The Times West Virginian

Sports

January 28, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU baseball season brings high expectations

MORGANTOWN — It was difficult to imagine the reason for the gathering the other day in the Jerry West Lounge at the Coliseum — baseball.

“If you look outside right now, this weather just breathes of baseball season,” Randy Mazey, West Virginia University’s baseball coach, was saying. “It’s 5 degrees and 6 inches of snow. Who would have thought we’d be playing so soon, but we’ve got to get on the road early? That’s just what we do.”

You might remember how Randy Mazey took this town by storm last year, taking over the baseball team as it moved into the Big 12 and turning it into a championship contender against all odds.

It was no normal season, playing nearly every game on the road and surviving, then the team becoming a national hero by offering support to victims of the Oklahoma tornado from the outbreak around the time of the Big 12 Championships.

Now, baseball is back. Fall practice is history, and WVU is ready to begin preparing for this season, a season in which the Mountaineers will return to Hawley Field for their swan song as West Virginia University’s athletic department was able to push through financing for a new stadium that will house not only the Mountaineer team but also a minor league team.

Anticipation is high for the last year in Hawley Field.

“Who would have thought that WVU would finish in the top 50 in attendance in the nation last year?” Mazey asked. “That’s pretty impressive. As you know, we traveled so much. We played 49 of our 56 games away from Morgantown, so we got a lot of support. Hopefully that support will come to Morgantown this year.

“We play 17 home games and a season ticket costs $60. If you can find cheaper entertainment than that, a better value for your money, let me know what it is because I’d like to do it. For a season ticket, to see the quality of teams we play this year, I think we should have more support this year than last year.

“We’re a lot of fun to watch, and the kids work really hard, so it’s just a good experience to come to the field.”

Mazey says he’s created an attractive schedule for his second season as coach.

“I think our schedule this year is really, really challenging. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when I made it. But then you know the kids want to play against good teams, I want to coach against good teams and the fans want to see good teams play against each other,” he said.

“I think this schedule suits everyone who is a college baseball fan and has an interest in watching college baseball.”

The Big 12, of course, is one of the premier conferences in college baseball. Asked who figured to contend this year, Mazey did a tap dance around the question.

“You never know year in and year out,” he answered. “The thing about our league is the last-place team last year could win it this year. The last-place team last year was Texas, and they are going to be better and fighting for the championship. Texas will be good. TCU is always good. Kansas State returns a lot of people, and they won the league last year.

“Any team can beat any team; that makes the league a lot of fun.”

Mazey believes this year’s team may be capable of reaching the post-season.

“Last year we went into the season, and I didn’t really know the players and they didn’t know me and we didn’t play well the first 20 games. Had we had a better showing the first 20 games, I think we had a team capable of playing in the post-season,” Mazey said.

“This year going into the first 20 games of non-conference play, I think the expectations in the locker room are a lot higher. If we come out of the gates playing well and have a pretty good record going into conference play, I really believe this team has a chance to play in the post-season.”

And conditions are improved, adding to expectations.

“You get to sleep in your own bed; you get to play in front of your own fans. That’s a special feeling. My hat is off to them for what they did last year. We traveled. We stayed in hotels during home games, which is hard to do” Mazey said.

“We went through a lot of adversity last year. It was a big challenge. Every time this team has been challenged, it has responded really well.”

And because of that this year there is high anticipation toward baseball season.

“From everybody I talk to around the Morgantown community, there’s a lot of excitement about baseball. That’s the way we like it and hope we can sustain it and continue to have success,” Mazey said. “Our kids do a wonderful job off the field in the community, and I think that attracts a lot of fans. When we go somewhere we try to represent ourselves and our university in a first-class manner. We think that goes a long way. These kids deserve fan support because of the work they put in and, as a side note, we think we have a pretty good team.

“We’re trying to make concessions to maybe have some bigger crowds and maybe have a more comfortable atmosphere. I hope we have the problem where people can’t find a place to sit. Hopefully this will be the last season for Hawley Field,” Mazey continued.

“There’s been a lot of games played on that field. Hopefully the last weekend against Texas in May we’ll send this thing out in grand fashion. Hopefully there’s a Big 12 championship on the line.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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