WVU baseball: Peers say Mazey a good get for Mountaineers
FORT WORTH, Texas - College baseball is no different from the other major college sports in that many conferences have their own identities. There's Big East basketball and Big Ten football and the way each is different from what happens in the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Pac-12.
"The SEC in baseball has always been known for power, but that's changed recently because the bats have been deadened down," said TCU baseball Coach Jim Schlossnagle, who, like West Virginia, is new to the Big 12 this season, but whose teams played plenty of series against Big 12 competition in recent years. "That used to be the power conference with smaller ball parks and they'd try to hit the ball out of the park.
"I'd say the Big 12 just has a lot of outstanding pitching, which is that much more important now. The depth of pitching is as good as, if not better than, anywhere else."
That's splendid news for WVU, which begins its first season under new Coach Randy Mazey on Friday with a three-game series at North Florida. Twice a head coach before, Mazey also spent the past six seasons as an assistant and eventually associate head coach at TCU. Mazey was the pitching coach and 12 of his players pitched professionally.
"That's what I'm sure Randy is going to try to build on," Schlossnagle said. "You have to have elite pitching."
Mazey has 15 new players and seven are pitchers. That's a big part of a rather large undertaking in the debut Big 12 season, with all conference home games being played in Charleston's Appalachian Power Park.
"He's been a successful head coach before and he's had to do it at a place like Charleston Southern, where they had nothing. That was a worse situation than at West Virginia," Schlossnagle said. "Then he did it at East Carolina when he helped build a ball park there.
"I'm telling you, West Virginia hit more than a home run. They got a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in Omaha hiring him."
Schlossnagle admits he has to be careful "not to make him sound like the next Joe Torre," but conversations about Mazey here tend to trend that way. The Horned Frogs had their annual alumni game Saturday, a tradition Mazey lifted and put in place at WVU in the fall. Former players lined up to guarantee the Mountaineers were in good hands with Mazey.
"You're talking about someone who, if he finally gets to the point, will jump you and get on you like something you've never seen. But that's because the expectation level is where, as long as you're playing for him, you're going to give him 110 percent," said former TCU pitcher Greg Holle, who ended last season in Class A of the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
"All of his guys are going to work hard and stay out of trouble and take care of the small stuff. He's responsibility-oriented. I don't know a ton about West Virginia. That may not have been a top team where they've been in previous years. But give him some time and patience for a little bit and he'll get everything he's got out of the talent he has."
The Horned Frogs remember Mazey's knack for getting through to his players from the beginning of their interactions. Schlossnagle said Mazey could step into a high school and teach classes. Kyle Winkler, a former pitcher who was with a Class A team in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization at the end of last season, said meetings with the pitchers were normally about life so the players could learn to become better people in college.
"He asks a lot out of you, but he knows that through relationships with the players he's going to get that out of you," Holle said. "It's like any coach. If he stops yelling at you, that means he doesn't care. It sounds cliché, but he's really an unbelievable guy."
Mazey literally stopped talking to Winkler before his sophomore year.
Mazey spent much of the 2010 preseason pleading with Winkler to put his pitches down in the strike zone. Winkler, who was 7-1 with a 4.15 ERA as a freshman, wouldn't play along.
"He'd always talk to you right after you got done throwing, whether it was good or bad," Winkler said. "He didn't say one word to me for two weeks."
Once he realized what was happening, Winkler took Mazey's advice.
"I wanted him to be proud of me when I threw, but it was something I could tell he was upset about," Winkler said. "Instead of trying to be stubborn about it and trying to do it my way, I determined I was going to be better off if I did it his way."
He was 12-3 with a 3.39 ERA in 2010 and 8-2 with a 1.39 ERA a year later. Winkler ended up being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 10th round in 2011.
"He does a great job getting them to trust him," Schlossnagle said.
"What's that they say? 'They're never going to care what you know until they know that you care.' He really lives by that and the kids trust him. If he said, 'Hey, the best thing for you to do is not be left-handed anymore,' they'd start throwing right-handed."
Holle changed only his throwing angle. He was 8-5 with one save and a 5.19 ERA in his career, but he had good stuff and could use his 6-foot-8 frame to at times overpower.
"We were trying to figure out how they would keep, for whatever reason, getting on base," Holle said.
"He said, 'Let's get some more movement,' so he dropped my arm down a little bit and 4 or 5 m.p.h. came with it."
Holle struck out 38 and walked 10 in 34 2/3 innings in 2010. The Brewers then drafted him in the 11th round.
"There won't be one part of the game that they haven't covered in practice," Schlossnagle said. "Randy's a proven commodity. They got really lucky."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.