Bearcat Insider Talks To Coach Cleary

As the Bearcat baseball squad heads into a busy week with two midweek games before heading into Big East play this weekend at Pittsburgh, Bearcat Insider got the opportunity to speak to the Cincinnati skipper, Brian Cleary.

As the Bearcat baseball squad enters its busiest week of the season with five games scheduled from Tuesday to Sunday, Bearcat Insider spoke to Coach Cleary about a variety of topics ranging from his team's hitting to recruiting.

After Friday's night narrow victory (4-3) over winless Chicago State, Coach Cleary talked about the poor offense. "I don't think we played very well or with much focus. It's something we'll talk about as I go back in there (locker room). We had opportunities that we didn't cash in on. If that happens because you hit a line drive at somebody or someone makes a great play, you can live with that. But I thought we didn't cash in on some opportunities today because we just had bad at bats. I'm not upset that we won by only a run. I'm upset because I don't think we played with much focus. In the first inning, we get first and second with nobody out. Harrison gives away an at bat by chasing a breaking ball out of the zone. Then we hit another breaking ball into a double play. We just did not bunch good at bats. We were lucky to get out of there with a win, but their guy pitched well. He's got a slow 62 mile per hour curve ball that he throws for strikes and a 88-91 mile per hour fast ball. It's hard to get in a rhythm, but to be good, you have to make an adjustment to hit a guy. I thought we did some stupid things offensively that I thought could have easily cost us."

The Bearcats have a number of new faces with a combined seventeen freshman, junior college players or transfers from other Division IA schools. As the coaching staff continues to see what combinations of personnel work, it looks as if Coach Cleary and his staff are getting closer to settling on an every day starting group. "I think you always want to try to get your eight best and make sure those guys are out there. You want your nine best hitters in the line-up, depending on match-ups, I mean Rapp isn't as effective against a left handed starter as he would be against a right handed starter so there are also some things like that. For the most part, I think what you see out there is what we've settled on, at least in the short term. That could change ten games from now."

Moving from Johnny Bench Field to spacious Marge Schott Stadium has caused Coach Cleary to take a different strategic approach to the game and recruiting. He recognizes how speed can change a game. "It helps everywhere. We've always wanted speed. It wasn't as necessary for us in Johnny Bench Field. We could get away with a big, slow right fielder. There wasn't any ground to cover in Johnny Bench Field to speak of, and that big, strong guy that could muscle a ball had a short home run. That doesn't work in this ball park. We're going to need speed, especially in the outfield here, but that speed does so many other things for you. Campana puts pressure on the defense. The ball he hit off the pitcher's glove tonight, he was safe. He started the game with a bunt. He just gets everybody jumpy. Speed doesn't go into slumps. If you're fast, you're fast every day. You may be 0 for 4 and your swing doesn't feel good, but you're still fast and can beat out a ground ball. We've gotten more athletic, and we're going to keep trying to do that. But speed is hard to find. There's not a lot of really fast guys out there. If you talk to pro scouts, they'll tell you Campana is probably the fastest player in the Midwest. It's hard to come by, but we'll keep pursuing it as much as we can."

I think most baseball people will agree that good teams are built around good pitching. Cincinnati signed three pitchers in November. Coach Cleary commented on those signings. "All three of the pitchers we signed (Nick Johnson, Justin Schultheiss, and Lou Coppola) have a chance to be drafted depending on the spring they have. We feel like we have three talented potential weekend starters at some point in their careers. We could add one more to that, but could lose maybe one to pro ball. That could happen." Nick Johnson is a 5' 11"/185 pound right hander from Delphos St. John High School. He was 2nd team all-Ohio last year. Johnson chose UC over Louisville, Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan and South Carolina. Justin Schultheiss is a 6' 5"/185 rightie from Hamilton High School. He also considered Louisiana Tech, Miami of Ohio and Xavier. Lou Coppola is a 6' 8"/230 pound right handed pitcher from Youngstown, Ohio. He chose the Bearcats over Miami of Ohio and West Virginia.

The only position player signed in the fall played with Josh Harrison when Princeton made the state Division I semi-finals three years ago. Coach Cleary likes Chris Dixon. "He's an athletic, rangy infielder. I think his bat is going to be something we'll need to develop, but he's a speed guy. We're looking forward to getting him here. I'll have a better feel for these guys as their seasons start, and we get out and see them play. He was a fairly heavily recruited player from the area." Dixon also considered Kentucky, Evansville, and Ohio University before deciding to attend Cincinnati. Coach Cleary also said the Bearcats were working on getting a couple players that could hit in the middle of their line-up.

After having a couple seasons with no on campus facility to help with recruiting, Coach Cleary feels the Bearcats are getting very close to being very good. "We struggled for a couple years by not having a facility. That affected all parts of our program negatively. We just could not get some of the game changing players to say yes with no place to play for a few years. We've got two classes in the door that we were able to recruit to the Big East and these facilities. When we get three and four classes in the door, I think we'll be able to do that all the time. The challenge in college baseball is there are 11.7 scholarships. You're going to get a class of seniors and juniors and when those guys leave, you're going to take a step back some of the times. You're not always going to have enough guys to take their place. You try to be balanced with freshmen who can play, but I certainly think this year and next we'll be able to compete talentwise."

Part of the recruiting puzzle is college baseball players are almost like free agents and can transfer without having to sit out a year. This means freshman are unlikely to go to a school with talented juniors and/or seniors at their position. "We're having a tough time getting infielders to look at us right now. Recruits have the internet too, and they see Yeager and Harrison. They don't want to play behind those guys. The other part is everybody we play can get a good player if you throw enough money at them. I'll bet you that Cleveland State pitcher tonight is getting a good amount of money. Part of our competition in recruiting is how much scholarship money are you going to give. We may need a kid but can offer only 25% of a scholarship, and a MAC school may be offering 80%. At the end of the day, he's going to the MAC school. That can also help us too. We can sometimes beat an SEC school by offering more money. It's a puzzle and a lot of things go into it, but we're looking for athletic kids that understand what we want to do and want to be at UC. There are kids out there that want to be a part of this because this is a good place, but we work at it every day."

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