KNOXVILLE – With former Vols R.A. Dickey, Chase Headley and others making headlines as Major League stars, the Tennessee coaches are working hard to mold this year’s roster and prepare it for the upcoming season.
After having the weekend off, UT found a break in the weather and returned to the practice field briefly on Monday before holding another intra-squad scrimmage on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in Knoxville.
The time off gave the team a chance to catch its breath after being indoctrinated into the brand of baseball the Tennessee coaching staff wants to play and came back with plenty of energy and excitement.
“There was a lot of energy, which is expected when you have some days off,” UT head coach Dave Serrano said. “I thought it was a good intra-squad [scrimmage] with a lot of energy [today]. The pitchers committed to first-pitch strikes, which was good.
“We did an excellent job with the inside game, we didn’t defend it extremely well, but that is what happens sometimes in intra-squad games. It’s hard to walk off the field and feel good about both sides defense and offense, because somewhere you are going to break down.”
After suffering a little bit of “information overload” in the early part of fall camp, the Vols have begun to overcome it and are starting to play faster and with more confidence.
“We really feel that we have some good baseball players,” Serrano said. “I know people hear us say that a lot, but we are talking about guys who pick up the game quickly and I think this young, inexperienced group has done that. We were talking in the office today with Coach Bergeron and Coach Mosiello about how well they have picked up the signs, the system and all that. Now it is allowing them to go out and perform as baseball players.”
Although his perspective comes from the defensive and pitching side of the diamond, Serrano is pleased with the development he has seen with the Volunteer offense so far.
“What I see from calling the pitches from the defensive side is guys starting to really sustain good at-bats and really stay on balls,” Serrano said. “That is exciting, especially when you know the ceiling is a lot higher for many of them. We have a ways to go, we know that, but that is what is so exciting. It is going to be a work-in-progress, probably all year long.”
Tennessee's next two scrimmages are set for 4:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. All fall practices are free and open to the public.
For more information about Tennessee baseball and a complete weekly practice schedule, visit UTSports.com/Baseball, follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter or like the Vols on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/VolBaseball.
HI, MY NAME IS…ANDREW LEE
From just up the road in Morristown, Tenn., freshman Andrew Lee has arrived at Rocky Top ready to make an impact, even if it might be at a completely different position than he originally anticipated.
After signing with the Vols primarily as a hard-throwing pitcher last November, Lee suffered an arm injury late in his senior season that required Tommy John surgery.
Although the injury will force him to sit out his freshman year on the mound, Lee still expects to make his mark as a first baseman and at the plate.
“It’s been rough because I want to be out there,” Lee said. “I want to be playing and I have to sit and watch, but they say I am ahead of schedule so hopefully I will be on the field sooner than later.”
Sooner is definitely the goal for Lee, who took some batting practice on Tuesday and expects to begin a throwing program and hitting against live pitching in the next two weeks.
His injury has not kept him from enjoying his first few weeks on a college campus, however.
“It’s been great so far,” Lee said. “I’ve been going to classes, starting fall practice and everything. It’s been a little slower with my arm being hurt, but it’s been a lot of fun getting to know the guys and hang out with them a lot.”
At 6-5, Lee is tied with fellow freshman Vincent Jackson as the tallest player on the team, something he tries to use to his advantage on the diamond.
“I’m a tall, lanky guy,” Lee said. “Off the mound that is a good thing, but not so much when you are swinging the bat. I’ve been trying to hit the weight room a little bit. Playing first base it definitely helps because I’m a big target. Then I’m a gap-to-gap hitter at the plate.”
A three-sport star at Morristown West High School, where he played baseball and was also the school's starting quarterback and punter and a forward on the basketball team, Lee first gained national recognition in a completely different sport.
“When I was younger, I was quite the accomplished racquetball player,” Lee said. “I was ranked in the nation and I feel like that has translated in my ping-pong game lately. I just played in my home state and I won a few tournaments. My uncle taught me to play, so I was a little bit ahead of the other kids.”
The Tennessee program has a tradition of developing players and putting them on the path to becoming Major League players.
That has become increasingly evident in recent weeks with the success and national recognition former Vols like Dickey and Headley have received.
“It’s pretty humbling to realize that we are part of that program and the players are part of that program,” Serrano said. “It makes you very proud to wear this uniform and represent [this university] knowing the kind of players, not just those guys but also the guys who have been successful in other parts of life and not just Major League Baseball, and how they have prospered as people.”
HEADLEY ADDS MORE HARDWARE
For the second straight month, former Vol and current San Diego third baseman Chase Headley has been named the National League Player of the Month.
After hitting .306 with 10 home runs, 31 RBIs and a .345 on-base percentage in August, Headley didn’t slow down one bit in September, hitting .324 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs to go with a .410 OBP.
The only other Major League player to register 30 or more RBIs in two consecutive calendar months was Albert Pujols in April-May 2006, when he was with the Cardinals, according to Elias.
Headley is the first player with two 30-RBI months for the Padres, not only in consecutive months and not only in two months within one season, but in his career with San Diego.
His award marks the third time a former Vol has earned National League Player of the Month honors this season as Dickey earned pitcher of the month accolades for the month of June.
BARTHOLOMEW SHARES CONNECTION WITH DICKEY
When former Vol R.A. Dickey hit the field to attempt to win his 21st game of the season tonight against the Miami Marlins, there is a good chance that a decent number of Knoxville natives were following along.
One was rooting a little harder than the rest.
The current starting fullback on the Tennessee football team and Dickey’s brother-in-law, Ben Bartholomew has been following his progress all season.
“I am so excited and so proud of him,” Bartholomew said. “He’s been a great mentor in my life and I am so excited for him.
“I follow him a lot. I have updates coming in on my phone. As soon as we left the Georgia Dome after the NC State game, I saw on my phone that he won the game and I was calling him getting excited. We’re cheering each other on and calling each other and we’re just really excited for each other.”
Tonight marked Dickey’s final start of the season and was last opportunity to add to his already stellar numbers as he makes his case for the National Cy Young Award.
“I really hope he gets it,” Bartholomew said. “I’m partial obviously but I think he deserves it. He’s done a great job and I just hope he can finish well.”
Although he struck out eight and allowed just three runs in six strong innings, Dickey received a no-decision as the Met offense was unable to get on the scoreboard until the eighth. He ends the season with a record of 20-6, 2.73 ERA and National League-leading 230 strikeouts.
The author of a book describing the trials and tribulations of his own life, Dickey spoke earlier this week about the connection he has with Bartholomew due to the perseverance he has shown during his football career, playing for three head coaches in five years.
For Bartholomew, however, the connection starts at a much higher level.
“At the end, we both agree that God is faithful and He rewards faithfulness so we are just trying to persevere,” Bartholomew said.