This Week With Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up with the head coach of the Diamond Heels (1-2) after their season-opening series at Charleston. UNC returns to Chapel Hill for its home-opening series against Xavier, which begins Friday afternoon.

This Week
Fri. vs. Xavier
Sat. vs. Xavier
Sun. vs. Xavier
What were your takeaways from first weekend of competition?
"We have our season started. It took a little bit of work and obviously we had to deal with the weather last week and trying to make these arrangements and a lot of people helped us and the College of Charleston was great to host us and it was exciting to get the season started. The players were excited and we had to travel which was different than we anticipated. This time of the year in college baseball you do whatever you have to just to be able to play. It was good to get on the field to start the season."

It ultimately moved the opening series from Chapel Hill to Charleston, but in addition, how difficult has the winter weather been to manage in the practice period before the regular season began?
"This has been a very challenging preseason in that regard. Again, you do what you have to do. It is funny when the team met January 7th we told them to be prepared for anything. And we got about everything from tornadoes, to snow, to sleet, to rain, to unbelievably cold temperatures, but again it is part of the season and being outside in January and February and thank goodness we have a great indoor facility and weight room and we can get some stuff done and get ready the best we can."

How do you evaluate the initial performance of the newcomers in Wood Myers, Joe Dudek, Tyler Ramirez and Adrian Chacon?
"It is the really fun part of coaching, watching freshmen get out there (for) their first time. We can all think back to the first time we were on a field. Just to watch them and to see their mannerism and excitement and nervous energy to get on the field and get in the batter's box for the first time. I'm just telling them under my breath to just relax and take a deep breath... I thought they all did very well. That first time you don't ever know what to expect and obviously they were preparing to be at home in a more comfortable environment - all the sudden we are on the road and playing in a different environment. I think they all did well and it will be exciting to watch them grow up. They are a good group of young kids and we have some leaders that are helping them."

Coach Jackson was coaching third for the Tar Heels - what is it like for you to be back in the dugout?
"Well, I don't know what it is like. We experimented with it a couple of years ago and I went back to it. But, I'm going to stay in the dugout this year unless something very unusual happens. It is something I have been thinking about and talking to Coach Jackson about how to run our offense and we have Mark (Fleury) and Josh (Horton) on our staff now able to help us at first base and to get Coach Gaines in the bullpen and in the dugout. So the dynamics of our coaching staff, it is a little different for me. I think it is more different for the players actually. I think they like having me out of the dugout for half of the game. [Laughs]. They will have to deal with that. Coach Jackson will be great and I think he wants to do it. It is a little different after 30 years of coaching third but it is not going to make any difference to our team whatsoever."

What did you think about Trent Thornton's first outing of the season?
"He picked up right where he left off last season, which is not a surprise to any of us. He is so well prepared both mentally and physically. It is so great to see because you never know coming off of a freshman campaign where you had so much success. Trent is just so focused. He is not going to let there be any lingering effect from last year getting in his way. 10 strikeouts and I don't think he walked a guy - a terrific performance by that guy and he gave us a chance to win."

How has the return of Josh Horton and Mark Fleury been so far, since they joined your staff as they complete their undergraduate degrees?
"It has been a blast so far. It has really been interesting watching them get back into the college game and hearing about the last 4-5 years of their lives. I can only imagine what they were going through the other day back in a Carolina uniform. After our win on Sunday we presented them with the lineup card and the game ball as their first win as coaches. They have some great insight to bring to our team and to our players individually. I don't know if you can measure the [importance] of their impact on our players talking to them about their experience and what they have went through. I think they will be a big help to not only our returning players but our freshmen as well. You know this just shows you their commitment to come back and I make them promise me when they come to North Carolina that they will get their degree if they can possibly do it. The fact that they both are back to get it done speaks a lot about them as people much more than baseball players."

When you talk about drive, the first name that comes to mind on the Tar Heels is junior Michael Russell. How important is he to the team this year?
"Michael is our engine. He is our guy and our emotional leader. He sets the tone. He really wants to win. He is unbelievably driven and just does not like to accept defeat or failure. Sometimes it gets hard for him because he is so intense and wants to do well and wants our team to do well first and foremost. We need Michael to play well for us and that is a little added pressure for him. He's a junior and it is his draft year and he's got some things going on but he is a terrific student and he has made over a 3.0 since he has been here and he is committed both on and off the field. The home run he hit he was capable of doing it now because he has gotten in that weight room and gotten bigger and stronger and he has really been working with Coach Jackson on his swing and that ball was pretty much a no-doubter once he hit it and it helped us win the game."

Do you have an update on Korey Dunbar's status?
"Korey is still out for now. I'm not sure how long it is going to be. He will not be available to play this weekend. That much I am sure of. He has another doctor's appointment on Wednesday. That is a huge blow for us. That is part of it. You have to deal with injuries and illness. I feel bad for Korey because he was really, really excited about starting this year and again it is just another setback we all have to handle as a team. Korey is a tough kid, mentally and physically and he will be ready when he is cleared to come back."

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What went into the decision to name Chris McCue as the closer this season?
"He is our closer and he isn't. Because, when you think about a closer sometimes you think of one-inning guys and obviously we used Chris in the 8th inning because we felt like it was important to get one of our best, if not our best, reliever in the game with the game on the line in the 8th inning. Chris has three above average pitches he can locate and has the ability to strike people out and he holds runners very well. He has all the attributes and he is experienced and has been in that situation before. We had him in mind as we started the season that it might be the role he fills. But, don't be surprised if we use Chris at any point in the game. Because, as I said before, we feel that during certain points the game is getting ready to tip one way or the other and if we think Chris McCue is our guy that could be the 5th or 6th inning. Right now that might be his role but again it kind of evolves as the season starts."

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