrill for players and coaches. To have an opportunity to open up the new stadium here at TD Ameritrade just adds to the great excitement.
Little bit about my team. We've really done a good job, I feel like, on the field. Our players have responded. We've had an unusual year with some injuries and playing a lot of different lineups, but the guys have responded. We pitched well and played enough defense to get us through a lot of games, which appears to be the trend right now in our game that you've got to pitch it and catch it. Hopefully we can continue to do that.
It's a great field here. I think anybody can win this thing if you're still playing right now. So on behalf of our program and our university, it is really great to be part of the College World Series.
COACH ESQUER: I echo what Coach Tanner said about the excitement to be here. I know probably 90% of the teams in America when their fall practice starts, they end practice and get in a circle and they all put their hand in the middle and all break by saying Omaha. It seems so far away when you're starting fall practice, and for some and quite frankly for guys in our program with not having been there, not quite knowing exactly how much sacrifice it's going to take or commitment that it's going to take or extra work that it's going to take to actually get you in a position where you could be there.
We're fortunate we've been to the postseason three of the last four years and have made an early exit. So we were still kind of looking to get over that next hump, and to have our win in the Houston regional and see our kids experience that excitement and the great opportunity to host at Santa Clara and the two wins there. It's been so gratifying as a coach and a program.
We also, like South Carolina, had an unusual year. Our unusual year is because of events outside the program. Well-documented about them cutting our program, and just the uncertainty for not only the players but just the alumni about what was in store for the Cal baseball program.
But because of some people that wouldn't take no for an answer, and some strong alumni and a lot of money, our program is back in the athletic department, to see our kids kind of rally around themselves and commit themselves to their coaching staff and their teammates and the school, because they all made a commitment to come back after the fall semester, it's been just quite a ride. Quite a ride.
I've been blessed to have been here as a player and as an assistant coach, but it's even more special to come here to bring your own team into Omaha. To have been at Rosenblatt Stadium a few times and I've been lucky enough to do that, but to be here in the inaugural year of the TD Ameritrade Stadium, you talk about a dream come true, it's beyond that for us because it's even more special to see our kids' faces when they first saw the plane surface and the stadium here. That was priceless.
Little bit about our club. We're built the same way, a lot like coach was saying here. It's pitching and defense. It sounds cliche, but it's the truth. If you don't pitch and play defense with the way the coach is this year, you're just not going to be able to outslug and outmuscle anybody anymore.
So you've got to be a well-rounded baseball team. We've relied on our starting pitching. We've returned all three of our starters from a year ago, so Erik Johnson, Justin Jones and Dixon Anderson are the cornerstone of our whole team. And we had to play better defense. Thankfully we've improved ourselves over the year, and that's been the major difference for us.
Offensively we feature two kids that are probably the standouts of our offense. Tony Renda our second baseman was the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and Chadd Krist our catcher also a Pac-10 player, but they hit right in the middle of our order. They have to drive in runs for us. The tops and bottom of the order have to get on base for us and give us those opportunities to fence a little bit like we do on the west coast. No different that we have to do that this week to perform here.
We've found over the years that the teams that can relax and play their games and get comfortable early enough here are the team that's perform the best. That's why getting here your first time you play a little tense and tight. If we can get over those, we'll give ourselves a chance to perform like we know we can. Like Coach said, the field is good enough for anyone to win, and we're just happy to be here.
COACH CHILDRESS: I can't tell you how excited we are to be here. To be here three times as an assistant coach, and just the electricity and energy across the state that we were able to bring. The University of Nebraska here was very, very special. I've been an assistant at Texas A&M for 6 years. Got to a super regional twice.
But we were able to breakthrough this year. Just very honored and proud to bring Texas A&M here to the College World Series. Our team is proud to be part of the inaugural season here at TD Ameritrade. I know there are a lot of broken hearts that we're not going to be at Rosenblatt anymore. But there are going to be a lot of memories made here at TD Ameritrade over the next 50 years. You spend this much on a stadium, I can guarantee you we'll be playing here at least that long. You talk about the coaches that are here, the assistant coaches and the players, it's something we'll all have in common for a long, long time.
We're excited to be here. As far as our team goes, just like every other team here, we hang our hat on pitching and defense. Adversity strikes each and every team. It's really how we handle it over the course of the year is how you respond and how you finish. Ours was probably pretty late. It was in the Big 12 Tournament we found out that we were going to lose John Stilson who was the heartbeat of our team and obviously led us into each and every weekend.
During that whole time it went on it was late in the Big 12. We go through a four-team double elimination tournament. Go to the Sunday game and did it without John and found a way to win the Big 12. I think on our kids had some tangible evidence that said, hey, we can make it through a regional and went to the if-necessary game in our super regional, if-necessary game in the regional. We played as many games as you can play in the postseason but found a way.
As far as our pitching staff goes, we've got two starters. They give us a chance every time out. And Ross Stripling will start for us in Game 1, and Michael Wacha will start in Game 2. In our bullpen we've got some older guys. They're not incredibly overpowering guys, but they are seniors and they've been through the wars with us and understand what it's like to be at the back end of the game.
Offensively the last month of the season we've really improved and feel like that's what's allowed us to continue to play. Our top two guys are our better guys. Tyler Naquin, a sophomore, leads off for us. He's probably a three-hole heater hitting leadoff, so we can get our best player to the plate as often as we can and a true freshman that hasn't played like a true freshman.
Our 7, 8, 9, having productive at-bats, moving our offense along, and giving our guys at the top an opportunity to get big hits for us.
Again, we're excited and proud to be here. Hope our kids have a great experience. And when we step between the lines, I know we'll be ready to play.
COACH O'CONNOR: I can tell that you the University of Virginia is very excited to be back in Omaha. The hospitality that we've received since we've landed here in Omaha is second to none. This is such a great community. It's obviously personally very important to me, but they have treated our players and our administrators and our fans with tremendous class and have been very, very helpful.
We did have an opportunity to bring our club here yesterday to the ballpark and got a chance for them to see the new park and what a beautiful, spectacular place. Just this is going to be a great venue to host the college baseball championship for many, many years. We feel very, very fortunate to be here.
Through the course of the year, we really didn't have many hiccups. We had a great regular season until we ran into a pretty good club down in Chapel Hill, North Carolina the last weekend of the regular season, and kind of stubbed our toe a little bit, but had a great series down there, then headed into postseason where really over a two-week span of the ACC Tournament and the NCAA regional, we played some of the best baseball we've played all year.
Then last weekend, just had an absolutely thrilling final game with Cal Irvine. You could probably sit there and say maybe they deserve to be here. They were one strike away from Coach Gillespie sitting in this seat instead of me, but sometimes that's baseball. I'm so proud of our guys that we were able to figure it out and win that ballgame and get back here to Omaha.
We, like the other coaches, our team is built on pitching and defense. I think we'll all admit that that's where it starts. We've got four very, very talented starting pitchers. Got some good guys out of the bullpen that
have all pitched very, very consistent all year long. We've got a veteran group of position players that a lot of them have played here in Omaha a couple years ago, and have played very, good, consistent defense all year long.
I just think if you have consistent pitching and can pick the ball up and throw it across the infield you have a chance to win every game you play in. That's pretty much what's been our formula all year long.
The last three or four weeks we've really started to swing the bats pretty well, and been a real opportunistic offensive team, and some guys have really risen up. We've got pretty much a veteran lineup. A lot of guys throughout the lineup that can be very, very productive.
I don't think you can look at our lineup ask and say there are three or four players that are stand out offensive players for us. We're the kind of club that can score runs from different places in the lineup. It makes it a very balanced offensive attack.
As other coaches mentioned, it's a great field. Any club that is here can win it. It's just a matter, I think, of who gets hot at the right time. Hopefully that is us. But we're looking forward to playing at 1:00 on Sunday.
Q. Rob, how did you choose Stripling for the first game? Do you think his record would indicate that he's better than your typical number three guy? Do you think he is? What can you tell us about him?
COACH CHILDRESS: Our first starter is based on who got the most rest. Ross threw Game 1 in the super regional for us, and had the most rest. Michael had to go Game 3 based on what we had to do to get through the regional. We felt like before John went down we had three quality guys. I don't know. One started on Friday, one started on Saturday, one started on Sunday. There wasn't a lot of drop off there. He has 14-2, so he's given us a chance more often than not to win. We feel he's the most ready to go, and that is the guy we're going with?
Q. Ray, you mentioned this morning that Evan Marzilli had tweaked his hamstring. Can you give us a little more detail on his status?
COACH TANNER: This morning he seemed to be a little more encouraged. He's been great. He's been feeling really good and running well. Yesterday he tweaked it a little bit at practice. It was just going to be day-to-day. We have two more practice days before we play. We'll see how he responds. He was hurt a little earlier, and nobody ever knew it because we didn't have enough outfielders. He kept playing. He just said I'll make it through and then he got healthy.
Just have to see where he is the next couple of days. But he's sort of given me the impression, don't think about me not playing. I'll be fine. But we've got to just wait and see.
Q. Coach Esquer, another injury question, is there an update on Justin Jones status?
COACH ESQUER: Yeah, he has a strain in his bicep. Right now it is day-to-day. So we're unsure that he'll be able to pitch at all here at Omaha. But we're hopeful. We're hopeful. But, yeah, day-to-day as of right now.
Q. Coach Tanner, so many great teams here, so many great story lines. You're the defending National Championship. Do you have a sense at all that you've been flying under the radar a little bit with so much going on?
COACH TANNER: I don't know. You've been around me a little bit. I don't think too far past today. I don't read websites. I don't tweet. I don't do Facebook. I don't do a lot of things. I listen to country music, and that's kind of all I know. I'm pretty good in the country music field. But I don't know.
I think we're the kind of club that a lot of times when people play us, they don't think we're very good. We win our share. But this has been an unusual year. It really has. Lot of different guys. But we have older guys too, the older guys staying in the program. As Rob mentioned, they get it. They start to figure it out and try to help you win. That is kind of who we are.
I know looking at the numbers we've turned a lot of double-plays. That is really good. But that means there are a lot of guys on base. So there are two stats there. But I don't know about defending, under the radar, anything like that. We just show up and play and try to get in position to win. We know we're not going to scare anybody and we're not going to blow anybody out. That's not who we are. We just play and try to stay in position and do the things we need to do and try to win in the end.
Q. Rob, what prompted moving Stripling out of the bullpen? Were there injuries?
COACH CHILDRESS: No, to be honest with you, at the time when we started the season, we felt like he gave us the best chance to finish the games. We knew we had older guys in the back of the bullpen with Joaquin, Jacob House and Kyle Martin. At the time we wanted to put our best guys at the end of the game. Those three guys pitched extremely well the first three weeks of the season. Right before we opened conference we felt it was time to make that move and put those three guys into the rotation and utilize those other three at the back end of the bullpen.
It was the seniors and the older guys that allowed us to take Ross and move him into the rotation and add to the fact that Ross Hales didn't recover from his surgery the year before, that also was part of the reasoning behind making that move.
Q. Coach Childress, some have labeled your team as maybe the hottest team in the field because you guys had to play every game in the postseason, and you got here. Would you agree with that statement?
COACH CHILDRESS: Probably not. When you start talking about the eight teams that are here, everybody can pitch, everybody can play defense, and everybody's hot or they wouldn't still be playing. So when you start talking about we're the hottest, I wouldn't say that.
I mean, everybody's found the way to win the regional. Everybody's found a way to win their super regional and they're still playing. So I wouldn't say we're playing any better than the other 7 teams here.
Q. Ray, I think only five programs have repeated in the history of the CWS. What would it mean to you? I know you don't want to look ahead. What would it mean to you for your program to join that group, and what's it going to take to do that?
COACH TANNER: Like last year, we didn't win the first game, then we kind of survived and advanced. Got another one, won another one, played again. That's really what it's about now. Who can make a timely play or get a big hit, clutch, pitching performance. Somebody steps up and you get on the road, get a little momentum. So many good teams here. It's just a tremendous field. You know what it means being in the College World Series for coaches and players is the ultimate. Some programs have been here a lot, some teams have never gotten here with great coaches and great players.
For me it's all about perspective. We were fortunate we were able to win a national title. Could we do it again? How would it be? Who knows? But we're happy to be playing. We'd like to do as well as we can while we're here just like these other guys. Trying to win the first game, which we haven't done and keep playing.
Q. You had all been to Rosenblatt. Every year coaches would talk about driving up the hill and seeing Rosenblatt and how their kids reacted. Kind of curious how your players reacted when they first saw this park, and what struck you guys what was your overall impression? What stood out most to you about this place?
SPEAKER: We brought our club here yesterday. It was really just the fact that obviously it's brand spanking new. Every seat in the place is a chair-back seat. Looks like for the fans the angles and the vantage point for them to be able to watch the game is really spectacular. I did notice there is a lot of foul ball territory, which is a little bit different.
You know, it looks like it's a tremendous place for the fans to be able to enjoy college baseball for two weeks.
COACH CHILDRESS: When we got off the airplane yesterday, our bus drove right by the stadium. Our kids got an opportunity to see it finally finished. We drove by after playing the University of Nebraska. It's just a fabulous stadium. Our design group did an a amazing job. It's what they did. It just turned out fantastic. I know our kids are looking forward to practicing today. Haven't been out on the field yet. Haven't been outside. Really the only thing I got an opportunity to see the Nebraska-Creighton game on TV. Just great crowds, and I would expect that throughout the entire two weeks of this tournament.
After the coaches meeting last night, driving by, we drove by Rosenblatt on the way back to the hotel, and it's still standing. They've taken the scoreboard down, but driving up that hill still gives you a little bit of goose bumps even though it was 10:30 at night, no lights on.
COACH ESQUER: Probably like any good coach, lot of my ideas are stolen from other coaches. I remember seeing a coach once who might have been either coach -- might have been Coach Serrano from Fullerton where they -- before they're out of sight of the stadium, they have their team close their eyes and then not open them until they got to the stadium. I said you know what, I'm going to steal that idea.
So we got close, I said hey, bus driver, tell me when the last place we couldn't see the stadium. So he kind of gives me the high sign.
I asked our team, I said this is corny, I know, but indulge me, close your eyes. So I had them close their eyes. And I kind of talked them through a little bit of what our season meant to us, you know, starting the fall and before our first practice our program was cut. How our freshmen didn't even get one official practice before they thought they would have to go somewhere else. Just kind of the normal baseball things, because our season was filled with normal baseball adversity. You sign up to play baseball and you're going to have to go through it. That's why we feel it's such a great lesson for life. Whether it was our hot start at the beginning of the year and then a couple of rough ballgames, a 17-inning game with Arizona State that we lost, and then probably didn't recover for four or five games and then had that hangover, trying to battle back.
Just the experience of being with each other, just being in a regional with your best friends and unable to host in front of our donors and our alumni that put up $9.6 million to keep you running.
We got to the stadium, and got there and the bus driver pulled up he stopped and he said when you make a decision to commit to each other and work hard and fulfill all those promises that everyone kind of makes about having the best season and then actually have the toughness to go through maybe some off-the-field adversity and still make it through, there is a chance that you're given those opportunities that can you realize your dreams and get to the destination that you've been shooting for for the whole year.
I said then the destination is here. Okay, now open your eyes and to see their faces is pretty rewarding. It's a goal, but it's one of those that you don't know until you go through it and get here and see their faces and realize they were actually in Omaha was priceless.
I had a reporter ask me yesterday, hey, coach, how is your day today? I said any morning you can wake up in Omaha is a great day.
SPEAKER: We came by the stadium yesterday on the way from the airport. All the teams here have outstanding young men. Outstanding student-athletes that have grown up and are very mature. But I believe that you have to love camaraderie. I believe that. As part of the team you have to have a lot of little boy in you whether you're a coach or a player. I think it's one of the reasons we do what we do.
I could hear the excitement in the back of the bus, the giddiness, the wow factor was in effect, and that's great that you can drive by a ballpark, and you've got young adults on the bus that are showing emotion and getting excited about where they are.
I've never been a part of a Final Four. I've never been a part of a BCS Bowl game, but it is hard for me to imagine there is a better event than the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Q. Brian, have you settled on a rotation for the first four games, if so, who are you going to start?
COACH O'CONNOR: I haven't decided on a rotation, but Danny Hultzen will start Game 1 on Sunday.
Q. Coach O'Connor, how do you bring the guys back down after that emotional win you had against UC Irvine to get them focused on the task at hand now here in Omaha?
COACH O'CONNOR: I can assure you they're back down. It was a very emotional game. There is no question. A lot of people have called it the greatest game in our program's history because of what was at stake and a trip to Omaha and whatnot.
It's been a very, very mature group all year long. They've handled situations like this before. They enjoyed it for 24 hours, which they should. I believe when you have success in this level of baseball, it's important as a player and as a coach that you enjoy it, and they did. They have turned the page, and they understand the opportunity that is certainly in front of them starting on Sunday.
Q. Ray, have you decided beyond Roth who would start Game 2? And Coach Esquer, what is your pitching rotation for your first two games?
COACH ESQUER: You know, we're going to go with Erik Johnson who has been our Friday starter the whole year. You know, that is the guy that we've given the ball to every Friday night. We think that we're going to probably go there first. Then I think beyond that we're going to look to match-up. We've got a little right-handed, left-handed flexibility if Justin Jones is not in the equation. We have Kyle Porter who is a freshman left-handed pitcher, and then Dixon Anderson, a senior right-hander.
COACH TANNER: Michael Roth will start Game 1. I'm not sure about Game 2 right now. That will be Coach Meyers' decision. As far as Koumas, he didn't pitch in the super regional. I'd like to get him on the mound, but that will be Coach Meyers' decision as to how we go in Game 2.
Q. Coach O'Connor, what did you tell your players in the ninth inning of Game 3 in the super regionals?
COACH O'CONNOR: I wish I could say that I told them something. No, you know, the top of the 9th was obviously very interesting. Irvine had a runner on first. They laid down a bunt right in front of our catcher and he tried to throw the lead runner out at shortstop at second base, and the ball sailed up the line and went off our shortstop's glove.
After all was over, we had given up one run in the inning, so you're coming into the bottom of the ninth at home, your fans and a chance to come back. I'll just never forget Chris Taylor our shortstop running off the field and going back behind our dugout. He was very emotional, very upset.
When you're a competitor and a winner like this kid is, and you feel like you could have made a catch and you don't make it, and maybe you start to get that feeling a little bit that maybe you cost your club a chance to come to Omaha.
So I walked back behind the dugout and met with him and told him, Chris, listen, you did everything you could. You need to put it behind you. You need to get back out here and cheer your teammates on. Who knows? Maybe you'll have a chance to make a difference, you know.
I just kept encouraging our guys. There is not a lot you can say as a coach. These guys will tell you. They've got to go out and do it as players. At this point the game is pretty much in a lot of cases won and lost by the players on the field and they have to go do it.
Just kept telling them that they could do it. It didn't look real great when there were two outs and our first two at-bats weren't real good. But, you know, we found a way.
Q. Coach O'Connor, with Chris Taylor, what's his role been for you this year? He hasn't been a shortstop all year, has he?
COACH O'CONNOR: He has. Actually, we started the year out with a shortstop by the name of Stephen Bruno. Chris Taylor and Stephen Bruno were competing for the starting shortstop job coming into the year. Stephen Bruno won the job game 1 down at Auburn at the start of the season this year. Chris Taylor was our starting right fielder.
Four games into the season Stephen Bruno tore his hamstring off the bone. He had a season-ending injury. So immediately, I believe it was game 5, I put Chris Taylor at shortstop, and he started at shortstop every game since.
Q. Any coach that would want to answer, what do you think of the flood waters that are encroaching out there trying to knock on the door here?
SPEAKER: I'll comment first. We landed here yesterday about 9:45 a.m. I can tell you being from here, looking out the window of the plane as we were approaching the airport, I felt really, really sad. My wife was sitting with me on the plane and the kids. My wife's from here also. Just to see the farmland around the airport all washed away and everything. It's terrible for the people here.
I know fortunately we'll be able to get the College World Series in, but you just feel terrible for those people. It's not going anywhere. It seems like it's going to continue for the summer and they're going to be dealing with it the whole time.
Q. Coach Esquer, what do you think of the Virginia lineup? It's been said that every at bat they have is pretty relentless and pretty grinding for pitchers?
COACH ESQUER: That is exactly the reputation. There is not a battle that you can take off, and that makes it difficult for your pitcher mentally when you've got to stress and pitch to every hitter and locate and make good pitches, that can wear on you. I think it's obvious they've worn on a lot of pitching staffs during the year giving them that trouble.
It's a tremendous challenge for us. But any team here that you play is going to be a tremendous challenge. You don't duck anybody. There is no easy road. No lighter schedule or lighter road to winning a championship.
But, hey, the challenge of playing the No. 1 seed and the top rated team in the country. If you don't get to leave the tournament without playing the best, you may have missed something, so that's good for us.