NORMAN, Okla. -- The University of Oklahoma baseball program met the media Saturday at L. Dale Mitchell Park and previewed the upcoming 2013 season. Head coach Sunny Golloway and several student-athletes spoke with the press.
The college baseball season officially gets underway Friday, Feb. 15, with Oklahoma set to host Hofstra at 3 p.m. CT in the first contest of a four-game weekend set. Fans can purchase tickets online on SoonerSports.com or by calling the OU Athletics Ticket Office at (800) 456-GoOU.
The Sooners are seeking to make another run at the NCAA Men's College World Series in 2013 under Golloway's watch. Oklahoma posted a 42-25 mark last season and reached its third Super Regional in program history. OU is looking to make its sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 36th overall appearance. The Sooners have reached the CWS on 10 previous occasions, winning national championships in 1951 and '94.
OU enters the 2013 season ranked No. 14 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, No. 16 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, No. 17 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, No. 19 by Baseball America and No. 20 by Perfect Game.
Head Coach Sunny Golloway
Opening Comment: "I think, like every year on media day, we're excited to get started. We've got a great group of young men. I think we epitomize a true team more so than any of the years that I've been here in the past. And to elaborate on that, it's because there's a good chance if we were to start today, we'd have three, maybe four freshmen in our starting lineup. And you think about starting pitching, we're still on Dillon Overton and Jonathan Gray, and as of right now, Billy Waltrip, and they're all predicted to be first round, third round, fifth round. And we've never had the likes of those kinds of arms in our starting rotation. There's a lot of youth in our lineup. There's a lot of learning and growing that'll take places along the way, but then a tremendous amount of experience on the mound. I think the surprise so far through the fall, really more so early on in the spring, has been the play of Jack Mayfield. His play at shortstop has been, pretty sensational. I don't use that term loosely; it's been special. It's made me think a couple of times that last year, maybe the year before, we could've switched our combination of Mayfield and (Caleb) Bushyhead and been as good, if not better. He's made some plays over there that we haven't made here in a long time. And that's not taking anything away from anybody who's played here in the past; it's just complimenting the player that's standing there now. He's a captain, and I've been pretty impressed with what he has done at shortstop. What we did in the fall was we left him at second base, and we tried Hector (Lorenzana), we tried a couple other guys. Hector's a junior college player from San Diego, very talented. Then, we decided right after Christmas it was time to make the switch. I think our players might have questioned that. I knew what Jack could do at shortstop; I wanted to see what some other guys could do. Since that time in our intersquads, I've been pretty amazed. I'm excited about his leadership and experience in the middle of the diamond. The other captain who's a regular player would be Max White, who of course is going to be a four-year starter entering his senior season. Max will be moved from center field to left field. So to move a potential three-year starter, you've got to be pretty special, and that enters freshman Craig Aiken. You'll get to see him on display in less than a week now. You're talking about a little left-handed hitter who can fly, go get the baseball, be in the top of our order and do a lot of special things. So, even though there's a lot of youth, and maybe even a little restless nights on the part of our coaching staff early on, remember that when you replace experienced players with young players, that's not a bad thing. Especially when you move experienced players, they must be pretty special."
On what the versatility of senior OF/INF Max White says about him as a player: "Very athletic. He played shortstop in Durant. He was a quarterback. When we brought him in, he'll joke about it if you ask him, we told him to put on the `tools of ignorance and get behind the plate.' And we're doing that with a freshman right now. Kind of like how we honored Javier Flores, who came in at shortstop and ended up being our starting catcher on our national championship team. We're going to have a freshman probably start game one for us. Anthony Hermelyn, behind the plate. And we return a starter in Dylan Neal. So we have a really good tandem behind the plate. But, we tried Max behind the plate. We've had him at first base, we've had him at short, we've had him at third. He was an All-American at left field. There's a mural of him out in the hallway that says `Leading The Nation In Effort,' and him diving and making a catch at Virginia. It's probably still the best outfield play I've ever seen. You like to see that when it's your guys, not an opponent. So for us to move him, there's a young man in Craig Aikin you're going to like, you're going to get to know. But, it just says a lot for his (Max's) athleticism. And it says a lot about his character. It's never been about Max White; he'll do whatever we ask him to do. His mom tells the story, she's still convinced that that first mumble out of his mouth was either Boomer or Sooner; I'm not sure which one. It doesn't matter. It was one of them, she says.
On junior INF Matt Oberste: "It could be really special. If he stays healthy, it could be really special. His physical strength is really good. It's above what you see in most college athletes in this sport, and he was on fire starting the year and then had that injury. I think we maybe, looking back, made a mistake. When he got back healthy, we were going pretty good, trying to catch our footing a little bit, so we left the lineup alone. I know he was growing frustrated. That was a great story because I remember, I drove over to watch Cal and my son play in a 12-and-under baseball game, and I was sitting in the outfield in my truck, watching the game from the outfield, and Matt just was on my heart. We talked about this and I think it was reported last year. I just called him and said, `How are you doing? And he said, `I'm frustrated coach. I'm healthy again and not being able to help.' I'm big on bringing people along and bringing them along and bringing them along. You don't always look for the best; you can find something good, bring it along and make it great. Bring him along, is what I told our coaching staff. We inserted him in our lineup the next day and regardless of how he played, I said, we just need to get him going and bring him along. And I tell you what, it was a good thing we did, because everybody saw him hit the ball on the upper deck or the middle of the garage in Bricktown a couple times in the Beldam tournament. He's running around with a smile on his face. He knows he's going to be in the lineup. We're working him at first base. He's finally got his arm healthy. It's not 100 percent. He might very well be the most physical -- he and the first baseman over at TCU -- they might be the most physical offensive players in our league."
On what he expects from junior LHP Billy Waltrip: "Hopefully stability. We were talking yesterday, in '06, '07, we went with a rotation that we didn't change all year. It might've been my first year as a head coach. We have potential to do that with three starters, providing Billy can settle into that No. 3. Here's the special thing to note about Billy Waltrip; out of the first 12 rounds last year of the MLB, and you know how many players are drafted in each round, every player signed except four. They're slotted money now in major league baseball. If you go in the fifth round, you get that much money, that's it. It's not really open for negotiation unless you go in the first round. A lot of athletes in the eighth round said, well I get this much money, I'm going to sign. And some athletes looked at it like, I'm going to go to school or back to school, or if I'm already in college, go back, and I'm going to improve my round and go pursue my degree. Billy was one of four of the top 12 rounds that didn't actually sign, and we happened to get him. He would probably be a lot of people's No.1, and he's our No. 3, because we've got two No. 1s. Make no bones about it, we could go (Jonathan) Gray or (Dillon) Overton on Friday. They're interchangeable. We're going to go left-right-left for a reason, to try to go a different look each day. That splits our two left-handers apart. All they have to be is better than their counterpart. Waltrip doesn't have to be better than Overton. He has to be better than TCU and better than Pepperdine, whoever we're playing. He has to be better than their No. 3, and I like our chances with that. I went out one day, probably about a week or two ago, and I said, `Are you nervous?' And he said no. And I said, `You should be. There's a lot of pressure on you. These other two guys have proven it. You still have to prove it.' And he said, `I'm going to be fine, Coach.' So I think he will be."
On how the combination of junior RHP Jonathan Gray and junior LHP Dillon Overton compare to some of the best in the country: "It's as good as any. There's no question about it. I've never had two potential first rounders. When I came back as associate head coach we had David Purcey, and that was luxury on Friday, but then you really had to turn around and battle. We had Daniel McCutchen, pitching in the big leagues now, as a Friday guy. That was pretty special. I was talking to Zach Neal who was our No. 1 when we went to Omaha in 2010, and I don't remember exactly what round Zach went, but he's special, and he's probably going to pitch in the big leagues someday. He was even raving about how well (Dillon) Overton and Jonathan Gray are throwing the baseball right now."
On junior LHP Dillon Overton's progression: "Just maturity that you see with young people as they get older. We see it with a lot of players. I always use Bryant Hernandez his freshman year from California being homesick. Sophomore year, struggling in and out of the lineup; junior year, a man among boys. That's what I've seen with Dillon. His first year, I get a phone call, it was the fall of his freshman year, and the trainer's like, Dillon's not feeling well. So, I call Dillon and I can tell he's in a car. I said, `Dillon, you're not feeling well?' And he said, `Yeah, I'm not feeling well, Coach. I said, `Are you in a car?,' and he said yes. I said, `I thought you weren't feeling well.' And he said, `I'm on my way home. I'm going to go home [to Weatherford] and rest and get some chicken noodle soup.' So, we had a good time with that. If you're sick, we have to teach you, stay here. We have trainers and doctors that can take care of you. You don't have to run home. I let the team have a good time with him. We nicknamed him "Chicken Noodle Soup" his freshman year. He's far from that now, and that's what's fun. We bring in young men, not boys, and we hope they leave our program as men. And I would say that Dillon Overton and Jonathan Gray, Jack Mayfield, Max White have developed into men. Young men, but men the same."
Sr. OF/INF Max White
On if as a freshman, he thought he would return to OU as a senior: "Three years ago, I thought of every possibility in the world. I was a freshman just having fun. After the year I had, I thought I had potential to go, but it didn't happen. I have to say I am excited to be back as a fourth-year guy."
Jr. RHP Jonathan Gray
On the strengths and weaknesses of the team: "Strengths -we have a lot of strengths this year. Our bats look great, we have a great lineup, good speed, young players that are smart, dominate pitching staff, great defense. I really honestly don't see any weaknesses. Great team chemistry. I think it's going to carry us a long way."
On the pitching combination of him and Dillon Overton: "I know that ours works really well. We are two different kinds of guys- left-handed, right-handed, two different bodies, two different kinds of pitchers. It works really well. It will throw off teams. Just with our team chemistry and me and Dillon being best friends, I think it's great."
Sr. INF Garrett Carey
On his excitement about the start of the season: "I can't wait. This is the slowest week so far. It can't come fast enough."
Sr. INF/RHP Jack Mayfield
On moving to shortstop: "I played shortstop in high school. I am just happy to move over there and help the team any way I can. I like it over there because I have a little bit more control, and they kind of let me work on that. I really like that. I think I could help the team that way - keep the pitchers under control, and they really trust me. I think that's the one thing, is they trust me a lot, so they have confidence, and that gives me confidence in myself, too."
On being a team captain: "It's a great feeling. It's awesome that they have the trust in us four guys. It is going to be a good year. The three other captains are amazing. We have great leadership. We have so many young guys that trust us. It's awesome just leading these guys and watching them kind of work under our wing and get better every day."
Jr. LHP Dillon Overton
On the dynamic of the team: "It was a little weird coming in and seeing all these different guys [with so many new players], but everybody got along great. Within a week and a half, we were all best friends, and that's what you need. Like I said, our chemistry is unbelievable, and it makes it fun to come to the field every day."
On his progression as a player: "This is my third season in this program, and the way I've matured and grown up a little bit makes me able to be a lot more calm out there and confident in what I'm doing."
Jr. LHP Billy Waltrip
On if there is potential for the team to go to Omaha and win a World Series: "It is definitely there. When I first got here, I could already tell that, the team chemistry from last year to this year, I didn't really know the difference, but when we first came in, the team chemistry here was unbelievable. This is the most close I have ever felt to a team, regardless of high school or junior college. It started with our leaders. They are always with us. They always talk to us. They make sure that we are doing the right things."
On the atmosphere surrounding the team: "It is really fun. Every practice, no matter if it is cold or not, we always laugh and have fun with everyone. It is a really fun team to be around."
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