Baseball Season begins on Friday and the Wildcats start off with a 4-day road trip. Their season opener is against Virginia in Wilmington, North Carolina at noon on Friday. Saturday they take on UNC-Wilmington at 4:00, also in Wilmington. Sunday they close out their visit to Wilmington with VMI at 10:00 a.m. Monday, they travel to Spartanburg, South Carolina to take on USC Upstate at 1:00. Their home opener is later this month, February 25 against Wright State.
Kentucky received votes in the preseason to be ranked, but remain unranked despite their success the last few seasons. Their first opponent, however, is ranked #1. Despite being unranked, the Cats are looking to have a successful season. Centerfielder Austin Cousino and pitcher/first baseman A.J. Reed have both been named preseason All-Americans by Baseball America. Cousino, Reed and Chandler Shepherd- all juniors- have been ranked top-100 college players available for the 2014 MLB draft in a preseason ranking.
On media day, their coach, Gary Henderson said this is a mature team and a “tremendous benefit”. Coach Henderson also commented on the number of JUCO transfers they brought in, “We have had tremendous success here junior college wise. If you have been a follower of our program, we have probably had more success with junior college players than anyone in the league I think over the past decade. It’s been kind of phenomenal really.”
Of course the question of the weather was addressed at media day as well. “Well, we don’t talk about the weather. Does it present some challenge? Yea it does. It doesn’t really make any difference. It is what it is. We have what we have. We haven’t been outside. This is certainly my worst winter of 11. We’ve had similar winters before and what I know from that experience is it takes you a week or two longer to get it going. Baseball is a game that you have to play. You can drill it, you can cage it, you can throw in the bullpens all you want, but you’ve got to play the game. Until we get those repetitions under our belt and we get that experience you’ll expect that maybe the game is not quite as crisp in weeks one and two as you’d like, but you’ll grow from it. I think the kids know that and as long as our hearts in the right spot and the work ethic stays the same and we are constantly proving our ability to concentrate and play the game a pitch at a time and really have a true commitment to competitive at bats, I think we’ll be fine. The thing that you are going to constantly battle early on when you haven’t had the field time is giving away extra bases. You are not quite as sharp defensively as you’d like. You can hit all the ground balls you want inside Nutter and it’s not the same as a live ball coming off the bat, so you know that for your infielders. The running game is something we work extremely hard on here, but still that’s a transitional piece from practice to the games that the pitchers you have got to become comfortable then aggressive with. Then that confrontation you have between the pitcher and the hitter is something that is not the same in practice than in a game. I think our kids know that. The game will get cleaner as the spring goes on. I tell our guys all the time, and I think they believe me, that the game changes between week two and week three of SEC play. It just does. It gets better. I think you see the same thing in the preseason. Hopefully we get to play all the preseason games and don’t get rained out and have to reschedule. If we do that, by the time we get to Tuscaloosa, we should be ready to go.” Henderson said.
There has also been talk of new baseball facilities as well. While talk of baseball upgrades have taken a backseat to football and basketball, Henderson says that it will happen in time, “The bigger issue for me with the stadium is that it is a statement to where the program is. We are in the conference. It is time. Mitch is aware that obviously things like that take time. It is a huge expenditure of money. And if you have watched anything that Mitch has done during his time here it is all about facility improvement. Everything has gotten better. And once we get the football practice facility started here, the only thing that is left is baseball and I just turn that into a positive, the longer we wait, the better it is going to be. That is the way it is going to happen and I will be very glad to be a part of it. Mitch is very supportive and I appreciate him listening to me because I wear him out pretty frequently about it.” He continued saying that it would give Kentucky a recruiting advantage.
#14, Chandler Shepherd says he is ready to start off the season, even if it is against the #1 team. “It’s a huge game, but we’re really excited for it. We’ve put in so much work in the offseason and continued to this spring. We’re all just ready to go. That’s all we’re talking about and it’s to the point now where we’re just ready to let loose and have fun and play ball. It’s that time.”
Last season, Kentucky ended with a 30-25 record (19-12 home, 8-12 away, 3-1 neutral, 11-19 conference).