The leaves have begun turning maroon and orange to indicate the start of fall in Blacksburg, and Virginia Tech football isn’t the only sport turning heads. The Hokies’ baseball program has been hard at work in the fall to prepare for the season to come in the spring.
Under the direction of first year head coach John Szefc, Virginia Tech has been focusing on the basics. One area where the Hokies are looking to be more sound is on defense. Last year, Virginia Tech had a .965 fielding percentage, which was 205th in the nation.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in those areas of our team stuff, our team defense, our team baserunning,” Szefc said. “A lot of little things that can help you win close games. When you come back from January, you don’t have a ton of time to hit that stuff.
“The one area that I’ve seen the most from in terms of progress is the infield group, only because it’s the only group that is fully intact and not injured. We’ve been able to help develop that group in particular a little more thoroughly only because they’re all active. Some of our young arms have made a lot of progress with [pitching coach] Ryan Fecteau and some of the things he’s been doing with them.”
The Hokie roster is filled with 16 newcomers this year, including freshmen and JUCO transfers. The fall has been the perfect opportunity to get them acclimated to the program. Szefc pointed to redshirt-junior Nick Owens and freshmen Ian Seymour and Darion Jacoby as some newcomers who have stood out thus far.
“Nick Owens, an incoming shortstop, has had a really solid fall,” Szefc said. “He’s a very steady defender. From a freshman perspective, I’d say an arm that has been very intriguing for us has been Ian Seymour, a left-handed pitcher. Ryan Fecteau has seen him before he got to Blacksburg actually. His progress has been pretty rapid. I’d say on the offensive side, Darion Jacoby is maybe his [Seymour’s] match from a position player standpoint. His defense has been very impressive just as well as his offense.”
Still fresh on the Hokies’ mind this fall has been the lessons they’ve learned from sports psychologist Brian Cain. Cain visited the team for two days earlier in the year and went through routines with the Hokies to help them mentally condition themselves. Szefc constantly reinforces the lessons by showing the team one of Cain’s videos every practice. This leaves a lingering effect in the fall, and beyond just the two days that Cain was there.
“Some of the stuff with Brian, you can’t see it because it’s not in a swing or it’s not something physical that is going on,” Szefc said. “It’s more of a mental thing. One of the biggest things that he tries to get across to guys is buying into the process and not the outcome. It’s a big part of his message. That and being concerned with what you can control. There’s a lot of stuff in baseball you can’t control. A pitcher, once he releases the pitch, can’t really control what happens from there. Hopefully that’s something our guys have taken to heart.”
Virginia Tech will be closing out the fall with the annual Fall World Series, a three game intrasquad scrimmage series to get the competitive juices flowing one last time before the real action begins in the spring.
This year, the Hokies had a little fun and used a draft format to select the teams. Captains Connor Coward and Nic Enright were charged with drafting the players, and catcher Joe Freiday was given the honor of the first overall pick.
“We spend so much time together where you have to kick back a little bit and try to enjoy and have some fun,” said Szefc about the draft format. “If it’s all business all the time, guys will be miserable after a while.
“I think people will see very competitive games. You want the fall to end with clean baseball in all games regardless of the score. My big thing has always been, you want guys to finish the fall on a high note. It helps the team and the individual go into the offseason and stay motivated with winter workouts and getting ready for January and February.”
Fall World Series schedule:
- Game 1- October 26, 5:30 p.m.
- Game 2- October 30, 7:30 p.m.
- Game 3- November 3, 4:30 p.m.
All games are free and open to the public. They will be played at English Field at Union Park.
One Year Anniversary of Breaking Ground
This past Friday, Virginia Tech was able to take a look into the past to Oct. 20, 2016 when President Tim Sands, Director of Athletics Whit Babcock and several other dignitaries broke ground for the start of the $18 million project at English Field at Union Park. Every day, Szefc is able to see the tangible process and imagine what the finished product will look like. Along the way, it’s also helped him remember his humble roots.
“It’s [English Field at Union Park] going to be a pretty special place when that whole thing is done,” Szefc said. “For me, when I go out there and when I look at it, it’s a little reminder for me as far as my background. People laugh when I say this, but the first head job I had at Marist, we didn’t have any lights there. You had to play day games. When I went to Maryland, they had lights. That was a pretty cool thing for me personally. Now you go out and see this thing, and I don’t know what any baseball coach or any baseball program could ask for much more than what’s being put out there.”
Last week on Twitter, it was announced that Virginia Tech will now be using Rawlings equipment after using Easton in the past. At Maryland, Szefc developed a solid relationship with the Rawlings company and wanted to make the same brand present in Blacksburg.
“People at Rawlings were really, really good to me in my years at Maryland,” Szefc said. “Between having the department’s relationship with Nike and our baseball program’s relationship with Rawlings, we feel our guys are in the absolute best stuff when it comes to apparel on the Nike side and equipment on the Rawlings side. It does help in the recruiting process. Why wouldn’t it? All you have to do is turn on the TV and watch the big leaguers. 90 percent of those guys are wearing Rawlings gear. I just appreciate Rawlings sticking with us.”