Kansas Baseball Holds Media Day

Feb. 15, 2011

Media Day Interviews: Coach Price | Waters | Marciel | Walz

Ninth-year head coach Ritch Price held his annual media day at the McCarthy Family Clubhouse Tuesday afternoon. Price spoke about the team’s expectations for the season and the challenges of facing No. 1 TCU this weekend. Following Price’s press conference, seniors Casey Lytle, Wally Marciel, T.J. Walz and Jimmy Waters also fielded questions from reporters.

Below is a transcript of the Price’s press conference and interviews with the players:

Head Coach Ritch Price

Opening comments:

“It’s certainly been a unique three weeks, with the weather and everything. We are very appreciative of the new turf. As I’ve told almost every media guy who has called me in the last two weeks, despite how bad the weather has been, we’ve been on the field Friday, Saturday and Sunday each of the last three weekends. That would not have happened in years past before the turf was put down.”

On the starting pitching:

“We’re going to go into this weekend and we’re going to put the senior Wally Marciel in the middle of the two right handers so we can have a left-hander pitch on the second day. Wally was in the rotation as a freshman and as a sophomore, in the year prior, he had Tommy John surgery. He’s been very good, his changeup has been outstanding. I’m excited about the opportunity of having him as a fifth-year senior. We are going to pitch (Tanner Poppe) on Sunday. Tuesday, we come back and play Creighton and freshman Alex Cox will start that game. The following Tuesday, we are going to run Thomas Taylor out there. Then we will make a determination based on how guys are pitching and performing after the initial two weeks.”

On who is going to play third base, second base and center field:

“We had the Big 12 conference call earlier today and that topic was brought up. We lost three first-team all-conference players who were starters for us. We have some new faces, Jake Marasco is going to open the season for us at third base. You’re going to see Jordan Dreiling come off the bench and play defense late for him in games, which he did a year ago when Thompson was out with his injury. At second base, the Kaiana Eldridge, the freshman from Hawaii will be there along with Dreiling. I think you will like him; he’s an athletic player with a really good arm and has really good feet. He’s got the chance to be an all-conference player here before he’s done.”

On whether or not he has had to replace so much talent before:

“I think to lose three first-team all-conference players in one season is pretty unique. Certainly, we have some players with the potential to step in and be successful and have been successful in the past. There’s a big difference between guys that have potential and guys that have gone out there and got it done on a day-in-and-day-out basis. One of the things I shared with our team, I don’t think we are capable individually of replacing those three guys in our lineup. What I’m hopeful for is that we will be more solid No. 1-9 in the batting order. We struggled at the back end of our lineup a year ago. I’m hoping if we’re more productive in the nine spots, we can make up for the loss of those three guys.”

On expectations this season:

“After watching what has happened to Kansas State basketball, there are parallels between us being predicted No. 2 (in the Big 12) in the preseason a year ago and finishing seventh. Fortunately we haven’t had guys quitting the team and leaving the program and some of the other issues that they’ve had off the field. I think what we’re trying to get, we’re trying to get to the point where we are consistently being viewed as an upper division program in our conference. Quite frankly, we weren’t good enough to overcome the injuries a year ago. The loss of (pitcher Lee) Ridenour, who was projected to be a Sunday starter, was hard. We were in the Top 25 when (relief pitcher Brett) Bochy went out and we played nine weeks without Tony Thompson who was the preseason player of the year in our conference. We actually survived his loss. The amazing thing to me was that we were in the Top 25 and third in our conference and we couldn’t overcome the loss of Bochy.”

“I think the great thing about this game is that when you’re a college baseball coach, you recruit players who come in with the same dreams and the same aspirations as the guys who are leaving your program. It gives (senior outfielder) Jimmy Waters a chance to lead now, it gives (senior outfielder) Casey Lytle a chance to lead. Jimmy is a four-year starter and Casey is a three-year starter. They go from being good players on our club to being team leaders and team captains and it’s their job to help develop some of the younger players.”

On not coaching any of his sons this season:

“We’ve done a really good job in our program of separating being father and son (and being coach and player). We’ve had some really good rules as a result of how to coach your own son in your program that I got from other coaches who were in the same situation. To go eight-straight years and have one of my sons play for us has been one of the highlights of my coaching career. The reason I came here was to coach in the Big 12 Conference and coach at the University of Kansas with the national name recognition and have my sons be a part of that. With all you’ve seen with the facility improvements and the success we’ve had, there’s a great sense of pride in our family over those accomplishments.”

Senior outfielder Jimmy Waters

On the new bats:

“You can definitely tell the difference. When you square up a ball solidly, it still goes, but it’s not going as far. You really have to be a good hitter to make solid contact. It’s going to take away hitters getting hits. Personally I don’t really like them. After playing summer ball, I think if you used a good pro wood bat, I think they’re really similar. It’s going to change the game a lot.”

On losing Brian Heere, Robby Price and Tony Thompson:

“It’s going to be a lot different for me not hitting behind Heere, Robby and Tony. It’s a little different style of play. We have to have guys step up and fill those shoes. I think they’re very capable of it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.”

On if he is comfortable being a team leader this season:

“It’s comfortable. I kind of viewed myself as a leader last year. I wasn’t entitled to it, but every leadership meeting we had, (Coach Price) told me (to join) the official captains. Being a leader you have to watch what you do and try to help other players develop. It’s not really a big change for me.”

On if he’s anxious for the season to start:

“I think everybody’s anxious. Everybody that came back had great summer ball performances, so everybody has improved tremendously from a year ago, which needed to happen. You can see people keep developing. Everybody’s really excited to step on the field Friday night against No. 1 (TCU).”

Senior pitcher Wally Marciel

On if he’s excited to be back in the starting rotation:

“I was pretty happy. I never thought I would be able to come back (from Tommy John surgery) and be a starter. I always knew that I loved starting, but after I had surgery I knew I had to do what was best for the team, and that was being in the bullpen last year. I talked to (KU pitching coach Ryan) Graves and (KU head coach Ritch) Price in the fall seeing if I could become a starter again. They gave me the opportunity, and it worked out. It’s a thrill. I actually didn’t know I was going to start until a couple days ago. I was really pleased. It’s a big achievement. Now I just have to make the best of it.”

On if he considers himself a better pitcher now:

“Yes, I would consider myself a better pitcher now. I feel more comfortable on the mound with more than one pitch. I have two or three pitches now. It’s a good feeling.”

On the younger pitchers on the staff:

“We have some good, young arms. They’re still a little raw transferring from high school, but they have real live arms. Alex Cox, Conner Murray and Tyler Smith – another lefty – are all good players. Making that adjustment from high school to college, it’s a lot quicker game and a lot more competitive. Once they get to see what it’s like to go into a big environment like TCU, Arkansas or Texas A&M, I think they’ll be fine.”

On this year’s bullpen:

“Colton Murray’s our closer this year. We also have Scott Heitshusen. He’s a sidearm, miss-bat type of guy that gets a lot of ground balls. We have a couple other lefties that are pretty good at spotting up. I think our bullpen should be fine. It’s up to our starters to go long into games and finish games at the end.”

On being picked to finish ninth in the Big 12:

“We’ve been picked to finish 10th before, so ninth is a little better. All you have to do is work hard from here and keep working hard day-in and day-out. Before you know it, we may be in the top five (of the conference). We just have to keep competing every day.”

Senior outfielder Casey Lytle

On freshman second baseman Ka’iana Eldredge:

“Since I’ve been here he’s one of the best freshman I’ve seen. He has a great swing. I don’t want to say he has the skills of Robby (Price), but one day I think he might have the hands and great play ability of Robby.”

On the new bats:

“I can’t say I love them. Compared to last year, you obviously lose the distance you hit the ball. For me, I’ve never really been a home run hitter, so I can’t really complain too much about it.”

On the new artificial turf in Hoglund Ballpark:

“I love it. You don’t have to worry about those bad hops in the outfield. I always remember coming into the spring season we had to worry about the ground being hard and not being able to keep the grass nice because there was always snow on the field. Now we’re out there playing full scrimmages with half the outfield covered in snow and nothing’s wrong with the field.”

Senior pitcher T.J. Walz

On joining the team as a walk-on his freshman year:

“Our team has always been one that’s had to overachieve and overcome people’s perceptions of what we’re going to do in the season. That’s something I had to do coming here. I wasn’t expected to do much, I don’t think. As our team has shown, we can do a lot more than some people think we can.”

On what his personal expectations were for his career when he joined to team:

“I knew when I came in as a freshman that my goal was to be a weekend starter. I didn’t know how long it would take to get there or what I had to do to achieve it, but I knew it was something that I wanted to do.”

On how it feels to be the Friday night starter last year and this season:

“It feels good to have gotten there, but that doesn’t mean anything. I still have to go out, compete and perform at the level it takes to win on Friday night.”