By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Randy Mazey knows what he’s gotten himself into by taking over the West Virginia University baseball team.
“I think there will not be a game that we play in this conference where we are not the underdog,” he said.
And he loves it.
“To me, that presents a great opportunity,” said the man who replaced longtime coach Greg Van Zant following last season to oversee the team’s move into the Big 12, one of the nation’s top baseball conferences.
“Whenever you are the underdog, you have something to play for, and the other team has a chance to have a letdown. We will be in position to do some good things if we show up to play.”
Challenges are what this former TCU assistant lives for, and it is a philosophy he is trying to instill into his first WVU team.
Certainly, this will be a challenging season.
Not only did he take over late and have to do some high-speed recruiting, adding a dozen and a half players in just a month, but he has to learn his team, convert them to his beliefs, play in as demanding a conference as you can find with Texas and TCU among the opponents, and then face a schedule where even his home games are road games.
With WVU pushing to upgrade its baseball facilities from Hawley Field and unwilling to bring Big 12 teams into Morgantown to play there, almost all the home games will be played at sites around the state, creating almost a home-field disadvantage.
“It’s definitely going to be a factor. What we’re preparing to do may be unprecedented in college baseball with the travel we will do,” Mazey said. “Our home conference games will be two and a half hours from home. We literally leave Morgantown every Thursday to get on the road.”
It’s easy to understand what this does on the field, but Mazey sees it a challenge to the entire program.
“It presents a lot of challenges from an academic standpoint, from a fatigue standpoint, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, and nutrition,” he noted.
That, however, could make his team even more competitive and turn any success it may have into something far bigger than just winning a few games.
“I tell our guys all the time if you know you have a big challenge coming up you can prepare for it, and we have prepared them for the challenge,” he said. “To me that just presents an unbelievable opportunity for us. Great stories are only written by teams who have had a lot of adversity and obstacles. We’re definitely facing that.”
Certainly they are not like Texas and TCU and schools that are expected to go to the College World Series every year.
“If you go into a season and don’t have those expectations from a lot of people it gives you an opportunity to overachieve,” Mazey said. “Great stories could be written about this team if we do great things this year. We know that going in, and I think the guys are fired up about that opportunity.”
One such player is Matt Frazier, a holdover outfielder from Alum Creek who looks more like a linebacker than baseball player at 6-5 and 260.
“We traveled a lot last year,” Frazier said of the travel arrangements. “We went to Oregon. That was a tough trip. We caught a redeye back. The only difference is our home games are away this year.
“To be able to be here in the Big 12 is great. As many things as are against us are as many things we can overcome,” Frazier concluded.
Mazey is looking at this not as a one-year thing but as a long-term endeavor, a chance to take a WVU baseball program that never really was one of the featured programs and build it into something.
“What we’re trying to do here is build a program,” the new coach said. “Our goal is not to have one good season here and there. When you build a program, good seasons are just a part of it. It’s how you travel, academics, how you act on road trips; it’s community.
“If you want excellence in your program, the wins and losses are just part of that. We’re excited to change the entire culture here, and we’re off to a good start doing that.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.