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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook Special, Part Two
Friday, February 14, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Mazey has vision for college game

[Editor's Note: The following Pirate Notebook Special, by Denny O'Brien, is Part Two of two parts. The first installment of this special feature about East Carolina baseball coach Randy Mazey was published on Wednesday and can be viewed by clicking here...]


Randy Mazey is very outspoken about his goals for the East Carolina baseball program.

Conference USA championships, NCAA No. 1 seeds, trips to Omaha, and national titles are all on his agenda, which is comprised of an ambitious list of To Do's he would like to check off one by one in the near future.

Apparently, though, the first-year Pirates coach also has a plan which extends beyond East Carolina and Harrington Field. Mazey, who has been coaching at the Division-I level since 1990, is calling for radical changes in the college game.

"College baseball needs some help," Mazey said. "It's going in the right direction as far as the facilities and everything, but that's coming from within. That's coming from the Universities. That's not coming from the outside.

"I think somebody needs to take a real serious look at college baseball and analyze this thing and figure out what's best for the sport."

Checking in with the Pirates coach might be a good start.

While college football and basketball have flourished as revenue sports that attract overflow crowds and boast lucrative television deals, baseball has floundered. Most Division-I programs struggle to attract more than 500 fans on a daily basis, making baseball a major financial burden at most schools.

Mazey, who is a baseball purist, says there is a simple way to address that issue.

"I think what it's going to take for this to be a revenue sport is for the (NCAA) to make college baseball a summertime sport," he said. "I don't think it's right to have a college sport like baseball be literally unfair for half of the country. Half of the country just does not have the facilities. They can't play early in the season like the teams in Florida and Arizona."

By the time East Carolina takes the field this afternoon for its opener against Western Carolina, Arizona State will have played 15 games. Arizona and Florida State have already played six games apiece.

By comparison, both Seton Hall and Connecticut open their seasons February 21, with each having its schedule front-loaded with road games in warmer climates.

Mazey says he would like to see the season begin following the final exam period in early May and run until August, bringing true meaning to the term "Boys of Summer." As it is now, players in the north must deal with the painful sting produced by aluminum bats in frosty weather for at least half the season.

To avoid that scenario, most northern high school stars migrate to the south, further accentuating an uneven balance in the college game today.

"They (northern schools) can't recruit those northern kids," he said. "All the northern kids who are serious about playing college baseball go to programs in the south.

"Half the country is fighting a losing battle in this sport. If I had more of a voice in college baseball, I would like to see that changed. There's no reason it can't be changed. I hate to see these minor league programs drawing 9,000-10,000 people a game and college baseball programs averaging 200-300 a game."

Moving the season back could also boost college baseball's television appeal. Outside of local and regional networks, college baseball receives hardly any national television exposure, with the lone exception being the College World Series.

With warmer weather, Mazey says fan interest would increase, with baseball not having to compete with college basketball at any point during the season.

There are other advantages, too, such as the benefits student athletes would reap from taking full course loads in the spring semester and the additional hours that can be earned during summer sessions. Since baseball consumes more time out of class than most sports, players have to scale down their hours during the season.

By and large, players don't play catch-up on their academics during the summer, either, with wooden-bat organizations like the Cape Cod and Coastal Plain leagues offering players an opportunity to improve their game over the summer.

According to Mazey, all that could be corrected if the powers that be would listen.

"Every time it comes to a vote across the country," Mazey says, "usually the northern teams vote to move it back and the southern teams vote to keep it where it is because they have the advantage. You never get anywhere.

"I think the coaches out there, instead of looking at what's best for (them) and (their) program, need to look at what's best for this sport. I would love to see that happen."

Immediate issues

In the meantime, Mazey maintains his focus on things he can control, such as the Pirates' goals of winning a conference championship and punching a ticket to Omaha.

For that to happen this year, the Pirates must replace several everyday players, including the core of their defense. Centerfielder Warren Gaspar, second baseman Jed Sorenson, and catcher Clayton McCullough are gone, but Mazey doesn't seem concerned about filling their voids.

Ryan Jones will shift over to center with Kevin O'Sullivan the likely starter at second. Mazey says John Poppert throws as well as any catcher he has coached, so there shouldn't be a defensive drop off behind the plate this season, either.

However, Mazey is having some anxiety regarding pitching, where the Pirates lost two weekend starters, including staff ace Sam Narron.

"We didn't sign any left-handed pitching to replace Sam Narron, which concerns me a lot," Mazey said. "Davey (Penny) is probably the most talented guy on the staff, but more goes into being a No. 1 pitcher than talent and we're hoping Davey can fill that role because he has been successful in the past.

"We've got four guys that are all capable in Davey Penny, Neal Sears, Will Brinson, and Glenn Tucker. Those are four senior pitchers who all have a great deal of experience and have been successful. We're going to let those guys battle it out. They're going to pitch the majority of our innings. It's going to be an interesting battle between those four to see how it all turns out."

Sears performed the most consistently of all the Pirates' pitchers last season, but did so coming out of the bullpen where he has spent much of his career. Tucker is also career reliever.

With four right-handed starters, ECU desperately needs a couple of southpaws to contribute valuable innings, or foes will heavily load their lineups with left-handed bats. So far, it's the right-handers who have shown the most promise in preseason.

"We've got some depth, but there's going to be a little bit of a drop off from those four to the next guy we bring in," Mazey said. "Of course, we've got Greg Bunn who has proven himself as a pretty good closer. He's very talented.

"Then, it's just a bunch of hardworking guys — overachievers — who are going to have to pitch well to be successful. Scott Green is going to be very important for us."

Mazey spent much of the fall and a lot of the spring searching for a couple of powerful bats to protect No. 3 hitter Darryl Lawhorn. Jason Tourangeau, a former pitcher, emerged as a dark horse during the fall and could become the Pirates' everyday DH.

Lawhorn's versatility in the field has also enabled Mazey to try several defensive combinations in an attempt to find more offense. First baseman Ryan Norwood and third baseman Mark Minicozzi can also provide long-ball support, meaning Lawhorn may move to right field.

"We started fall practice looking for that (clean-up) guy, but we don't know that we've found him yet," Mazey said. "Ryan Norwood is a candidate. He's a big, power-hitting first baseman who can hit the ball out of the park just about any time.

"Mark Minicozzi has stepped up and been one of our better players this spring and has hit some home runs. He's a candidate to hit with Darryl if people elect to pitch around him. But we're still not settled on it yet. We've still got some issues there."

Spark plug

One area that doesn't concern Mazey is left field, which will be manned primarily by senior Ben Sanderson. A part-time starter last season, Sanderson batted a sizzling .405 and boasts a .347 career average.

At 5'8", 160-pounds, Sanderson isn't the Pirates' most talented player, but he has emerged as the heartbeat of this year's team.

"When you mention the word spark plug, Ben Sanderson comes to mind," Mazey said. "He's not very talented. He doesn't have much bat speed, he doesn't throw very well, and he just runs OK. But he gets more out of his ability than any player I've ever coached.

"He's a gamer. He puts his heart and soul into East Carolina University and representing this school on the baseball field."

Sanderson was recently recognized for his hustle and grit when Mazey awarded him jersey No. 23, which was the number worn by former Pirates coach Keith LeClair. When discussions arose about the number being retired, LeClair requested that the jersey be worn each season, so it was decided that it would become an honorary number given to a deserving player.

The Pirates' senior best displayed the qualities of his former coach and Mazey says that, because of his desire and determination, the sky is the limit for Sanderson.

"Nothing that Ben could do would surprise me," Mazey said. "I told him when I met with him at the end of the fall that I wouldn't be surprised to see Ben Sanderson in the big leagues because he plays with his heart.

"That's something you can't teach. Last year, he hit over .400 in limited duty. Nothing he could do would surprise me because of his desire and attitude. You dream of having a whole team full of Ben Sandersons."

New horizons

As Mazey looks at this season and beyond, he has to like the possibilities. Already one of the nation's premier programs, East Carolina resides in a conference that received five NCAA bids last season — second most among all leagues — and continues to improve.

That success has opened new doors for the Pirates, who recently inked a deal for a future trip to play at traditional heavyweight Arizona State. But with the new stadium just a couple of seasons away, Mazey isn't looking to schedule many more non-conference road trips.

Instead, he wants to bring a Who's Who list of opponents to Greenville.

"We're going to try to bring teams like that here," Mazey said. "With the new stadium, we're going to try to attract good caliber, good quality teams to come play in some tournaments in 2005.

"It's hard for us to travel. As much as we travel in Conference USA, we've got five flights in this league, which is expensive. It's going to be very sporadic when we can get on the road and play that type of competition, but we would love to attract people like that to come here and play in our new stadium."

That's just a small sample of Mazey's vision for East Carolina and, on a larger scale, college baseball.

And you have to admit, it's a pretty good one.


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02/23/2007 01:51:57 AM

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