NORMAN, Okla. -- Less than one week before the season opens, the OU baseball team held its annual media day on Saturday, Feb. 5 at L. Dale Mitchell Park. Members of the local media joined OU head coach Larry Cochell and the rest of the team to learn more about the 2005 version of the Sooners and what to expect this season. OU will open the season in Surprise, Ariz., on Friday, Feb. 11 at 4 p.m. (CST) against Gonzaga.
Following is quotes from Cochell and some players touching on key points discussed during the event:
HEAD COACH LARRY COCHELL
About the team:
"This is my 39th year and I don’t normally make predictions, but I really feel good about this club. This is going to be a pretty good team and I base that on the character of the players. I have been in this business long enough to know that character comes first in and ability is second. That combination wins championships and the opposite will not get your very far."
On the infield:
"Ryan Rohlinger is everything we thought (when we recruited him) and more, especially after his success in the Cape Cod League this summer. With him and Russell Raley in the middle, we believe that combination will be one of the best in the nation. Kevin Smith, hitting third or fourth in the lineup, is our third baseman and he will remind people a lot of Greg Dobbs. Plus we have the luxury of having Freddy Rodriguez at first base and he is capable of playing just about anywhere in the infield. He will be a very important factor in the success of our team and he gives us flexibility at first base because Eric Thornton will also see time at that corner, splitting time there and as the team’s designated hitter."
On the outfield:
"In the outfield, we have four returners, two junior college players and a couple freshmen all competing for spots. The outfield definitely has the most competition going on right now. We have a lot more flexibility in the outfield, something we were missing last year. Chad Lembeck gives us some power from the right side of the plate and he continues to get better during his time here. Chuckie Caufield is another right-handed hitter and he has been drafted a couple of times. Scuderi is back in centerfield and he is an outstanding defensive player and has made improvements offensively. Rooker is also back and you have Kody Kaiser, a switch hitter with power along Joseph Dunigan, another newcomer that has some power at the plate. Then you have Ivey with speed on the bases and Cory Williamson will also play a factor. We certainly have some things to sort out in the outfield but it is a nice problem to have because it gives us the option of matching up differently with different pitchers."
On the catchers:
"We have the luxury of having two athletes that can play for us at the catching position. Matt Bose, a three-year starter, will settle behind the plate this year and that is where his future is. In addition, we have added a great talent in Jackson Williams, a guy that has great throwing ability. Those two splitting time and remaining healthy throughout the season, will be key for us this season."
On the pitchers:
"We feel very confident in our pitching staff and think it is a very good staff. McCutchen, Gooch, Mottern and Patterson all return and the addition of our newcomers should solidify the bunch.
"Everyone knows that we will go only as far as our pitching does, just like any other team. Pitching is probably 65-70 percent of the game and we will depend on our four junior college guys (Sandoval, Guerra, Savage and Brownell). They have all pitched extensively with success in the past. We will start McCutchen against Arizona State and he could still be our closer. P.J. Sandoval is another guy that can start or come in as a reliever/closer. Brad Burns is a newcomer that knows how to pitch and has great location. We also expect great things out of Garrett Patterson, a guy who can throw 90, and Gooch and Mottern are two guys we can use in middle relief."
On the addition of new pitching coach Fred Corral:
"Coach Corral has brought experience to our staff No. 1. He pitched in the College World Series with Cal State Fullerton and then he spent six years learning under Jerry Weinstein at Sacramento City College. Weinsten is considered the guru of pitching on the west coast and he was with the Dodgers, where he was the director of minor league operations. Anyway, most recently, coach Corral arrived at the University of Tennessee and took the staff’s ERA down from a 5.8 to a 3.8 in his first season and then down to a 3.5 in his last year. He has a solid background in pitching and is a good communicator. He has a good understanding with the kids and he is a lot of fun to be around. So far, he has done a terrific job and will continue to do an outstanding job with the staff."
On the team’s philosophy:
“The makeup of our team is one with a lot of youth and new faces, but at key positions we have returning players that will be the leaders of the team. We have a lot of good athletes and our offense will look to hit and run, steal, squeeze and put pressure on the opposing defense. Our outfielders all have better than average speed and we have some pop from the left side of the plate. Thornton, Smith, Dunigan and Kaiser will provide us with the power from the left and Bose, Raley, Rohlinger give us that balance on the other side. We will not be a team that hits a lot of homeruns but we will get a lot of doubles and triples because of our ability to run.”
Biggest challenge facing the team this season:
"Obviously, the pitching is a challenge because we lost a majority of our innings with the guys that got drafted (Purcey, Roberts and McAuliff). However, based on what we have seen already from our junior college pitchers and how they have matched up with our team, we feel they will adapt and have immediate success against Division I hitting. So with the combination of the newcomers and our returners, we feel comfortable with our pitching.”
On the Big 12:
“There is no doubt that the conference will be tough again this year. Texas is a team that could have won the national title last year and Texas A&M is a team that has a lot of returning players. Baylor and Oklahoma State will be outstanding teams as well. There are no easy weekends in the Big 12 and you have to be ready to play all 27 games. Last year our team did a good job of focusing on every game and realizing every game was important no matter who you were playing and that is why we were so successful in the league a season ago.”
On having the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City:
“I really like having it here and think it will stay here for an extended period of time. The venue provides an exciting atmosphere and everything works so well because it is centrally located with all of the hotels close to the park. The smaller seating capacity is also a nice advantage. I think when we played Texas at the Arlington Park there was 10-13,000 people in a 50,000 seat venue and it seemed like no one was there. It is completely different at the Bricktown Ballpark and I think that is why it will be here for a long time. In my opinion, I would really be surprised if it leaves Oklahoma City.
SENIOR JEFF SCUDERI (CF)
On the newcomers:
“The one thing that these guys coming out of high school need to learn is that this is a sport of failure, your not always going to succeed. You’re going to deal with a lot of adversity, and dealing with failure and keeping your head up and getting through it is so important at this level. These kids are coming out of high school or junior college where they had a lot of sucess, otherwise they would not be here today. It is something that I learned going from high school to junior college and then from junior college to here at OU. So I have been through it a couple of times and I feel that I can lead those guys in that way. I will also try to lead by example, there is nothing better than experience when you are out playing on the field, or when your playing in the Big 12, because if you have not done it before than you don’t know what its like. In high school and junior college baseball, you don’t really play in front of very many people. You have your parents and maybe a few scouts in the stands. If you go to Texas A&M, your playing in front of 9,000 people or if your in Bricktown, your playing in front of 10,000 people. So its an adjustment for the new guys and its good that we have some seniors to help lead them along the way.
JUNIOR RYAN ROHLINGER (SS)
On the team:
“We are very strong on the defensive side of the ball. We are solid up the middle and our outfielders are very strong. So I am excited to start the season and see what we can do.”
On having a young squad:
“Were coming together as a team right now. Our infield has been and looks like we have been playing together for a couple years and it shows. It’s good to know where someone else is going to be. When there’s a ground ball we’re all talking, so its nice to be on the same page.”
JUNIOR RUSSELL RALEY (2B)
On comfort level of club:
“Were very comfortable with the group of guys that we have in the infield right now. We know where each other are going to be and that makes everything run smoother when were playing. And we have a very strong outfield as well, and our pitchers are doing well.”
SENIOR ERIC THORNTON (1B)
On the team:
“It is very hard to replace the pitchers that we lost, but the guys that we have right now are meshing well. Our defense is going to be one of our strong points. We are solid on that side of the ball because we have been playing together for a couple of years and we know where each other is going to be on the field and we communicate well.”