KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Icy weather on Friday forced the Vols to push the start of spring practice back a day, but they hit the field with focus and determination when they finally got the chance to do so on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
The first day of spring practice always comes with a sense of excitement and optimism and those feelings were certainly present throughout the entire UT program, with Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano leading the charge.
“It is exciting,” Serrano said. “I think everyone was anxious, especially after yesterday’s weather conditions and having to move it back, but it was the smartest thing to do. It was exciting to come out, be around the whole team again and I thought we accomplished some things. The weather broke for us a little bit and it was actually a pretty nice day. We got some good work in today.”
The Vols were able to install a number of situational defensive plays before holding a seven-inning scrimmage on Saturday. Serrano was pleased with the team’s focus and workmanlike attitude, but was quick to point out that they must continue to put forth that effort every day to reach the goals that they have set for the program.
“It is a pretty focused group and a group that continues to show consistency in focus,” Serrano said. “What I relayed to them is that that was today. We accomplished what we wanted to today, but tomorrow is another challenge and so on and so forth. I can’t emphasize it enough. I don’t know what the results will be because we are inexperienced in many areas, but the focus and the drive and the determination of this team is exactly what we want. The potential is there. It is just when is that potential going to come out. There are a lot of good things going on in this program right now without us ever throwing a competitive pitch against another opponent.
GODLEY READY TO SET THE TONE
Tennessee’s most experienced pitcher and likely Friday night starter Zack Godley got the afternoon scrimmage started on a strong note, firing three shutout innings to open the contest, which his team eventually won, 2-1, on a solo home run by freshman David Houser in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“Zack Godley set the tone and that is what he is going to do a lot for us this year, hopefully,” Serrano said. “Being the senior, being the elder statesman on the staff, he is going to have to show them how it is done. He did that today. He started for the home team and went three very solid innings.
Not one to back down from a challenge, Godley has accepted the responsibilty of serving as the Vols’ “tonesetter” this season and has high goals for himself in his final season as a collegiate player.
“As far as my expectations for the season, I hope to throw as many innings as I can, I hope to help this team win and I hope to get at least 10 wins on the year,” Godley said. “I don’t think that is too far-fetched of a goal. As far as being the tonesetter for the weekend. I hope I can do that. I hope I can come out on Friday night, throw well, throw for as long as I possibly can and help the team get the series each weekend.”
MADDOX SETTLING IN AT HOT CORNER
After starting all but one game at second base for Tennessee last season, sophomore Will Maddox appears to have found a second home for the upcoming season at the hot corner.
The Gainesville, Ga., native’s hard-nosed attitude on the field gives the UT coaching staff exactly what it wants out of a third baseman. The fact that he has shown a knack for making some of the more difficult plays at the position look easy, certainly doesn’t hurt either. During Saturday’s scrimmage, Maddox flashed the leather a number of times, proving especially adept while charging slow-rolling bunts up the third-base line.
“I said to my coaches that the plays he made today, especially in bunting situations, a lot of third basemen around the country don’t make those plays,” Serrano said. “He is making them which helps our pitching staff. I just love the mentality that Will brings to the team. In fact, I pulled him aside today and talked to him. He has struggled as of late with swinging and he is not happy with the way his swing is going. I just told him that he is the heartbeat of this team. He is the pulse of this team and he can’t let the results get in the way because if his teammates see him down at times it is going to leak to them.
“I just told him to continue to play hard. There are very few guys that I have been around that play as hard as he does and work as hard as he does on a daily basis. That is contagious, hopefully, and I think it has been contagious for this team. I am very happy with the way he has handled third base. It gives us that tough kid at third that is going to do whatever he can to stop the ball and make plays. It kind of levels the playing field for us defensively, having him at third.”
GET TO KNOW: CHRISTIN STEWART (VIDEO)
A freshman outfielder from Lawrenceville, Ga., Christin Stewart has made quite an impression in his short time at Rocky Top, emerging as one of the team’s top power hitters going into the 2013 campaign.
The left-handed power hitter has worked hard to adjust to the collegiate game and is pushing hard for a starting position in his first season with the Vols.
“The first few months have been pretty good,” Stewart said. “It has been a lot of work with workouts and everything, but it has been a good adjustment. Everything is going well with classes, being with the team every day and it has just been a fun ride. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Stewart’s learning curve has been leveled a bit due to his willingness to work on improving his game by listening to and implementing the instruction he has received from the UT coaching staff.
“The coaches here – Coach Serrano, Mo and Berg – are all really good at breaking down the game for you, more in-depth than my high school coaches did and you just learn a lot more. I always try to hustle and I always try to go 100 percent. I try to do everything to the best of my abilities. Every time I get inside the [batter’s] box, I always try to stay through the ball and hit line drives. Sometimes they just go out.”
Indeed they do. In fact, Stewart hit 69 home runs during his four-year prep career at Providence Christian Academy, tying current Major Leaguer Micah Owings for the Georgia high school state record.
While he is proud of that achievement there is another that provides him even fonder memories.
“It was senior year when I tied it and we were in the state playoffs at the time,” Stewart said. “It was a really great feeling, but I wasn’t even thinking about it. All the newspapers tried to hype it up, but I was just trying to play the game. I’d been wanting that state championship ring, which I finally got my senior year, for so long and just getting there with my team was a great feeling.”
As serious as he can be on the field, Stewart has earned a distinctly different reputation off of it.
“A lot of people would probably describe me as a jokester. I like to make jokes a lot. I guess I am fun to be around. I love my team. They are all fun to hang around with and we are just really close.”
He also has undergone quite a transformation from his youth, developing from a choir boy into a potential candidate for the cleanup spot in the UT lineup.
“Most people probably don’t know that I used to sing when I was younger in my church choir. I was ok, I wasn’t the best.”
NEWEST ADDITION TO LINDSEY NELSON STADIUM
Lindsey Nelson Stadium has undergone a number of renovations over the last few seasons, including a new locker room, indoor hitting facility and a revamped seating area behind home plate to name just a few.
This week the Vols added a more subtle change, installing field turf around the home plate area to limit the daily damage to the playing surface caused by batting practice and infield drills.
“I’m a real grass guy and I know [UT Director of Sport Surface Management] Darren Seybold is too, but we talked about it,” Serrano said. “I told the team before practice that what our grounds guys have done under some tough weather situations lately to have our field looking like it does right now, maybe the best in the country, is remarkable. What I approached Darren about is that for the wear-and-tear that goes on behind home plate and on the sides, it was probably the smartest thing to do. We came to an agreement that it is. It adds another clean dimension to what I think is a beautiful playing facility.”
BUY YOUR SEASON TICKETS NOW
Season tickets for the 2013 campaign are now available. Make sure to purchase your seats now by visiting UTTix.com. Single-game tickets will go on sale Feb. 11.
For more information about Tennessee baseball, visit UTSports.com/Baseball, follow @Vol_Baseball on Twitter or like the Vols on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/VolBaseball.