I don’t know about you, but I still can’t get over WVU baseball’s “home” record this seasons. It’s 16-3. And when you really don’t have a home in the sense that a home field gives you advantages of familiarity and such, that record is probably a very trustworthy indication that you’re just good.
This is mentioned because, man, have the conversations changed here. Randy Mazey says the “home” schedule has been good for these Mountaineers because it added to the WVU-against-the-world attitude. Two years ago, Mazey’s predecessor, Greg Van Zant, said this:
“We came into the last weekend 13-11 [Ed: in the Big East] and I told the guys I was really proud of them,” Van Zant said. “Of that 13-11, we had nine games at home and 15 on the road. When you only have nine home games and 15 on the road and you’re 13-11, that’s pretty good.”
Mel Allen had a line for that…
GVZ coached out the string last season, fully aware he was finished when he unloaded on the circumstances he’d been working in during his time at WVU. Let’s not ignore the obvious: He was part of the problem — recruiting, coaching, overseeing, you name it — and you’re witnessing right now the difference a very good coach can make. Mazey has certainly done one of the best jobs in the country this season. I’m not one of those people saying he’s the national coach of the year, because I don’t pretend to know the landscape, but he’s obviously accomplished something here that merits inclusion in the conversation.
But let’s not ignore this, either. GVZ’s program was in dire need of help, too. He begged for it even on his way out the dugout.
“I bet you I personally saved the athletic department a half-million dollars on food throughout my career because I looked for bargains and tried to save money when other sports don’t have to do that,” he said.
“I’ve been the most frugal coach I could be because I tried to stretch a buck, and I did not mind doing it because I was told, ‘Don’t go over the budget or else.’ “
That was one of three annual goals Van Zant was issued when he met with his supervisors. He was reminded not to break any NCAA rules, to keep the APR and GPA where they needed to be and, no matter what, stay within the budget.
“And then it was to do the best you can with the limited resources, which we did,” he said.
In the end, it wasn’t enough for Van Zant, who’s been ousted in favor of a replacement who must deal with new expectations and old exasperations.
“Here’s my whole thing: All of a sudden the rules have changed, and I guess you’ve got to be conference champions every year now, which is fine. Believe me, the players and coaches want to win championships,” Van Zant said. “But you have to have all the parts in place to make it happen.”
We know quite well now WVU is invested in baseball. It’s a big deal. The Mountaineers hired a sharp coach and gave him a big salary and money to lure assistants. Scholarships are fully funded. They’ve tried to do the best they can with the travel.
It matters. Everything matters. But it’s working.
WVU enters this weekend’s Appalachian Power Park series against TCU in a tie for first-place in the Big 12 standings, which is still hard to fathom, but ought to make some sense now. Really, they’re not bad.
But the TCU series is an interesting, full circle sort of occasion.
You’ll remember I visited TCU in February to profile Mazey. And you’ll remember the bashful presentation of the report. The whole thing was very “Of course they’re going to say nice things about him, but, man, they sounded sincere!”
Go back now and read what the TCU coach and some of Mazey’s former players had to say and tell yourself it hasn’t happened already.
“He’s been a successful head coach before and he’s had to do it at a place like Charleston Southern, where they had nothing. That was a worse situation than at West Virginia,” Schlossnagle said. “Then he did it at East Carolina when he helped build a ball park there.
“I’m telling you, West Virginia hit more than a home run. They got a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in Omaha hiring him.”
Schlossnagle admits he has to be careful “not to make him sound like the next Joe Torre,” but conversations about Mazey here tend to trend that way. The Horned Frogs had their annual alumni game Saturday, a tradition Mazey lifted and put in place at WVU in the fall. Former players lined up to guarantee the Mountaineers were in good hands with Mazey.
“You’re talking about someone who, if he finally gets to the point, will jump you and get on you like something you’ve never seen. But that’s because the expectation level is where, as long as you’re playing for him, you’re going to give him 110 percent,” said former TCU pitcher Greg Holle, who ended last season in Class A of the Milwaukee Brewers organization.