When West Virginia decided to leap from the Big East to the Big 12, many wondered how the various athletic programs would fare in their new home.
Mountaineer baseball was no different, some even wondering if it’d make the transition at all.
As you know the program is still very much intact. It’s in a shiny new home that catches players’ attentions, is possibly playing as well as it ever has, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Not in the too distant past baseball at WVU was not something that had folks’ attention in the spring. Current players and coaches have noted at various times over the past 12 months or so that they’ve ran into people from the Mountain State or surrounding areas that weren’t aware of Hawley Field and the players that played on it.
“Everybody’s looking at us now. Some people didn’t even know we had a baseball team in this state,” Braden Zarbnisky said Thursday when asked about what last year did for the program. “Now everybody’s watching us and we have a target on our back.”
They’re all very aware now.
Since Randy Mazey’s arrival in 2013, the program has steadily improved, doing so in one of the best conferences in College Baseball, battling the likes of traditional powerhouses Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU – Mazey’s former employer.
Maybe a signal of the Mountaineers arrival was in the Big 12 preseason coach’s poll before the 2017 season. TCU received nine of the ten first-place votes.
West Virginia got the lone other.
With the new conference came a new field to play in.
WVU is 46-28 in Monongalia County Ballpark, which opened in 2015. But it was working it’s magic before the first shovel was put into the ground.
Duane Davis, the father of now-former Mountaineer infielder and outfielder Kyle Davis, told me a few years ago that when his son was being recruited by the Mountaineers the pictures of what would become the new stadium did the job.
That story holds true for other players on the roster as well.
Now, it’s the finished product that has become the selling point. Walking on the field this past season after multiple pre-game interviews for U-92 with Mazey, potential recruits watching the Mountaineers take batting practice would comment to one another about it.
One player, in particular, summed it up, “Damn this place is nice.”
Yes, it is.
A recent trip to the NCAA tournament can now get thrown into the recruiting pitch, as well. As can having on staff two of the most respected pitching coaches in college baseball in Mazey and Dave Serrano, who joined the Mountaineers this summer.
Serrano’s arrival maybe could not have come at a better time, entering a pitching staff that is talented but currently rehabbing injuries to some of it’s biggest pieces.
Serrano, meeting with the West Virginia media for the first time Thursday, said not much recruiting needed to be done on the part of Mazey to get him to come be a Mountaineer.
“I have a lot of respect for Randy Mazey, always have,” Serrano said. “Have coached against him. He was a friend, a peer, from afar.”
As the story goes, Mazey initially contacted Serrano about one of his assistants at Tennessee. Then he became the focus.
“I went home actually, like recruits should do, and went online,” Serrano continued. “I looked at the campus, I looked at the facility, and I was kind of blown away. I called him back and said, ‘That question you asked me, the answer would be yes. I would be interested.’ Credit to this program.
“I chose West Virginia one, for Randy Mazey and his coaching staff, and two, because of the direction that the program is going.”
There’s a sense around this team that hasn’t fully apparent before.
Entering the last two seasons the prospect of good things were certainly there. Now, though, that prospect or desire has turned into reality and expectations.
West Virginia now expects to be near the top of the Big 12 and have a true say in which team from the conference gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. It expects to be in said NCAA tournament, by way of winning the conference championship or making it on the merit of a good regular season. It now even expects to be one of the host teams for the regional tournament.
Even though first pitch of the 2018 season is over four months away we should believe them. Doubting them is only part of why they are where they are now.