As the Bearcat baseball team continues into the second half of its 2007 schedule hoping to qualify for the Big East Conference tournament in late May, Bearcat Insider visited with Coach Cleary to talk about the state of the program. The Bearcats are presently 18-14 overall and tied with two others for 6th place in the Big East. Eight of the twelve clubs qualify for the conference tournament.
Maybe the one position that has seen the biggest reduction in offensive output is catcher. Junior college transfer, Ryan Baker, is presently hitting only .212 in 31 games. Steve Maragas, who is medically redshirting, hit .253 last season and high school signee, Jesse D'Amico, unexpectedly got drafted and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Coach Cleary talked about the catching situation. "Jesse was a surprise draft for everybody, and certainly you wouldn't expect a guy drafted at that stage of the game to sign." D'Amico was drafted in the 21st round.
The major league draft in early June creates a Catch 22 for many college baseball coaches. They want to find the best player they can get, but they don't want a player so good that he's a likely high draft pick. "The problem is you lose a player in mid-June, and there aren't a ton of players available. Our challenge is to recruit people that aren't a slam dunk to sign a pro contract, but at the same time you want draftable players. Players that pro teams want. With D'Amico, I think it's fair to say that only one team liked him. Never in our estimation was he a guy that could go to pro ball out of high school." The surprise loss of both Maragas and D'Amico have caused a lack of competition at catcher and fewer offensive options for the manager. "We felt we were in pretty good shape at catcher. We had Maragas returning, a junior college catcher (Baker) to give us depth and a high school catcher."
Monday night, Neall French caught the entire game against
As far as the offensive production goes, Coach Cleary believes a number of factors figure into the equation. "I think we may have more home runs than this time last year. They maybe haven't been as timely as in the past. I think one of the things people need to understand is the scholarship limit. You have 11.7 scholarships, and you're probably going to have to do without something you want. It's not like football where you're playing 44 guys and have 85 scholarships. You have 25 or so players and only 11.7 scholarships. I think you need power in the line-up, but it's hard to find. Hitters are hard to evaluate. If you look at this league, I felt there were times last year where our power just didn't show up because parks were big and there was just good pitching. I felt we needed to try to create more runs, but in a perfect world, you want a balance of both. I would like to have more power, and I would like to have more speed and more consistency offensively. I would like to see us score more runs than we have, but we're giving ourselves a chance to win in most of our games because of our pitching and defense. I think it's a pitching league."
In recruiting, coaches can go the junior college route or take high
schoolers. Coach Cleary gave his
preference. "High school players
for me are the no brainer, but they're going to struggle. The only thing to do is to keep them out
there. Michael Earley is a good
example for us. He's made some
mistakes, but he's got a chance to be a good player for us. The same is true for junior college
players. It's a different game
here. Look at
Recently, Coach Cleary made the managerial move of removing himself from the third base coaching box to take a seat in the dugout. He discussed the decision. "I spent three or four years not coaching third base several years ago. It's never been a major issue for me. We debated this move in the off season. I would like to not coach third base. There are some things you can't see from third. I felt I wanted to be in the dugout more and be able to talk to the players. I'd say probably half the teams we play don't have their head coach coaching third base." Of course, no major league managers coach third base.
The NCAA allows schools to have two assistant coaches on payroll. Brad Meador and Joe Regruth fill those roles at UC. Luke Howard is a volunteer assistant. "We're at the limit of what the NCAA allows." Coach Meador coaches the position players while Coach Regruth serves as the pitching coach, but Coach Cleary has taken more of an interest in the all-important pitching. "I have taken more of an active role with the pitchers this year than I ever have. I think pitching is going to be a very large component of our success, and I wanted to be sure I knew what our pitchers were thinking. I think it's been a good thing."
The goals Coach Cleary has set for his program are what an avid fan would
want. "I want us to compete year in
and year out for Big East championships.
I want to set ourselves up to win it every year knowing full well we
won't. Baseball is cyclical given
the scholarship limit, but if we can continue to recruit the people to the
facilities we've got, I think we'll be in position to compete for the
championship regularly." Coach
Cleary doesn't rule out a trip to
Some would scoff at Coach Cleary's assertion that the Bearcats are
capable of making it to the College World Series because of
In addition to a unified season for all schools, Coach Cleary also believes the NCAA will soon institute a proposal restricting roster sizes to no more than 27 players and scholarship offers to no lower than 33%.
With a new administration, a steady turnover in varsity coaches and the
institution of the Catapult program with the expectation of every sport winning
a Big East championship within a five year period, does an eleventh year coach
with no league championships feel pressure to win immediately? "There's nobody with higher expectations
If Cincinnati Bearcat baseball has a model for what it can become, it
needs look no further than
The Big East baseball tourney will be held in
This weekend the Bearcats travel to
Bearcat Insider would also like to thank Coach Cleary for granting us this interview.