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.