Washington begins full-squad practices on Friday, Jan. 24 and starts the 2014 baseball season on Friday, Feb. 14 with a double-header against Air Force and Michigan at the Texas State Tournament. Coach Lindsay Meggs sat down with GoHuskies.com to talk about numerous subjects, including his team’s progress since fall practice, what it’s like to watch Husky Ballpark go up around him and the prospects for the upcoming season. This is the first of three season preview installments. Up next, a preview of hitters, followed by a preview of the Huskies’ pitching staff.
With just a couple days away from getting in full swing, can you take me back to the fall and talk about what you wanted to accomplish and what you saw from the guys?
Coach Lindsay Meggs: Fall for us was about a lot of things, but first and foremost we wanted to try to create an identity offensively. We wanted to be able to identify 12 core guys of our 21 hitters who we felt like could help us win a baseball game every time out regardless of the circumstances. Whether it’s hitting the ball out of the park because that is the way the elements played that day, or if it was going to be a 3-2 base-running and short-game kind of approach. We wanted to be able to cover all of the bases offensively and I think we got a pretty good feel for that.
I think this was one of our better falls from top to bottom; the short game, driving the ball out of the park, running the bases. I felt really good about the balance that we had. I thought that was one of our main goals to end the fall on a strong note, feeling good about where we were offensively and I think we accomplished that.
Is it safe to say that you are going to have one of the toughest jobs this year as manager, trying to find playing time and keeping everyone happy?
Coach Meggs: That is a great problem to have. It is the first time since we have been here that is going to be difficult for our first year guys and our freshman to get on the field. In the past, the guys that we have brought in the last three years were probably a little bit more capable and a little bit more athletic than the people we had returning.
The juniors we have on this team this year were really the first group of guys that we have had success with on the recruiting front. We are a junior dominated team. Our third baseman should be a junior, our shortstop should be a junior, our second baseman should be a junior, our first baseman should be a junior, we have a junior in left field, a junior and senior in right field, a sophomore in center, a junior or senior behind the plate, and juniors and seniors on the mound. That is what you are always hoping for as a talented veteran team that has been through the wars. That is what we have.
We love our freshmen and they are going to help us down the road and they are going to have to contribute for us and have the success we want, but it is going to be difficult early to get those guys on the field because what we have coming back.
Where do you expect other to perceive your team to be in the conference pecking order?
Coach Meggs: It has not come out yet and I would expect us to be from the middle to the bottom. That is just the stereotypical feel in this conference. You are going to have UCLA, you are going to have Arizona and Arizona State, you are going to have Stanford, you are going to have Oregon and Oregon State because of what they have done in the last 10 years and then you are going to have everyone else at the bottom.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see us anywhere from 8-11. We tied with the University of Arizona last year in fifth place; literally 15-15 in conference and we felt good about that. Our goal after four seasons was to be in the middle of the conference and we felt like we achieved that. We now feel like it is time to move into the top third, in what I believe to be the most talented conference in the country.
I don’t get caught up in the preseason stuff. I know where we are and I know what people think about baseball in the northwest other than Oregon and Oregon State, so they can think whatever they want to think; it doesn’t matter to us. We are only caught up in what we think about and what our players are thinking and what our coaching staff expects, regardless of how things go we feel good about our team.
Do you think that you 15-15 record in the conference last season showed the kids that are here that you can compete with anybody?
Coach Meggs: I think that is exactly what it did. Ii proved to them that our approach is a sound approach and I think it surprised them a little bit because we were so beat up. For us to be able to do what we did in the second half of the season with the injuries that we had I think has everyone excited. Now that we are healthy we have proven we can do that. In this conference, seven times out of ten, if you finish with a .500 record in the conference you are going to play in the post season. We had gotten off to such a bad start in the beginning of the season last year, and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot but that it has everyone excited and wanting to pick it up back where we left off.
You guys were 4-16 after 20 games and 20-16 the rest of the way. After such a slow start last year, how key is it to avoid that this season?
Coach Meggs: It is a challenging non-conference schedule. There is no question about that. For the purpose of momentum and confidence, (a fast start) is what we are all after.
I think it is really important, but I don’t think it’s critical or life and death. The RPI is going to recognize the quality people we are playing in non-conference, but at the same time you want to establish a winning feeling early on so that can carry over to the Pac-12 Conference. We are optimistic and hopeful that we will get off to a much better start.
You have an interesting schedule, being that you don’t have your first true home opener until March 21st. What is going to be like playing in Tacoma?
Coach Meggs: It is a great park and a great facility. The immediate concern I have is that we practice and you play predominantly on the turf, then you go to the grass and it will be much quicker for us than our guys sometimes are comfortable with. But that is baseball and that is something we will deal with regardless of where we go.
It will be a different routine for us to get on a bus to got to a home game and it will feel like we are visitors during a home weekend, but that is something that we are all willing to endure to get this thing done and to be able to open up on the 21st against Arizona here on a Friday night for our first Pac-12 home game. That is a very small inconvenience for us to get what we are going to get.
Every day you come to work you get to see the progress of Husky Ballpark. Seeing how things have changed around you, how excited are you for that March 21st game?
Coach Meggs: I am excited for everybody. I am excited for our athletic administration, which has stepped up to the plate and made baseball a priority here. I am excited for our alumni who I have talked to for three years about how important it is to them to finally get this thing done and to feel like the University of Washington is on par with everyone in this conference, in terms of facilities.
We have had some great players come here over the years that expected this to happen while they were here, but for some reason or another it never did. We want to include them when we talk about how exited we are for everybody who has ever been a part of this program.
I am thrilled for our guys because they feel like they have a home they can be proud of. For the first time we have been here there is going be some swagger when we come out of the locker room because we feel like we are going to have an advantage because of where we are playing and the energy that goes along with it. We will feel like Stanford does when they play at home, like we are playing in a ballpark where we should have an advantage and people should be in the stands to watch the games. It is just going to be a great feeling.
Are you finding that it is already helping with recruiting, just being able to tell kids that we are going to have a whole new building?
Coach Meggs: We have had kids on this campus from the northwest to California to Arizona, who I think it is safe to say, who probably wouldn’t have spent their own dime to have an unofficial visit to get on a plane and fly all the way out here. I don’t’ think they would incur that whole expense if they felt like we are totally sold on the ballpark and sold on the commitment of the program and their ability to win. I think it’s made a huge difference for us.
Recruiting being the way it is, I’m not embarrassed to say that we had a 9th grader and a 10th grader here over the weekend on unofficial visits from California, who are going to be as highly recruited as anybody in their class is because of the types of players they are, willing to pay for their own unofficial visit because they are really intrigued and excited about what they are seeing and about what they are hearing about the University of Washington.
What is this group like to coach? What are you finding out about them and their makeup as ballplayers?
Coach Meggs: What I like about our group is that they have been through everything. Brian Wolfe is fifth year guy who I didn’t even recruit. He came in with the class that came here when I arrived. He is a guy who has seen everything from top to bottom.
We have a lot of high profile guys who were drafted right out of high school who knew that the first year or two here might be a little bit rocky for them and for us because of the whole transition and the whole desire to change the culture the way we wanted to. The crazy thing is that we had last year with the injuries, an awful start, and a very productive finish. It was a roller coaster ride for everybody and I think it taught everybody that regardless of how you start or regardless of how you finish, you have to play all nine innings.
That is one of the things we talked about this fall, and it was one of the things we talk about every day. Everything is important and everything counts. I think our guys understand that and I think we have a level of maturity based on some of the hard knocks these guys have endured here.
They are ready, they are excited, they think it is their turn, they feel it’s their time, they feel like they are hitting on all cylinders not just on the field but with resources, equipment, and commitment by the coaching staff that everybody feels like its time to take that next step.
I love the feeling, I love the attitude, I love coming to work everyday to coach these guys. They are great students; they had a 3.05 team GPA. We had 25 guys with a 3.0 or higher. They like to learn, they listen, they are hungry, and they want to be part of the UW winning tradition in terms of what’s happening on this campus.
Can you touch on new assistant Donegal Fergus and what he does for this team?
Coach Meggs: Donegal is great. Donegal is a guy that for us quite honestly was a little outside the box.
When coach (Jordan) Twohig left to join one of my former assistants Greg Moore, who became the head coach of Cal State Northridge, as his number one assistant, we were thrilled for Jordan. We were in a position where we had some time to figure out exactly what we wanted and what we needed to fill that spot.
Obviously it is critical to be able to recruit this area and to know all the people in the Northwest. Donegal has been through all of the wars with those folks. He is well respected with everyone there. Part of it is that he is young and can talk the talk to kids who are trying to decide in this point in time where they are going to play college baseball.
He has been great for our players because he has taken the hitters and ran with those guys and done a very good job in establishing relationships with them. He is very knowledgeable and knows exactly what he is doing. But beyond the X’s and O’s, he has a great way of selling it to our guys and creating that confidence level. Since I have been here, we are at an all-time high in terms of how they feel about themselves offensively. I give him a lot of credit for all of that.