Monday with Mike Fox

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Following a short break for final exams, the Diamond Heels (33-10, 13-8 ACC) embark on the final three weeks of the regular season, starting with a mid-week game against Gardner-Webb and a weekend series versus Maryland. Inside Carolina chatted with head coach Mike Fox on Monday morning ...

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Can you give your impressions of the East Carolina game last week before the break for finals?
"Big win for us without question. You want to keep the game close on the road and hope you get a big hit and fortunately we were able to there in the top of the ninth off their closer. Matt Roberts and Parks Jordan starting off that inning with a double and bunt single was critical for us. We needed to get a couple guys on just to make it interesting and Jesse [Wierzbicki] came up with a big hit for us. It was a big win for us. I don't want to leave out our pitchers either. We certainly got great pitching in that game starting with Chris Munnelly and our relievers and we were able to use Shane Taylor, Patrick Johnson and Michael Morin at the end - I don't want that to get lost in the game."

With the weekend open with exams, your entire coaching staff was able to head to Cleveland to see Alex White pitch in his Major League debut. How was the trip and what did it mean to you personally?
"It was certainly one of the highlights of my coaching career watching Alex White take the mound in a Major League ballpark. It was such an emotional trip in the evening and I'm thankful personally for all of the people to be there with the rest of our coaching staff with Tyson [Lusk] and Coach [Greg] Gatz. We were thankful that we were able to make the trip. It was obviously a bit of good fortune on our part that we were off this weekend and that he was called up on Saturday but just to be there for that was pretty special. Alex was warming up in the bullpen and when he got finished he walked over and handed the ball to Tyson and the crowd was there overlooking the bullpen watching him and wanting to see him. I thought that was one of the more special moments. Alex certainly recognized that Tyson and we all were there but to take the time to walk ... I am sure that he has his mind on other things getting ready to take the mound but he was be able to have one of his best friends there. Alex stayed with Tyson over the break while he was working out so it was a special day and a special night, no doubt."

Two more Diamond Heels alumni are knocking on the door of the big leagues in Adam Warren with the New York Yankees and Andrew Miller with the Boston Red Sox - how has it been following all of the Tar Heel alumni in professional baseball?
"We follow all of our guys. Dave Schmidt has been doing a great job on TarHeelBlue.com following and giving weekly updates. We are on that minor league website - one or two of the coaches - probably every morning. Between tweeting and text messaging and all of those various things we pretty much know on a daily basis how they have done in the games the day before. It is exciting news and we have heard great things obviously about a number of our guys and the guys at AA and AAA are only one phone call away. The Mariners are very high on Kyle Seager obviously along with Dusty [Dustin Ackley] as I discussed with their scouting director when he was at East Carolina. Besides the two that you mentioned there is a chance that the other ones will make it in the next year or two. I am looking forward to another one of those Saturdays that I had in Cleveland with a few other guys. I hope it works out as it is a thrill for me to watch those guys get to the big leagues as it is a dream come true for all of them."

Can you describe what the weekend during final exams was like for the team?
"We worked out and had skeleton workouts Saturday and Sunday. We gave the guys off a couple of days preparing for finals and they came in on their own to get their work done and their lifts in and the pitchers got their throwing done. We worked out Saturday morning before we left for Cleveland and then we worked out yesterday afternoon with the players that did not have exams [on Monday]. So we got some live batting practice done with seven pitchers on Saturday and seven yesterday. Got some hitting done and some defensive work. We are going to get back at it today and we just have to work around finals and practice with the guys that are able."

Can you give an early scouting report on Gardner-Webb?
"I don't have a whole lot on them at this point. We are not even sure who they are throwing at this point as we don't have that information yet. But, they are coming off of a weekend sweep and they are playing very well. I know they are 10-5 on the road and they are hitting about .323 as a team. They have been playing and we have not. So we have to make sure from an emotional standpoint and from an intensity standpoint that we are ready. This game in the middle of exams always concerns me a little bit. The kids are staying up late trying to push through finals so it is a bit of a dangerous game and we have talked with our players about that to make sure that they are ready to play tomorrow night."

Another interesting part of the game tomorrow night is that it is a ‘Social Media' game where the fans get to vote on the uniforms and walk up music for the players. Can you discuss your perspective on the initiative?
"I had absolutely nothing to do with that. If it will get more people interested in our program and that game tomorrow night I am all for it. That is our marketing and promotions people and I don't know a whole lot about it but I am for whatever will create some interest and get some fans out to Boshamer Stadium for the game."

On a related note, if you had to select your walk up music what song would you select?
"[Laughs] Oh man, people have asked me that and it is funny because I know a lot of songs but I don't know the names of the artists I just listen to them and I could not begin to tell you... I love beach music and the Eagles and I'm starting to date myself so I'm going to pass on that one."

This coming weekend has Maryland coming to Chapel Hill with second year head coach Erik Bakich at the helm. What's your perspective on his imprint on the Terrapin baseball program?
"Erik obviously has a great background and he is a go-getter. He is very intense and the one thing that you are going to get from an Erik Bakich team is that they are going play as hard as they possibly can from the first pitch to the last. They did that last year for us up there and they will do that here this weekend. We will have to match every bit of that and I think we have been a similar type team as we just keep playing. We understand that and it is going to be a big weekend. I checked the weather and it is going to be beautiful this weekend on Mother's Day and Graduation. So it is an important weekend and Maryland will give us all we can handle."

Can you discuss your perspective on the Atlantic Coast Conference television deal as compared to the coverage that the Southeastern Conference has with ESPN and the importance of an improved deal in the future for the ACC?
"It is extremely important. The baseball coaches are not happy with our television package. We have expressed that concern on a number of occasions to the league and obviously there is some business behind it with some contracts and all of that. We understand that but television is powerful and helps you in a number of ways and we are not on it enough. Someone told me the other day that ESPN has other interests besides college baseball but that baffles me ... but some of it is the length of the game - which we are trying to shorten. But, we are trying to get back in the mix; only having one Saturday for about seven weekends in not enough and the SEC certainly has a better deal than we do and in the long run that will be more beneficial for them. So we have got to get a better deal, no doubt."

With finals going on who do you expect to be the strongest performers in the classroom with the student part of student-athlete for this season?
"We are concerned about our whole team doing well academically. We have some players who historically have done very well. First and foremost I am proud of our seniors that are going to graduate. Greg Holt and Ben Bunting - what an accomplishment to finish in four years and play as many baseball games as they have. Bryant Gaines in going to graduate as well on Sunday and even Patrick Johnson and Jesse Wierzbicki will only be a semester away. Historically, Levi Michael has been a really good student here. Jacob Stallings has been a very solid student. We had five guys make over a 3.0 and Bryant Gaines has been an outstanding student here for his whole career. We expect our whole team to have a good semester academically. We have been on them from the very beginning as well as our academic support program and our tutors. Hopefully they are doing well on exams and we will finish strong."


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