On cusp of home opener, WSU baseball skipper Marty Lees in candid conversation with CF.C

ONE OF THE great traditions of college baseball unfolds Thursday afternoon -- it’s Opening Day at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman for Washington State (3-5). First year coach Marty Lees spoke candidly with CF.C about the team, his brand of coaching and what it will be like to don a white uniform for the first time as the WSU skipper in this exclusive interview.

When Lees hands the ball to pitcher Ian Hamilton on Thursday against Utah Valley, WSU fans in attendance will be witnessing the beginning of a new era for Cougar baseball up close and personal (Live stream available here at 4 p.m.) Lees was crystal clear on his feelings of what’s to follow.

“Something very good is going to happen with this group of kids,” said Lees.

Fans watching Cougar baseball this season should expect to see an aggressive style of play. That’s the brand Lees and his staff are dedicated to building at WSU.

“Our goal is to get to a place where we can steal a bunch of bases and hit a bunch of home runs at the same time so we can have a way of competing with every team we face,” said Lees. “There’s tremendous pitching at this level. You’ve got to be able to combat the (MLB) first-rounders that will be in this league. You’ve got to be able to create a style and offense that allows you to be opportunistic on both sides.”

Lees’ pedigree has Cougar fans optimistic about WSU competing for Pac-12 Championships and trips to Omaha for the College World Series.

“I was working with Coach (Josh) Holliday at Oklahoma State the last three years and hearing his theories after being at Vanderbilt, Arizona State, NC State and Georgia Tech. You gain knowledge from watching the good coaches and teams go about their business. Being with Coach Casey at Oregon State for 11-years taught me a lot.”

A student of the college game, Lees says he never limited his vision to only the staffs he was a part of.

“I’ve learned from people like Mike Gillespie (UC Irvine) when he was at USC. Andy Lopez at Arizona, have always been fascinated by what he did on offense and base running. The way his pitchers pitched. I’ve always tried to pick out something from every team we’ve played over the years. What makes them tick. What do they do that would make sense to make me better as a coach or a team better as an offense or defense,” said Lees.

The path leading to the baseball diamond at Washington State actually began on the hardcourt.

“Up until about age 21, I was going to be a basketball coach,” said Lees. “Played both and had a real passion for basketball. Coached a little bit in high school.”

But the coaching opportunities in baseball presented themselves early on and pulled Lees in that direction. Following a brief stint at Oak Ridge High in Oregon, he stepped into the job managing the Challenge, one of the premier American Legion baseball programs, in Eugene. His leadership caught the attention of Pat Casey at Oregon State. No question, that was the point where baseball would become his career choice.

“Coach Casey asked me if I’d come to (Corvallis) and it just all lined up. The progression was just right. The timing was just right.”

At times, Lees’ coaching philosophy and expectations sound like a groundskeeper preparing the stadium for Opening Day.

“I enjoy the time that you put in preparation. Being around these kids and seeing them grow. Putting a plan in place to make each day better.”

Lees said he has been looking forward to the home opener since last August.

“I know that the fans here at Washington State really like baseball. I know there’s some excitement about taking a look at what this team is like. We have a lot of kids back from last year. A lot of people are hoping to see growth and some aggressive play. I think we’ll be able to do both,” said Lees.

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