TitanCentral.com: Tell us about the fall practices. Where are some of the biggest battles going on and what did the coaches think it played out?
Dave Serrano: I think behind the plate. PJ (P.J. Pilittere) and Kurt Suzuki played extremely well. I think PJ swung the bat extremely well and Kurt Suzuki caught extremely well. Those two, now, solidify themselves as the top two yet Blake Garrett didn't play because he was injured. He had bone chips removed from his elbow and should be back at full strength sometime in December or January. And John Hanley probably didn't catch as well as he hoped but at the end he was swinging the bat well. I think that's a good battle. Even though it's a young group, we're completely satisfied with what choices we're going to have next season.
I think, as a whole, the coaching staff was very happy with the fall. We liked the effort that was given, the attitude was great. It's a good group to work with. I think it's another group which is very close-knit which is important. We're still a ways away to where we want to be but the ingredients are there, especially with the attitude and effort. We'll have to wait and see how much the ability is there.
I think there will be enough but you'll probably see more of a nine to twelve man lineup. You won't see much platooning because we don't have as many options, left and right, like we've had in the past. The lineup you see will be pretty much intact all season, just subtle changes here and there when guys are struggling.
TitanCentral.com: Has Suzuki been kind of a surprise?
Dave: Suzuki's been a big surprise. We never anticipated him being as far along as he is and it's a good pleasant surprise to the coaching staff.
TitanCentral.com: Any other positions with good battles going on?
Dave: Obviously the shortstop position has a tight battle between Mike Martinez and David Munoz. I would anticipate both of them being in the lineup somewhere it's just a matter of who's going to play short and who will playing another position. To have two guys you fell great about at shortstop is a good situation.
TitanCentral.com: We all know Martinez can play third but what about Munoz?
Dave: Munoz could play third if he had to. Munoz can play second, short or third.
TitanCentral.com: How is Shane Costa doing? We know he is currently taking a math course and a JC and could not practice.
Dave: As far as I know he's doing well in the math class. He's eligible NCAA-wise, he's just not eligible through our university. As far as I know he's doing well but we won't know those results until later in December.
TitanCentral.com: And what's our bi-monthly update on Blake Hawksworth? Now that he's enrolled in a JC can he still decide to turn Pro?
Dave: Yes he can. He's a part-time student at Bellevue Community College up in Washington. He's continuing to take the SAT test. The ruling we have received on him is that he is a partial qualifier which means if he passes the SAT he will become eligible in January. If he doesn't pass the SAT, he is eligible to enter our school but will have to sit out the year.
TitanCentral.com: How many more times can he take the SAT?
Dave: He's taken it in October, he's taken it in November, so he has three more chances. He took it in October and didn't get the passing score. He took it in November and hasn't received his results yet.
TitanCentral.com: Let's move onto the pitchingstaff . Talk about Jordan DeJong's return. And how is Randy Tymchak doing?
Dave: Tymchak hasn't thrown competitively yet. He's on his way back from the Tommy John surgery. He is throwing bullpens but he won't pitch competitively until we get going in January. All the signs are good that he's on his way back but it's still a big question mark on how he's going to respond. Obviously his arm strength isn't where it was before he go injured but he is on a throwing program.
Jordan DeJong, in my eyes, has been a welcome addition in more ways than one. Even if Jordan DeJong doesn't win a game for us this year, he will be a great Titan for us. He gave me a call in the summer and indicated he was interested in coming back. He was going to go to school here anyway, he wanted to be part of the team, he missed our program and there was no question in our minds we would allow him to do it Losing guys like Saarloos and Smith, it's very valuable to have a guy like him, who's aware of the program and knows what it takes. He's a true Titan and he was a true Titan when we talked about him going to Tennessee. That was hard to swallow to lose him but we did that as a benefit to Randy and what we felt was best for him.
TitanCentral.com: That's one of the things I admire about your program. Even though it would be nice and easy to keep a guy for your benefit you don't do that. You are completely honest to your players and always look out for their best interests. Coach Horton's staff does not give the players lip-service...
Dave: I wish more people would know that about us because that is something we talk about in the recruiting process. Cal State Fullerton, just like any other Division I program, isn't always going to be a fit for everyone all the time. The one thing we promise kids is our program will not be a dead end to their baseball careers. We will never stand in there way if they don't like our program, we'll never stand in the way if we don't think they're going to be a big contributor in our program.
There's a lot of kids who come through this program and have been told exactly where they stood and they have been the one's who were able to make the choice: "no I want to fight through it and stay with the team" or "yes, I would like to go somewhere else." And we help them.
Even kids where there might be some bitterness and want to transfer, we never turn our backs, we help them find another place to play. We were very instrumental in helping Nick Lavato find a place to play. We will continue to do that. We will not be the end of someone's baseball career. We want kids to prosper and if it's not in our program we want to help them do it somewhere else... as long as they won't come back and beat us :)
TitanCentral.com: What about "Chief"? Some on our message boards say he'll still be the closer, some say he's going to start. My choice would be keep him as the closer, but of course, I don't have a lot of say in the program
Dave: He's going to be our closer. We had a talk earlier in the year. He's completely committed to remaining a closer and he has no problem with that. Sometimes kids think that could be an effect on their career. They want to be known as more than a closer. The door will never be closed on him starting in this program but right now, until someone else comes into the program we can feel secure with giving the ball late in the game, Chief will remain in that role. And even if we do replace him, he'll still, in some capacity, get into that role just like Kirk did. Physically and mentally it's a perfect role for him.
TitanCentral.com: What's your summation of the 2002 Titans at this stage?
Dave: I think we're going to pitch and we're going to be able to throw strikes. I think we're going to be more offensive than we look on paper right now. I know that's a concern of ours right now but I think the coaching staff is very pleased, especially the guys who work with the hitters, on how much they progressed. It's probably not going to be the most exciting one through nine we've had in this program but I think it's going to be a pretty committed one through nine and it's going to do a lot of things to put some runs on the board. Hopefully we're not going to have to score a lot of runs but I think we're going to be better than some are giving us credit for.
TitanCentral.com: What's the competition like at the corners?
Dave: I think Nick Fitzgerald has a great Fall. He really committed himself in the weight room this summer. I think he's tougher to get out with certain pitches and you can really tell a difference when the ball leaves his bat. I think, right now, he's separated himself at first base. We knew he could play defense it's just a matter of how much he's going to hit. To this point he had a tremendous Fall swinging the bat.
At third base you have Chris Klosterman, the transfer, you've got Martinez, you've got Richie Burgos, we have some options. The Fall is so short, it's only 14 days and we've just had time to get acquainted. Really the answers will come in January and that's when you'll start to see separation and we'll start getting a better feel for who's taking the lead.
TitanCentral.com: How is recruiting being affected now that UCI has reinstated its program, UCR and CSUN joining the Big West?
Dave: Recruiting's getting tougher. There's a lot of programs out there who are realizing it starts with recruiting. It's getting more competitive and it's getting tougher to find that diamond in the rough because everyone now knows about all those guys. I think our staff does as good a job as anyone but I think it still comes down to we're going to get the kids we're supposed to get.
I think kids have their minds made up even before the recruiting process begins. I think the kids who want to be Titans end up being Titans. That's why so many of them end up being good players because they came to the program for the right reasons.
TitanCentral.com: What types of kids are you recruiting for 2003?
Dave: I can't name any names until we get the scholarship offers back which will be this Thursday or Friday, even though Wednesday is the official signing day. We've received 14 commitments so we're done for the early signing period. Three more pitchers with one being left-handed. The other 11 are position players and of those 11, eight are left-handed. We feel we really have addressed our needs offensively with this class.
I'm not saying we're going to get them all, I would say that would be a fallacy, because I think some of these guys are going to be drafted very high and sign with professional teams. We will continue to do our jobs and try to keep them and we are very excited, offensively, about some of these guys coming in. I think they'll will make a big impact in the future and one of the reasons we went after offensive players this year is because we'll have almost all of our pitchers back off this years team.
TitanCentral.com: Did you focus on power-type hitters for the offensive recruits?
Dave: Yes. Power was one of our deals and left-handers.
TitanCentral.com: Lots of discussion lately on who our rival is? What's your opinion?
Dave: I think definitely Long Beach State is our rival. No matter what people say, everyone looks to that Long Beach State series. There are a lot of great series we have on our schedule but I think over the last six years it's come down to the Long Beach State series every time. Last year Santa Barbara made it but I don't think there's anyone out there who can say Long Beach State isn't our rival.
There's a lot of teams considered rivals, like Stanford, SC, UCLA, but playing them earl in the year, usually middle week games, I don't think you can say someone like that is your rival.
TitanCentral.com: Thanks Dave. We'll talk
with you once the spring starts.