(Feb. 7, 2007) - With the 2007 baseball season on the horizon, eighth year head baseball coach Tony Skole took time out of preparations for his squad's season opener this weekend against the Citadel to discuss the '07 campaign.
You have posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in 15 years, and last year topped 30 wins for just the sixth time in school history. Do you now feel like the momentum has turned for the baseball program and that there is finally a baseball tradition being built at ETSU?
Building a tradition in baseball at ETSU that our players, alumni and community can be proud of has been a major goal of ours from day one. I'm excited about the direction of our program and what the future has in store for us. No individual, team or business just wakes up one day and all of a sudden they are automatically successful. It takes a lot of effort, hard work, preparation and most importantly you must have the resources. When I first arrived at ETSU we were definitely lacking in resources in every area. But now, thanks to the support of our President, Dr. Paul Stanton and our Athletic Director, Dave Mullins we are fully funded. Our program has a very solid foundation and now we must do everything in our power to be the best we can possibly be, every single day we come to work.
As you continue to improve and build that tradition, how does it affect your team goals going into the 2007 campaign?
I don't want to make it sound like we're sitting around the office every day talking about going to the College World Series every year because I know just how hard that is to do. But if you don't talk about it and dream about it and work everyday to be the premier college baseball program in the country, it's definitely never going to happen. If you let yourself listen to people who are always telling you that you can't do this or you can't do that, then those people will be right if you believe them. Our goals are always the same. Win the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship and advance into the NCAA Tournament. Once we are in the tournament, obviously everyone's goal is
Your program had a school-record five players drafted in last year's Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, including four-year performers Shane Byrne, Steven Calicutt and Jeremy Hall. Add in Chuck Hargis and Stephen Douglas, and you lost five of the best players in the Atlantic Sun Conference. What does their draft status mean to this program's reputation regionally and nationally?
One of the areas which our staff takes a lot of pride in is the development of our players. In development I am talking about our players not only reaching their potential as athletes, but also as people. This group of young men is a great example of this. None of these young men had ever been drafted before. The opportunity they now have to continue their playing career is a great testament to their hard work, dedication and commitment. Of course they all are extremely talented, but improving their abilities was very important to these young men and their hard work paid off for them. What is even more gratifying is the quality of young men they have become. They are all great kids who can handle themselves appropriately no matter what the situation may be. Obviously having five players drafted has brought national recognition to our program. Recruiting wise it is already starting to pay dividends.
You ended last season on a little bit of a roll, reaching the championship round of a conference tournament for the first time in ETSU history. How does that momentum carry over and help the mindset of this year's squad?
Obviously we want to keep the momentum going and build off what we accomplished last season. Even though it was one of the best seasons in our program's history, we still have a lot more we want to accomplish. I want our team to have high expectations and every year we want to continue to raise the bar. But this ball club is very different from last year's team. We are very young and inexperienced. But as a coach and a leader I have always said I would rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.
Looking at the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2007, Florida Atlantic has departed, but defending tournament champion Stetson is back with the majority of its pitching staff returning, and regular season champ
Once again I believe the Atlantic Sun Conference will be very strong. You have to be ready to play good baseball every weekend or you will get smacked in the mouth. Until someone can knock Stetson off the thrown, they will be the team to beat.
Behind the plate this year, you have the luxury of three experienced catchers in seniors Justin Aughey and John Weddle and junior Bubba Herbold. Discuss what roles you see each player filling in the spring.
We are very fortunate to have a group of experienced catchers who I feel I can put in the game at any time and there not be a drop off. When you throw in freshman, Danny Petro into that mix, there may not be another college program out there that has the quality depth at the catching position that we have. Obviously there is going to be great competition in the preseason. All of these young men bring different attributes to the position and some do things better than the others, but ultimately just like all the other positions, the individual that is going to give us the best opportunity to win on that given day will be in the lineup. It should be very interesting to see who rises to the top.
Unfortunately contrasting your depth at catcher is the remainder of the infield. You will be breaking in four new starters around the diamond with freshmen Tanner Moore, Justin Tramble and Ryan Self stepping into starting jobs immediately, and junior Anthony Russell moving from third base over to first. How quickly do you expect the three freshmen to adjust to college ball and how smooth of a transition will this be for Russell?
Any time you have freshman playing right away it is a cause for concern. But this group of freshman is very unique. First they are very talented but also they are very physical players. If you saw them for the first time you would not think this group was young. All of them had a very solid fall season and they adjusted very well to the speed of the game. I'm sure these guys will make mistakes from time to time, but their maturity level and ability to make adjustments is off the charts. They will be thrown into the fire but when opening day rolls around these guys will be prepared to succeed. As far as Anthony is concerned, I am not worried about him at all. Anthony had a huge fall season and is poised to be one of the best hitters in the ASUN. He is a great athlete who can handle third base, so the adjustment he made going across the diamond has not been difficult for him. I am expecting a breakout year for Anthony. He could put up some very big numbers.
Michael Courtney started every game at second base last season, and spent much of the year as your leadoff batter. He is another player undergoing a position shift as he is taking over in left field. How do you see his role evolving for the 2007 squad?
Michael could still end up playing a lot of second base for us, but he will start the season in left field. Michael finished the season very strong and we need him to have a productive season for us to be good. He is a very good outfielder and the switch for him has been easy. More than anything we need Michael's leadership. He is a veteran player and he will be a catalyst for our offense.
One of the biggest uncertainties for this team defensively is filling the void in right field left by Shane Byrne's graduation. How are you looking to handle that spot and who are some of the candidates to take over that position?
There is simply no way to replace Shane Byrne. I think it would be very unfair to ask someone to do that. Shane had a hall of fame career at ETSU and he will be sorely missed. But we do have someone in place who I think can be very productive for us. That person is
Senior C.J. Lee moves back to his natural position in center field this season after playing in left a year ago, and is also your top returning hitter. How much of a leadership role do you look for him to assume this spring?
Our team will go as CJ goes. CJ had a great season last year but he is so much more of a complete player this year compared to last. He is stronger, faster, smarter and he has taken control of this team as far as leadership goes. We were very fortunate that CJ was not drafted last year, because there were a lot of teams interested in him leaving school as a junior. CJ is a dynamic player who brings a lot of excitement to the park. He is definitely one of the best players in all of college baseball.
You brought in a number of other freshmen this season as well. What impact can we expect to see from the likes of Bart Roark and Danny Petro in 2007?
We brought in some very talented freshman this fall. It will not be a surprise to me, if all of them make an impact this season. Bart and Danny are no exception. The thing that jumps out at you when you look at our freshman class is that they are very physical and very strong. They do not look like typical freshman. All of these young men come from successful high school programs and some of the best summer league programs in the country. I anticipate their transition into college baseball being very smooth.
The Bucs pitching staff finished last in the Atlantic Sun in team ERA last season, but made some strides toward the end of the season with the development of Caleb Glafenhein's sidearm delivery, the emergence of freshman Darren Caldwell and the improvement of first-year guys Ryan Howe and Tony Lombardi. How have they progressed through the off season and looking ahead to the upcoming year?
Just like every other year, our pitching staff is ultimately going to determine whether or not we have a championship season. This is no secret as success on the mound will always lead to many marks in the win column. I feel very good about our pitching staff as we enter the season. We have more depth this year than in recent years and our returning pitchers have all improved drastically since last season. Caleb Glafenhein is very special. His unique abilities allow him to be a starter and closer for us. I'm not quite sure what his ultimate role will be for us, but I do know is we want the ball to be in his hands an awful lot this season. Ryan Howe and Tony Lombardi are two senior left handed pitchers who threw a lot for us last season. There is no doubt that their experience last season will benefit them this season. Each of them has the ability to have huge senior seasons for us. I am also very excited about Darren Caldwell. He may be our most improved pitcher from last season. His stuff can be electric and if he continues to improve, he will be able to take over baseball games and dominate.
You also added a stable of talented arms, highlighted by transfers Brandon Langston and Matt McGahey, as well as freshman Drew Story. How much of an impact can we expect from those three, and what other contributors are you looking for on this year's staff?
We recruited all three of these young men with one thought in mind. We need these guys to immediately come in and pitch well for us right away. All three of them are extremely talented.
I am excited about the progression of some of our other pitchers as well. Like I mentioned earlier, we have quality depth on our staff. Hard throwing right-handed pitchers, Jon Stoudt and Jimmy Tidwell will be counted on to shut teams down out of the bullpen. Meanwhile we have a slew of talented lefties in Michael Dillow, Craig Wojociechowski, Todd Caldwell and Joey McCown that can eat up innings and give us a favorable matchup in a crucial situation.
You brought in one of your former players in Reid Casey to fill the role of pitching coach on this year's team. How do you expect him to help continue the pitching staff's development, and what else does he bring to your team?
I am anticipating Coach Casey making a huge impact on our pitching staff and our program. Reid is very passionate about pitching and he has always had the intense, inner fire burning inside him that all great competitors have. I am hoping that our pitching staff will develop his attitude of being a fierce competitor. I am very confident that he will improve our pitching staff and be a great ambassador for ETSU baseball.
Looking at the schedule this season, the Bucs are playing a few less home games than they have in years past; especially late in the season with only four home games over the final month. How do you think playing so many games away from
Our schedule once again is a very demanding and competitive. Out of our last 28 games, 14 of them are at home and 14 of them are on the road. This is the time of the season in college baseball where you need to be playing your best baseball. We have been fortunate in recent years to play a few more home games, but this season I wanted to play a few more games on the road in order to prepare for the post season. Opening the season at The Citadel will be quite a challenge and we are excited about the invitation we received to play in the preseason tournament at