Kansas Baseball Holds Annual Media Day
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the 2014 season opener on Friday, Kansas baseball hosted its annual media day Tuesday afternoon. ead coach Ritch Price and select student-athletes were available to speak to the media for the first time to preview the upcoming season.
Head coach Ritch Price
“First of all, we can look outside and see that the weather is conducive to playing this great game. We’re certainly excited to get started. We’re excited to leave the state for where there’s actually sunshine and green grass. We bussed 11 hours to Dallas Friday after classes were over so we could scrimmage at the pro park in Dallas Saturday and Sunday and then bussed 11 hours home. It was a really productive trip and a trip we obviously needed in order to be prepared to play Friday at the Peoria Sports Complex.
“I want to also take this opportunity to introduce the players I’ve brought here with me today. They’re going to come up here and answer any questions you might have. I’m going to start over there on the right. You’ve got Michael Suiter, if you could stand up there for us, big guy. Michael Suiter is from Punahou High School in Hawaii. He’s the Hawaii High School State Player of the Year. He’s also got a body like a Greek God, as you can tell. We expect him first-10-round draft pick this spring and you’ll see him hitting in the three-hole. We’ve been really pleased with the progress he’s made this past season and over the course of his tenure with us.
“Ka’iana Eldredge is also from Punahou High School in Hawaii. If you know anything about Hawaii baseball, the two greatest names in that state are Les Murakami, that the stadium is named after at the University of Hawaii. He was their coach there for over 30 years. It’s a Eldredge family name; his uncle is the legendary coach that won 13 state titles and his dad was a Division I coach at Southern Utah. Both his uncles coach there in high school as well. He’s one of the best catch-and-throw guys in America and he’s been named a team captain. He’s had a really good fall with the bat and we’re excited to see him finish out his college career. He actually got married over the summer and has a new addition to his family, too. So he’s got a lot going on in his life. When he’s done playing, he wants to coach and I have no doubts he will be big time at that at some point in time.
“Tucker Tharp, senior from Boulder, Colo., three-year starter for us, also one of our team captains. Tucker’s a great story. He’s what college baseball is all about. He came here as a non-scholarship player and has become a scholarship player and has become a team captain and a three-year starter. It’s been an honor and a privilege to have you in our program. He’s got great leadership skills.
“Next, Wes Benjamin, the junior left-hander from Illinois. He’ll be our Friday night starter in the Big 12 Conference. He’s projected to be a third-to-seventh round draft pick in the spring. If we’re going to make the NCAA Tournament, he’s got to win 10 games on Friday night. That’s his goal and if he gets that done, our team will accomplish its goals as well.
“Next, the young man, Jordan Piche’, was first team all-conference last year as a closer. He’s one of the top guys in the country. I did a great interview today with a young man from Rock Chalk Video; we have a tradition here with closers starting with Donny Czyz, who was the 2006 National Closer of the Year and a high draft pick with Tampa, followed by Paul Smyth, who’s now in AAA with the Oakland A’s. Brett Bochy, who’s in AAA with the San Francisco Giants. Both those guys I expected to get called up this spring to the big leagues. And then Jordan’s coming off being first-team all-conference last spring and we expect you to be even better as a senior. He’s also one of our team captains. To pay a great compliment, that’s a hard thing when you come as a transfer. We’ve only had two transfers in the 12 years I’ve been here that have been named team captain; Sean Richardson and Jordan Piche’. That just shows you what kind of quality young man he is both on the field and off the field.
“Finally, just as we’re about to head into the season, we’re excited about the ESPN3 contract and also the Jayhawk Network contract. I want to thank Sheahon Zenger; I know that’s been a huge source of controversy. We’ve been a basketball school for 100 years. We’re going to be a basketball school for the next 100 years. But I tell you what, that contract has been huge for us in the recruiting process. We average two guys a year that we lose to the professional baseball draft from our signing class. If the guys that we just signed this fall show up, we’ll be in the top-25 for the next three years. That TV contract was huge in that, for all those kids’ parents being able to be at their homes and be in their offices and watch their sons play. I want to thank Dr. Z for that and for the impact it’s made in our program. Certainly, to have Steven Davis doing our games will give us a professional broadcast as well which sells our product and helps us in the recruiting process.
“A year ago, we advanced to the Big 12 Conference Championship title game. I think our goal, obviously, is to get back to the NCAA Tournament. We actually thought we should have made it a year ago. If you leave yourself on the bubble, you can get left out. Hopefully we’ll take care of business better on Tuesday nights and make sure that if we do well in our conference again, like we did last year, that we’ll qualify on our own merit. With that being said, I’ll answer any questions that anyone might have.”
On the pitching staff and its experience:
“I think it’s the most experienced group of guys we’ve had on the weekend. We’re going to lose Thomas Taylor, who was our Friday night starter a year ago, who had a great year for us. Certainly, that’s a great loss. But to have all three of those young men back (Jr. LHP Wes Benjamin, Jr. RHP Robert Kahana and Sr. RHP Frank Duncan) then to have Jordan on the back end of the bullpen; if you’re going to win in the Big 12 Conference – where there’s usually five-to-seven teams in the top 25 – you’ve got to be able to pitch. Especially with the bat change a couple years ago, if our pitching holds up and we’re successful on the mound, it gives our team a chance to meet all of its goals.”
On having to train indoors due to the weather:
“It’s a huge setback. Obviously, that’s one of the drawbacks to being in a cold-weather state, is trying to prepare your team to play an outdoor sport that’s supposed to be played in the sunshine. I will compliment our players, and specifically our upperclassmen, our work ethic has been really good. We’re going to start at 12:30 in our indoor (facility) and we bring position players in every hour, six at a time, around their class schedule and try to get our offensive execution done prior to the evening session so we can reduce the amount of time that those guys are missing from studying or in study halls or tutoring sessions. If they have tutor conflicts, they go to tutors at night. Our time tonight is 8-10pm, and obviously that’s not a very good practice time. But I think it’s dependent on your coaches, staff and players to make sure they get their work in inside. Our indoor facility, the Padgett Indoor Facility, is fabulous. It gives us an opportunity to prepare our players and then we can go inside to Anschutz and do our team work at night as well.”
On being voted ninth in the Big 12 Preseason Poll:
“I can tell you that the players have already posted that and put it on a wall. I think that’s the best motivation that could’ve happened. I actually have a unique philosophy about that as we beat all four Texas schools last season for the first time in Kansas baseball history that’s happened. We won five series in our conference and three games in the Big 12 Tournament and all three of our weekend guys are back. From a disrespect standpoint, I think there was definitely some thrown our way a little bit. I also think that’s the reality of baseball in Kansas. You’ve got traditional national powers that have been to the College World Series and have won national championships. Every year, the Texas schools vote for the Texas schools and the Oklahoma schools won’t vote for the Texas schools because of the rivalries they have. It’s a really interesting poll that happens every season.”
On his team’s potential this season:
“One of the great things that we do here is have a professional attitude that we play every day. Baseball is a series sport, you’re trying to win series, but when you look at professional baseball the worst team in baseball wins one-third of their games, while the best team in baseball loses one-third of their games. That’s how you get to 100 wins, which is the goal in the big leagues. Our thing is we’re trying to win series. We talk with our players about being professional every day and preparing properly every day. We try to handle things as a coaching staff if we don’t do well on Friday night. One of the things that we preach is that when you walk into the ballpark, we shouldn’t be able to tell by your body language or how you go about your work if you won or lost the night before. That’s what the best players in the game do. We’ve had some success with that since we’ve been here, and I’m really proud of the fact that we play every day. I think if we play every day, we will put ourselves in position to win 35 games and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.”
On starting the season with a heavy road schedule after last year’s weather woes:
“Obviously, it’s something that we don’t like to do, but we’ve lost so many series in the last couple years early in the season, that we felt like we needed to get on the road and be assured that we were going to play. That and play against quality competition that will allow us to prepare to play in our league. That’s why you will see us go on the road three out of the four opening weekends. I keep hoping that they will move the start of the season back and move the College World Series back. This would be an awesome place to play if we played in April, May and June.”
On the opening series against BYU:
“They don’t play on Sunday, as you know, so that’s the reason for the Monday game. On Sunday, we’re actually going to Surprise Stadium. The (Kansas City) Royals are actually giving us one of their practice fields that will allow us to practice on Sunday. The relationship that we have with (Royals’ General Manager) Dayton Moore and Rusty Kuntz, the Royals’ first base coach, is just off the charts. They always treat us first class when we go over there. BYU’s Friday night starter (Sr. RHP Desmond Poulson) is one of the best guys in the country, and last year they beat LSU. We were fortunate enough last year to open up with Nevada and we faced their first-rounder (Braden Shipley) and we beat him with around 100 scouts there. So that’s one of the great things about playing on 1 p.m. on Friday, Wes (Benjamin) is going to get a major stage to walk out on.”
On his goals, aside from winning, for opening weekend:
“When you coach with the weather outside like we have, with 13 inches of snow on our field, our pregame routine every day is as important as our games are. We get to the ballpark three hours before game time and when you play on turf, one of the things our infielders have to do is catch the ball on dirt and grass. It’s crucial. We’ve sold that to our players since we installed the turf. They know how important that 10 minute segment is that they get on the infield. They know how important that second defensive rotation is on the field. So that pregame batting practice, the work in the cages and the work on the field is every bit as important as the game is itself. Our goal for the weekend, obviously, is to get better each day of the weekend. That can happen in our sport when you get outside. You’ll see us play better on Saturday than we did on Friday – and then carry that over into next week. That and to see someone in a different jersey. We’re tired of playing ourselves, there’s no doubt about that.”
Junior left-handed pitcher Wes Benjamin
On the season outlook:
“Individually obviously my job is to win as many games as possible and to keep us in the game as long as possible. When I was being thrown into the fire as a freshman it was my plan all along, now I feel I need to dominate a little bit more since I’m the Friday night starter and that role is a big deal. Being able to command the ball and stay in the zone are goals for me this year and I think we are going to do some big things this year.”
On adjustments he has made during the offseason:
“I’ve never really had too much of a problem location wise, getting my off speed has always been something I’ve needed to work on. I think this past fall I’ve made the biggest jump with my off speed pitches compared to the last two years.”
His thoughts on taking on BYU this weekend on such a big stage:
“It’s a fun atmosphere to be able to be a part of things like that. I’ve gone through it throughout high school, maybe not quite as big a stage but I’ve gone through it the past couple of years playing here against other teams. It’s not too big of a deal to me, I’m excited regardless.”
Senior catcher Ka’iana Eldredge
On the season outlook:
“As a team we see our name at the bottom of the list in the Big 12 Conference and we kind of take that a little bit personally but at the same time you kind of have to expect it playing at this school. That’s part of the whole recruiting process when Skip (Coach Price) recruits you to come here, you’re always going to be an underdog, but to be an underdog and to be able to prove people wrong , those are the things a lot of the guys in the locker room live for. They wouldn’t be in the locker room if that wasn’t something that they wanted to prove not only to themselves but to the rest of the conference. So, on the outlook for the season we’re ready to go out and prove people wrong, go get into the top half of the conference, and go to a NCAA regional.”
On adjustments he has made during the offseason:
“It has been a lot easier than I expected. Being a college catcher, you think it would be a lot more difficult being a high school catcher transitioning from the infield, but guys are so good pitching in college that they throw it around the zone a lot which makes my job easier. The guys that have been on the staff for the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have guys who are experienced and guys who are good enough to put the ball in the zone so it’s easier for me to catch the ball. It has definitely been an easy transition.”
On being named team captain:
“It’s definitely a big honor. It was one of my goals when I first came here. The fact that Skip (Coach Price) gave me the opportunity and the responsibility it’s definitely been a big honor. I give thanks to Skip (Coach Price) for giving me that responsibility; it was definitely a big honor.”
On the upcoming game against BYU:
“We’re excited and anxious to play. We are tired of seeing Kansas against Kansas and are ready to play against people with different jerseys and put up some W’s to start our preseason off right, I think a lot of our guys are ready to get some wins early to set us up for the later parts of this season. It’s not easy to play in the Big 12, so if you start off right it gives you a better shot in the end.”
Senior right-handed closer Jordan Piche’
Goals for the upcoming season:
“We really want to get after the teams that we are playing. Last year we proved that we could beat any team in our conference. Our season outlook is to just be aggressive from the start and win some games from there.”
On adjustments that the team has made from last year:
“We really worked a lot in the weight room. I think that is where getting better starts, which can go really far for a player. We just worked in the weight room and on refining my pitches.
On being voted ninth in Big 12 preseason standings:
“We beat every team in the conference last year and that proved to us that we can play with anybody. It’s nice to light a fire under our team and help us to go out and win some games.”
On the upcoming game against BYU:
“It’s going to be great. Everybody is excited to start the season out in Arizona. It’s going to be awesome, we can’t wait.”
On being named team captain:
“It’s definitely a big honor, being a transfer and to be named captain after a year. Being a role model to the kids and the guys is an awesome job to have, and to have guys ask you questions is awesome as well. Being a captain is awesome.”
Junior outfielder Michael Suiter
On what skills he improved on during the offseason:
“I went to the Northwoods League and played 70 games over there. It was a short season and I worked on fine-tuning my swing. I worked on hitting for more power because I only had one homerun last season, and the number of doubles I produced was down a bit.”
On any individual goals he has for this season:
“I haven’t put any numbers out there yet, but I really want to make a regional. That is a huge goal for not only myself, but the team as well.”
Senior outfielder Tucker Tharp
On being a named a team captain this season:
“I grew up with those guys last year, Alex DeLeon and Jordan Dreiling in particular, and I learned a lot from them from their time as team captains. Growing up is important to make the team run smoothly, and you have to earn the respect of all your teammates. We go out and try to practice hard and bring energy every day. It is a special honor to be named a leader for this team, and I just hope everyone jumps on board for what we are trying to accomplish.”
On what his offseason focus was for improving:
“It all starts in the weight room. We show up in the fall, six months before our first game, and we try to put some weight on and show the younger guys how we work out. We have a great guy in the weight room in Luke Bradford, and we have made some great leaps in putting on weight and getting stronger. It definitely starts in the weight room when we get here in the fall.”
On any personal goals for the season:
“The one thing I want to be consistent with is just bringing that every day attitude of being the biggest competitor on the field. That is why Skip (Coach Price) brought me here, he wants me to compete hard. That is why I am a team captain. I am here to compete and set an example for all the other guys, and someone the team can follow.”
The Jayhawk baseball team opens the 2014 slate Friday, Feb. 14 at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Ariz., for a four-game set against BYU.
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