The Diamond Ducks are prepared to take the field once again after a disappointing finish last season that left them watching the college World Series instead of participating. The driving rain pushed baseball's media day inside the Mo Center where ATQ got to speak with Coach George Horton, Pitcher Christian Jones and Outfielder Brett Thomas. Coach Horton praised his team "Coach Radcliffe, our strength and conditioning coach continues to rave about their commitment to excellence, that's always a good sign."
Oregon returns all their infield starters from a year ago which makes life easy for the infield coach. "Our infield coach feels like he's been on vacation, because those guys are very good baseball players and they're also good leaders who take care of business...we should be very competent in the infield."
The loss to Kent State still seems to sting this Oregon squad as Thomas commented about their approach to this season while looking back at last season. "It's a little on running joke now. That's all you can really do is laugh...that ball will probably never drop in this program again." Jones seemed focused when talking about the play repeating himself "Just making sure it will never happen." In the first practice the Ducks faced at least 4 of those fateful bloop singles to left field in the Ducks first pop fly drill. Horton commented about working on that play, "It's not what happened in the past, it's what you do about what happened in the past." Thomas was the player in the outfield when the ball dropped in to give Kent State the win and he spoke on his own thoughts on the play later on, musing "It took me a real long time to get over that, and I think that if people said they didn't think about that final play any more, they'd be lying."
As the preseason rankings come out, Oregon is being looked on favorably, being ranked in the top 10 in each ranking which comes out. The Ducks seem to be of a single mindset when looking at their ranking. They have to finish the job. George Horton's point of view is "We didn't finish the job in conference and we didn't finish the job in the super regional here...as much as we accomplished last year with a #5 national ranking we still feel like we came up short on some of our goals and objectives." When pressed on what objectives the Ducks have this season Horton had a clear focus, "You start with the league championship, there's four teams out of the Pac ranked in the top 10 in the pre season rankings and six in the top 25. If we can win a Pac-12 championship, that means were a good baseball team."
The Ducks will try to fill in at the backstop having lost Aaron Jones and Brett Hambright to graduation. Coach Horton is encouraged though stating he has "3 athletes who will be competing to try to become the starter. We'll miss Aaron Jones and Brett Hambright but it will be an opportunity for one of those three guys to step up to take hold of such a critical position."
"I think we'll be as good as some of the pitching that is coming back from injury." Horton said and one of those pitchers who is coming back from Tommy John surgery is Christian Jones. Coach feels that Jones could have been the ace on the staff last season but went down due to surgery. He commented a bit on the mental side of Tommy John surgery, "You go out on the mound, [medically] cleared and facing batters and you try to let it go but something in your mind says ‘you hurt yourself doing this' and it won't let you do 100% right off the bat."
The new season is only a few weeks away when the Ducks go on the road to face Hawai'i in a four game set. Oregon's first home series of the season come against Loyola Marymount in a weekend series then a quick one game visit from Portland. This team appears to be poised to make another run at a conference championship and perhaps earn a trip to the big dance in Omaha to play for all the marbles.