First Pitch: Q&A with Fox and Francona

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- North Carolina's inaugural First Pitch Dinner marked the opening of the 2009 baseball season over the weekend. Inside Carolina spoke with UNC head coach Mike Fox and keynote speaker Terry Francona, of the Boston Red Sox, about the event and the start of the '09 campaign. Opening day is Feb. 20.

Talk with UNC baseball fans on Inside Carolina's Diamond Heels Message Board
RED SOX MANAGER TERRY FRANCONA

On coming down to Chapel Hill for the First Pitch banquet and to visit his two daughters on the UNC softball team...
"It is kind of an easy invitation - I am always looking for an excuse to come down here. Got to watch five innings of a softball intrasquad game today, so that was kind of my highlight. For me it is also kicking off baseball season which is an exciting time for all of us. I know that the weather does not really look like it but you start thinking warm thoughts and thinking of spring training and the college kids are thinking about starting their season - it is an exciting time of year."

On winning the College World Series in 1980 at Arizona...
"It is a highlight. I don't think it matters where you are - wherever you are is the most important place - whether it is in college or the minor leagues or the major leagues. To win at any level is exciting - in college it is probably more of a family atmosphere. You have been with guys for a pretty good length of time - you live with them and you go through some good times and bad times and anytime you can say you are a champion that is pretty special..."

Comparing winning the World Series with the Red Sox to the College World Series...
"Again it comes back to where ever you are at the time ... financially it is better in the Major Leagues [laughs] ... at the time I was 20 years old - it in no less special now because of winning at the major league level."

On advice he would give to the Diamond Heels on getting it done in Omaha...
"No, if they keep plugging away ... if you get there enough that is our whole philosophy - just try to be consistent and try to get there. Sometimes you not only have to be good but get a break or two and be good enough to be able to take advantage of those breaks. If they keep knocking on the door, they will knock it down."

On what advice he would give to a recruit deliberating on signing with MLB or going to college...
"I would leave that to Coach Fox [laughs] ... it is somewhat common sense. You come to college to get an education and to further your development. If you can do that as a baseball player and someone is going to offer you a lot of money - especially if it is the Boston Red Sox - I would say sign. Again that is something that the coaches here and the parents and the kids, they are going to get a better feel for that. If you are going to err, I would say to err on the side of staying in school."

On scouting Alex White and Dustin Ackley ...
"We already have this place heavily scouted [laughs] ... as we already have Daniel Bard and Tim Federowicz, so nothing is going to get by us, especially when you win as many games as North Carolina does you will be heavily scouted."

Comparing college baseball today and when he played...
"Oh boy ... you know I don't know. I think I am dating myself - I played a long time ago. I loved it then. I think they have made a lot of strides but I think they also have come up against some hurdles. Back when I played there were no time limits [on practice] - we played all day, everyday. The teams in the warm climates had a real advantage, that is part of the reason I went to Arizona. Now there are a lot more rules and I am sure for a lot of good reasons, but I am sure that it can be frustrating for a lot of good players because you are limited for what you can do on the field."

On the Steinbrenner family courtyard at the renovated Boshamer Stadium ...
"That is OK ... every place has it's warts [laughs]. I actually have a ton of respect for Mr. Steinbrenner and what he has done. We have gone toe to toe with them far better than any team in baseball and we will have our hands full with them more this year. I teasingly told the media at the end of last year that because they lost they would probably spend a billion dollars in the offseason. I was only half right about that one."

UNC COACH MIKE FOX

On the inaugural First Pitch Dinner ...
"We have been blown away by the response. We were not sure what to expect with this being the first one but it has exceeded our expectations by far."

On the season being right around the corner ...
"It is fun. There is no pressure - this is what we have been working towards with signing our class in the fall and now our kids working all fall and all winter so this is exciting more than anything else."

On being able to bring Terry Francona to be the keynote speaker for the banquet...
"[The players] are very excited. Anytime you can get someone of Terry's stature as a Major League manager I think it is so important. It sends a great message and it is important and I can not thank him enough for taking time out of his very busy schedule. We are very fortunate that he has a connection with the University of North Carolina and is willing to do this. He certainly is the highlight of the event tonight."

On getting occupancy of the Bosh and starting practice...
"We were worried that they were not going to let us into the stadium. We are just excited to get on any field actually."

On possible freshmen contributions to the team this season...
"We only have one freshman pitcher this season - Jimmy Messer - who is going to be an integral part of our staff starting off in relief but could work his way into the starting rotation in the mid week games. Levi Michael came in early this spring and it is pretty clear that he is pretty talented so we will see him on the field some. Infielder Matt Harrison might play some first base for us as well - we are counting on some of those freshmen stepping up for us."


Inside Carolina Top Stories