A: I certainly want to move that way. It's important to me. Certainly, the best players in and around Nashville, we'd like to come to school here if they're academically able to get in school. We made David Price and Kyle Waldrop [shortstop signee from Knoxville-Farragut] a priority. We saw them right away and knew that they were two of the top players in the state, if not the entire Southeast. In terms of the whole country, both those kids are very, very talented. They both can play two different positions-- they can pitch and play a position. David's left-handed, Kyle is right-handed. They're both tall, they both can run. Now, what I've just said means that they'll both be decently drafted. I don't think it's a gamble when you recruit kids to come to Vanderbilt, because obviously you've got the education you can speak to, and the value of it. I think both those kids will end up going to school here, and will have a big impact on our program right away.
Q: Have you got any facility improvements on the board right now? Especially we've been hearing about converting part of Memorial Gym into an indoor batting area.
A: Yeah, I'm gonna take Stallings' gym and make it into an indoor baseball facility, and move him across the street to the rec center (laugh). He'd be pleased to hear that! No, there's an old pool there that has been shut down, and we'd certainly like to make that an indoor hitting facility. It would help us out tremendously, because we don't have too much right now. I think we're the only SEC school that lacks an indoor facility. The winter was tough last year, and we overcame it and practiced outside every day with the exception of three days. One day we practiced with snow on the ground. So it would just make it easier to coach, to teach. You don't miss out on practice opportunities. I think that's the one thing that we need to gather some momentum on-- and possibly a new locker room somewhere down the road too.
Q: How are you going about identifying players? You're turning up players from all over the country. One guy who does a lot of scouting for you is Eric Bakich. Talk about him, and how you go about identifying players that you want to sign.
A: Eric is like a bird dog. Number one, if you hire a recruiting coordinator, he'd better have an unbelievable amount of energy, because recruiting in itself lasts 365 days out of the year. It has to be the first thing you think about every day, and sometimes the last thing you think about before you go to bed. At least that was my notion with myself. I wanted to find someone who had similar qualities. Eric possesses that. He's young, and very sharp for a young guy. He works all the time. It's important to him to gather in the best players. Our philosophy for getting players is basically this: you want to find the best players in state first, and if you can't find them in state, you try to find them elsewhere. With us it's not specifically the Southeast, because Vanderbilt has a name that projects well all over the country. Therefore you can go into New England, you can go to California, to Florida, to Arizona, to the Midwest, and mention that you're a baseball program and recruiting such-and-such, and they understand the academics. What you want to happen in the future, is people to think that Vanderbilt is a tremendous academic situation, but also a tremendous baseball situation. When that starts to happen, and people speak of it in those terms, your recruiting can stay pretty consistent, if you're out there and being active. Stanford's been able to do it, Notre Dame's been able to do it. There's some other schools like Rice-- Rice basically stays in Texas. But I feel like we can go out and about, because we've got a great city to recruit to, a great school, and now we've got a tremendous facility. There's a lot of pluses. People are very surprised when they come on campus and see our baseball stadium.
Q: If you had to sum up what you hope and what you expect will happen this season, what would you say? What are reasonable expectations?
A: I told the kids that basically we had a pretty good year last year. We did what we set out to do last year in terms of goal. Our goal last year was to make the SEC Tournament. Talking about a Regional and a Super-Regional and going to Omaha was very unrealistic for a team that hadn't even scratched a Regional. So that was our first goal. To think that we're automatically going to improve, based on what happened last year and what's happened this summer-- I know better than that. I'm not naive. It takes a lot of hard work. We're not gonna surprise anyone any more. When we go places, I think they understand that Vanderbilt will play hard. It's gonna be a tough three-game series, but we have to be aware of that. You just have to respect everyone you play, take one game at a time, and I mean simply that. The only thing we're thinking about right now is that first game against Southern Illinois. I don't talk about big pictures with them right now, because I don't want them thinking that way. You just have to take care of business, and if you do that game-by-game, you keep improving day-by-day, then you'll reach the goals that you want at the end of the year. To get back to the SEC Tournament, and to get to a Regional, obviously has to be a goal for us. Because if we do that, I think the program will be saying that we're improving day by day. But to get there in the SEC is very difficult. A lot of teams that finished below us could easily have been in a Regional. It just shows you how difficult this conference is. I can't say there's a better conference in the country. I know that from the grind every weekend when you go somewhere, or someone comes to play you, it's a very difficult task. But we're up for it, and I'm excited about what's in front of us.
To read part one of this two-part interview, click here.
Photos by Neil Brake, courtesy Vanderbilt Athletics.