Holliday: It's been awesome. It's hard to believe that it's been almost a year and a half since we've been back. I guess it just goes to show you that when you're loving what you do and loving the people you're doing it with, that time flies when you're having fun. We've got a great staff, and they've got great wives and great families. For us, as coaches and families, we've really enjoyed all of our families coming together to share baseball. When it comes to your players and your program, obviously that's really what drives you, giving the players an experience that they can look back on and really cherish. That's important.
Giving our program and our fans the effort they deserve and the energy that Oklahoma State baseball deserves to put us back where we envision ourselves, which is a top-five program in the country. Our history says that's who we are, we've been to the College World Series I believe the fourth most in the history of college baseball, our staff sees ourselves that way. So we're working together hard to do all the little things necessary to become great again. What a better way to start than what last year's group of kids did for us because they played awfully good and they restored many of the images that we think are important. They were resilient, they were united, they battled all the way through. In many ways they did a great job of getting us back up and running, at least in our staff's eyes.
We've built a lot of relationships, which was obviously one of the first things we needed to do, whether it was with potential players, whether it was with folks in the community, whether it was with past players that are getting back involved, or the fan base … it's been fun.
What's been the biggest challenge? Or maybe the biggest thing you didn't envision when you returned to your alma mater?
Holliday: I don't know if there's a biggest challenge but I think maybe our own expectations, our desire to get to that level. Our patience level with how quickly we can make this what we want it to be … because of the quality of our coaching staff and the willingness of our players to jump in, I don't think we've had major obstacles.
You sometime hear people talk about the facility but I don't see it that way at all. We have a beautiful field, and everything we've asked for and needed to do in the short term to take care of our players and kind of clean up around here a little bit, coach Holder and the school have supported us and done it. We've had great cooperation and we've had great support. I think the university on game days in the fall are great recruiting opportunities because an awesome environment has been built here.
Like anything, there's great competition for the very best players, and we are going after what we think are the very best players so you do run into obstacles in recruiting. I don't think we think of or see ourselves in any way as challenged, other than to get great a little faster. Coach Holder has taken care of our coaches and to keep them happy because they are very talented and sought after by people outside of Oklahoma State. I think that continuity in keeping them together and building our talent-best inside the program through quality recruiting has really been important. We're on our own clock, and we're in a hurry to get great. Sometimes you need to remember that takes time, and if it was easy to push a button, everyone would do it.
I guess I haven't felt up against anything or challenged from the standpoint that we're desperately behind. There are obviously always things that can help what you're doing, and we're working with coach Holder to devise a new stadium plan and the idea of building it. But in the meantime we're happy with what we have. We're hoping this year we can build on some of the great crowds we had last year. I think that's the one area that really, really showed. When we were able to get our fans out here during the year when the weather turned around and we had some 2,500 to 3,000 (crowds), it was amazing what it did for the kids. They were just so turned on by the crowd, that was such a huge part of our success.
What's the latest on a new baseball stadium?
Holliday: We worked to create a really beautiful design that we can use to go out and fund raise, and share with our people that might want to help us make that reality. It's been an investment on coach Holder's end and the department to spend the time with the people who have the talents to design.
I am 100 percent confident that they are going to put us in position to be successful. Coach Holder and the University has stepped up for every sport here. Just looking across the street yesterday while walking around, I caught a glimpse of the new Greenwood (Tennis) Center, the Smith (Indoor Practice Facility) and Boone Pickens Stadium all in one motion, and what an amazing view that whole thing is.
We know that the commitment to every sport is there, and we're going to do our part to keep building the team. Some day to have something like that would be fantastic but in the meantime, as we tell every kid that walks in here, playing on a winning team and being a part of something special is not co-dependent on having a brand new stadium. It can be built and done right here with what we have, and we believe that.
The short-term goals with this year's team is making sure we get back that unbelievable experience and then the long-term goals of building a sustainable team where those trips to Omaha (to play in the College World Series) are year in and year out we can create.
Speaking of Omaha, it's been a while since OSU has been back to play in a College World Series.
Holiday: (The last time was) 1999. I think getting to Omaha now is more difficult than ever. The playoff structure and the format is different, and I don't know if people realize that. During that great run of the 1980s (by the Cowboys), you were essentially one six-team tournament away from advancing to the College World Series, and we had a great stretch there where we hosted a vast majority of those regionals in that run. "The format now being a four-team regional followed by a best-of-three super regional has made the road to get there different. Pitching is at a premium now to win in a regional setting and especially in a super regional setting because how pivotal that first game is in a best-of-three series. It's a different journey now, one that we've traveled as a staff, and one that we're I think aware of as far as knowing what it takes to get there.
I'm proud to say our staff when we talk about building a team to go there, between Rob (Walton), Marty (Lees) and myself we've participated in Omaha 12 times. There's a strong history of understanding the national tournament and what it takes to get there, and more importantly, to win there.
We talk about building a championship team as a staff, we look at the new stadium there and how it plays. It's much different than Rosenblatt Stadium, which quite honestly we all fell in love with because of it's history and our history as a program there. But it is a new stadium and it plays different. It's beautiful but it's bigger, and the ball does not travel. So it's a different type of team that can thrive in that environment, one with great speed in the outfield because of how big it is, and obviously great pitching.
So, building a roster and a ball club that is built to navigate through the postseason is important, and that has to be a pitching-strong roster, it has to have some speed to cover those big outfield gaps, and it has to be a really efficient offense to score because the bats have changed the scoring system in college baseball.
We don't talk about Omaha with our team. We don't even talk about it as a staff. We just talk about getting better, and that's what we focus on. We just want to get better every day because any of the great teams that any of us have been fortunate to be on, that's what they did. They didn't get ahead of themselves. The team at Vanderbilt that went a coupe of years ago (of which Josh was an assistant coach), we just worried about getting better. The team at Arizona State and the team at Georgia Tech, we never put that out in front of ourselves and made that a rallying cry. That's an understood destination but that process to get there is all about getting better every day.
It would mean a lot to our staff to take us back because of our heritage there, if that's the right word. That's a city that certainly remembers the Cowboys, that's for sure, with all those years there. There are still some really, really great fans that are interested in seeing those old uniforms roll into town. I don't think about it a whole lot in the sense that we are so immersed in the process of trying to get better, but it would be pretty awesome to see the Cowboys back there.
You said earlier that you want to get the program back to being considered a top-five program nationally. What's it going to take to get back to being a national contender every year?
Holliday: The first thing is it all comes back to getting the right kids in here, that have the physical ability to go toe-to-toe with the talented players across the country and then having the mental talent with that that we can train to develop an elite performer. There's a lot that goes into the creation of your team and the performance of your players. You've got to have kids that are not only physically strong enough to go toe-to-toe but that you can train mentally to handle those tough moments.
I'm real excited about our freshmen class. I think they're a really solid, core group of players, not only for this year's team but for the years to come. I really like some of the older kids on this year's team because of what they did last year. They showed me, and each other more importantly, that they are very capable of lining up with anybody and playing great baseball.
I like where we're at with our mentality right now. I do think we're a tough-minded bunch, and I like the direction we're heading with our talent. I think we are bigger, faster and stronger, and when you look at the people you have to beat to be a true national contender, there are some really physically talented roster out there. Whether it be a Vanderbilt that we know about or an Oregon State with Marty having coached there … we know what those rosters look like, we were part of that creative process in building those teams, so we know that there are some really talented, deep rosters out there.
Getting the right kids to bypass on the pro draft and come to college is really the life-line of getting the type of roster. We were able to do that with last year's freshmen class. There were three or four that were drafted and three or four more that would have been, and several turned down big money to come (to OSU). They believe in our coaching staff and they believe in our University and what it stands for, and they know they'll be better products as people having coming to school and having developed here. We have to continue to really press that button because that is how those rosters have been built, and we have to do it not only once but year after year after year.
The second class we signed this fall is really good. I'm really proud of the fact that the state of Oklahoma is producing a number of good players that are very much capable of coming here and helping us reach these goals. We are recruiting really strong in Oklahoma; we signed eight kids this fall out of the state of Oklahoma. We want kids here at home who are of that caliber, to grow up and identify with playing baseball here. We wants the ones where orange and black mean a little bit more than just wearing any old uniform, and (they) might just scratch and claw a little bit harder. I think that's what I felt when I played here, I think that's why my teammates felt when they played here, and it's that passion and emotional connection to OSU baseball that we're seeking to re-establish.