Q&A with Tracy Smith

First-year baseball coach Tracy Smith is excited to strengthen what is one of the top baseball programs in the country and put his own personal stamp on this Sun Devil squad. The ASU skipper covers a wide array of topics in this Devils Digest interview.

Devils Digest: You were a decorated coach in the Big Ten conference. You were Big Ten coach of the year twice and you took Indiana to its first College World Series in 2013, which ended their 29-year absence. What are some things you hope to bring to the table and accomplish here at ASU and in the PAC-12 conference?

Tracy Smith: “I think putting our own stamp, or culture if you will, on what is already a very established program. I think when you are dealing with a program of this caliber, and the caliber of kids that we have and have had in the past coming through here, we are not going to come in and reinvent the wheel because there is a tremendous foundation that was built.”

“Taking over Miami (Ohio) and taking over Indiana was totally different from what we are walking in on here, so I think certainly respecting and building on what the guys have done previously but also adding a little bit of what we bring to the table.”

Devils Digest: Knowing that ASU has such a prestigious baseball program, what kind of challenges and pressures are you facing coming into the season?

Tracy Smith: “I think the expectations people put on the program or me won't be any higher than the ones I have on myself. I like to win. Winning is a lot more fun than losing, but the one thing we are not going to do is come in and promise national championships. We are not going to promise anything other than promise that we are going to have good kids, do it the right way, and I think if we do that and trust what we are doing, all that stuff will come. We are going to come and work hard and build on what is one of the top baseball programs in the country.”

Devils Digest: What new ideas and philosophies regarding player development are you hoping to implement at ASU?

Tracy Smith: “Baseball has been around a long time. We are not going to reinvent the wheel or gadget new philosophies. I just think people are unique and personalities are different, so what we are trying to do is come in and hopefully mesh with the team. We will mesh with a team that adjusts to our personalities and our coaching style. I think that is the biggest challenge that anyone has in coaching. Human beings are fluid in nature and in relationships. We are trying to maximize the best out of each individual, and not that they didn’t do it here before, but we are not the cookie cutter approach, so that’s what we are going to do.”

Devils Digest: In a previous interview, you said that you were going to make your own judgment regarding individual players and the team as a whole. What are some strengths and weaknesses you see on this team so far?

Tracy Smith: “Pitching certainly has the ability to be a strength because of the experience they have and the guys that have done it. I like that we have gotten stronger and we’ve allowed competition. There are no set ideas, so the guys are really competing. What we try to do is once we feel like we know where guys are going to be, we try to get them there and let them work together. I think it has shapened up nicely. When it is all said and done, we are going to be able to put guys out there that we feel can give us the best chance to win every single night.”

Devils Digest: I know you are a fan of a closer fence, so how is this deeper fence going to affect your playing style offensively and defensively?

Tracy Smith: “The ball travels here, so I think it plays relatively the same as a closer fence. Night games will be a little different. It is baseball; the other team has to deal with the same stuff we are dealing with. If you get on top of the ball and have good approaches, then I will be satisfied. We might not have as many homeruns as we used to in the past, but that’s okay, we can still win.”

Devils Digest: What advantages does Phoenix Muni provide over Packard Stadium?

Tracy Smith: “Advantages? A very nice playing surface. It’s a point you can belabor as an advantage because the guys are used to playing in different (settings). The lights are much better here. I know visiting teams would lose it (the ball) in the lights at Packard. I think it will be a nicer experience overall for the players, for the fans, for the visiting teams and anyone who comes through here. This is a big time baseball atmosphere.”

Devils Digest: Do you think the hype over the stadium and the new coaches will give you any momentum going into the season from a fan base perspective?

Tracy Smith: “I think people are curious and they are intrigued, but at the end of the day, we realize we are measured by wins and losses. That is what I keep going back too; for us to focus on the process and doing it right because you can do everything right and still lose. Our goal is to put a consistent product out there that people and ASU fans can be proud of even if you hit a rough patch, which you do in baseball- that they will still come out and support. I like our mindset and I like how the guys are buying into our system.”

Devils Digest: From a playing perspective, do you think that the excitement of the stadium and coaching staff will hype the team up and help them play better?

Tracy Smith: “My style is; we define what you want to be. I could want it as much as I want, but if the guys in the locker room don’t want it, it is going to be a tough battle. What we do is make them define what our goals are on this team. We talk about those and then our job is to hold the guys accountable. So if it is national championships, then we are going to hold them accountable for what we think it takes to win on a national level. I think they are buying in. They are giving the effort that we require and it has been fun. I really enjoy working with this group and I know I can speak for the other staff members as well.”

Devils Digest: Going off that, what are some goals you have created so far for this team?

Tracy Smith: “I think it is important for these guys to get back in national relevancy. One of the goals they listed is to win a PAC-12 championship. They certainty put in there a series that is pretty important (Arizona) and becoming more of a team are some of the highlighted things.”

Devils Digest: Knowing that they haven’t had a long post season run since 2009, do you have any ideas on how to break this streak?

Tracy Smith: “What I tell people all the time, people need to realize that this is a competitive sport. This sport is different than it was five years ago, and I’m talking college baseball, and certainty different than what it was ten years ago. You’ve had teams all around the country make investments in their programs and it is a very very competitive sport, and it has evened out over time.”

“You've got to be good, but you've got to be lucky too. We want to get into the NCAA tournament and certainly be playing the best baseball at that time, which I think matters more. Look at Stanford, who barely got in, and got on a nice roll, and had a nice little run. It is about playing baseball at the right time in the season and that is the one thing we are trying to do is get better every single weekend.”

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