Tennessee coach Dave Serrano is two days into full-squad practices for a baseball team undergoing one of the most encompassing makeovers in program history.
But Serrano, who will begin his second season at the helm next spring, doesn't view the task as daunting.
"It's exciting,'' said Serrano, who's breaking in 20 freshmen and five junior college transfers. "We know we have a long ways to go to get this program where it should be. When the final product will come about, we don't know.
"But I really like the aptitude of the players we've brought in; they fit the mold of what we want to have here.''
Serrano said the team is gelling one pitch at a time, one practice at a time, and at a rate of no less than one-percent improvement every day.
"Getting one percent better every day actually sounds easier than it is,'' Serrano said. "There are mistakes being made, but what's encouraging is that they are being made on the aggressive side — not passive.''
Indeed, Serrano makes no bones about it that the next Tennessee baseball team he puts on the field for SEC play will be going all-out in every offensive capacity.
"We will have an uptempo, aggressive offense, and we'll run the bases and do a lot of things,'' he
said. "But it isn't all about offense.''
In fact, Serrano said, he has told his players the mission statement of fall camp is to establish team defense as a foundation.
"I talked to them over an hour at the first team practice (Sunday) about how we're going to play zone defense — not man-to-man,'' Serrano said, explaining the philosophy he has developed over 484 games as a Division I head coach (313-170-1) and seven trips to the College World Series.
"We talked about how we're going to play zone defense; we're going to move together, and we're going to talk together,'' he said. "The pitcher will be setting the tempo with strikes.''
The Vols bring back three players who started in the field last season, rising junior catcher Ethan Bennett, sophomore second baseman Will Maddox and senior infielder Zach Luther.
But the biggest and most pivotal challenge appears to be on the mound, where the proven experience comes in the form of starter Zack Godley and reliever Nick Williams.
"How we'll be successful starts with pitching and defense,'' Serrano said. "Offense can come and go, but defense is the one part of baseball that can remain consistent.''
Serrano is excited about what incoming freshman Andrew Lee can add to the pitching rotation eventually.
But as far as next season goes, the 6-foot-5 Lee — who underwent Tommy John surgery last spring — will contribute in the field at first base and at the plate.
"He won't be ready to pitch,'' Serrano said, "but he's a 6-5 left-handed hitter who is able to swing the bat.''
All of the Vols will be swinging the bat this afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium when the team gets after it in an intra-squad scrimmage.
The scrimmage, like all of the team's practices, is open to the public.
"This group of players is going to be something special,'' Serrano said. "I don't know when, but one day I'm going to look back and say, 'I told you this group would get this thing turned around.' "
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