It's been two weeks since the best baseball season in Indiana history came to an official close in Omaha. IU coach Tracy Smith and his players, both departing and returning, have had some time to digest and reflect upon their history-making campaign.
This past week, Smith took time out from catching up on recruiting and finding a replacement for pitching coach/recruiting coordinator Ty Neal, gone to Cincinnati, to talk with the media at length about his 2013 season, what it means for his program, and what's next for the Hoosiers.
This is Part III of a three-part presentation of that interview.
Going back to 2010, you turned down the offer from Ohio State and stayed at Indiana. Looking back at it, what does it mean to have a season like this at this job, thinking about that potential alternate career course?
It’s much ballyhooed about the whole Ohio State thing. It kind of goes with that good faith. They showed some faith in me, and I don’t want to give you all the details on my decision-making process, but I can tell you a big part of that was the loyalty the university showed. So I get a lot of satisfaction from that. Not just personal satisfaction, because I don’t want to say, ‘Yea, Ohio State, see what we did,’ because they were great. They didn’t have to have any interest in me, so I’m very appreciative of that. It just wasn’t a good fit for me personally. But I wish that program the best of luck, because I’m very appreciative of the interest. But it’s kind of funny, because I always evaluate, there’s certain levels in the Big Ten between money-machine universities, versus what we have to do here at Indiana. I think there’s great satisfaction — not that it’s a good thing, but maybe it is — in doing things with less. You look at what’s going on around here, and all the sports having a lot of success. They had the final results on the Capital One Cup , which is kind of an all-encompassing thing and a reflection of what’s going on in your whole department.
I do take some pride in — probably more pride in taking a team to the College World Series on a job, when I came here from Miami, I am not kidding you, every person I talked to, every person save one, and that is Bob Todd at Ohio State, said: ‘You’re nuts. That is a horrible baseball job. Don’t take it. It’s professional suicide.’ And it’s been fun to see it come together.
When you say that was the reaction, why did you get that? What made the job so bad within the perception of the business?
I don’t think people had the knowledge and were really qualified to say that. They were looking at maybe the lack of support (former Indiana) coach (Bob) Morgan was getting at the time. I think they clearly were looking at facilities, relative to other venues. And I think some of that also played into what we’d just done at Miami. We’d just built a new stadium, a new field. We’d just gone to the regionals. Had basically that whole core coming back. And (people) were looking at me like, ‘Are you nuts?’
Good thing for me, I had some inside knowledge, having been an assistant here, of what I thought — if we take our plan and implement our plan in that environment. Why they didn’t have better facilities, I think some of it is people, I don’t want to speak for coach Morgan, but you just kind of get tired of fighting the fight, and I think any time there’s change, you probably have the ability to ask for some things, but I think I had the energy level to keep going and trying to build this thing, and as you build and you improve … I had this vision of what it could be. And Fred (Glass) and I talked about that after the regional — this is that vision, that it’s taken eight years, but it sure is worth it.
And everything happens for a reason, whether it’s the Ohio State thing, staying, maybe struggling a little bit in the middle of it. I still have emails — I still have emails that I’ve saved, and I read them periodically — from people the first couple years: ‘What a bad coach, and you have no idea and they’re gonna run you out of Bloomington. You’re horrible, you don’t know what you’re doing, and they’re going to run you out of Bloomington real soon.’ I save those. I like to read those, because I don’t want to say just with the recent success we’ve had, I’m not gonna change. We’re gonna continue to keep doing what we’re doing. But it’s just a friendly reminder: You can do that, and people turn on you in a heartbeat too.
Have you had a meeting with Glass yet, just in terms of both maybe laying out some of the investments you talked about and also in terms of maybe restructuring your contract at all?
I’ll answer it like this: I think there’s that mutual trust where they don’t have to do anything. I’m not gonna demand. I think it’s just, let’s continue doing what we’re doing, which is have faith and confidence in each other, and I think they will do, I don’t want to say the right thing, because that’s not … it’s like when I recruit: It just has to be the right fit and both sides have to feel good about it for it to be, to me, operating at an optimal level. I think that’s gonna happen, and I don’t think it’s gonna be a bunch of contentious conversation. I think it’s gonna be, here’s where we are.
Joey DeNato is a guy that went undrafted this year. What do you think he needs to do to be a more appealing prospect for the draft as a senior?
Well, let’s face it: The whole thing about scouting, it’s not an exact science, but it’s a tools industry. Can Joey DeNato be a professional baseball pitcher? Absolutely. But having gone through scout school, one of the things that they say is, evaluate this guy in a big league uniform right now. Joey’s a little bit smaller in stature, and I think in that, a couple things that have to be. One, you have to have velocity that’s really up there, or a really special secondary pitch, and Joey’s velocity is 85-88, he’s got a decent slider, not a great slider. He’s great college pitcher. I think he’ll be a good professional pitcher.
So when you have that combination, I respect the scouts enough, I think they respect our program enough that they’re not gonna pull a guy out, necessarily, after his junior year, if he is that ‘tweener guy. He’s got a long trek to make it to the big leagues, so why not let this guy enjoy his last year of college; we’ll go get him next year. I haven’t talked to the guys about it specifically, but I would assume that’s what they said.
How important is it to you, in light of potentially losing Aaron Slegers, to have a right-handed pitcher in the weekend rotation? Do you feel like you need to have that mix?
Editor’s note: Since the time of this interview, Slegers has signed with the Minnesota Twins and begun his professional career.
Um, the more I’m seeing, I think it’s interesting. (UCLA coach John) Savage said something, at UCLA, that all he recruits are top right-handed pitchers, because all the top lefties get drafted, but then I’ll talk to some of the guys in the SEC, there’s been this big switch that most teams are going to these mid-80, 87-mile-an-hour left-handers, because it controls the running game. I think controlling the running game is probably the biggest part of why we got to where we were. I’m not sure the right-hander is as important for me.
Does mix matter?
Not really. I do think John Cohen at Mississippi State’s onto a little something I’m a little intrigued about. I’m always about, hey get a little bit stronger too, out of the ‘pen, but that whole lefty thing, being strong at the tail end is good. See what you can get out of your starter. If you can get two or three, like they did against us — what’d they get, three? That shortened the game for them anyone, whether they got one or two, and he said it openly. Then they’ve got some nastiness coming out of the ‘pen.
That’s interesting, because I look at Will Coursen-Carr moving forward, do we move him into the starting thing, or do we leave that kind of shutdown lefty arm in the ‘pen? I think there’s some validity to both. A lot of it will depend on what some of these young arms — we had some pretty decent guys that I think are gonna be OK that really didn’t even pitch this year much. I think Christian Morris is gonna develop. I think Evan Bell down the stretch could have been doing … we’ve got some pretty good guys.
It’s tough to say you’re gonna replace the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, but I think we can. I mean statistically, I think we can. I don’t know. But I think college lefties are key. That’s what we’re looking for right now.
Do you have an update on what guys are playing where in summer leagues?
There’s been inquiries on a lot of those guys — Joey, DeMuth, Halstead — to come out to the Cape (Cod League), but really, the way this season went, we’re gonna rest Halstead. If he signs, he’s gonna go out in whatever weeks anyway. These guys are just gonna take a little bit of time, evaluate their situation and then make a decision. If they elect to come back, I don’t think it would be shocking to see, maybe, them finish up in the Cape or something. But right now, they just want to take their time, decompress.
And I don’t want to be deceitful in anything. Early impressions are good. I know people are tweeting all types of things, but it’s the honest to goodness truth — we’re not gonna know anything until the (July 13). I think it’s a good chance it could happen that (DeMuth and Halstead) come back, but I’m not gonna sit here and say, because I’ve seen it where organizations, the closer it gets to that deadline, guys haven’t signed or they’ve got a bunch of money left, who knows. But I’m just encouraged.