June 17, 2011
(OMAHA) -Cal head coach David Esquer particpated in a pre-series press conference Friday at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha on the eve of the 2011 College World Series. Here's what he had to say.
HEAD COACH DAVID ESQUER
We're fortunate we've been to the postseason three of the last four years and have made an early exit. So we were still kind of looking to get over that next hump, and to have our win in the Houston regional and see our kids experience that excitement and the great opportunity to host at Santa Clara and the two wins there. It's been so gratifying as a coach and a program.
We also, like South Carolina, had an unusual year. Our unusual year is because of events outside the program. Well documented about them cutting our program, and just the uncertainty for not only the players but just the alumni about what was in store for the Cal baseball program.
But because of some people that wouldn't take no for an answer, and some strong alumni and a lot of money, our program is back in the athletic department, to see our kids kind of rally around themselves and commit themselves to their coaching staff and their teammates and the school, because they all made a commitment to come back after the fall semester, it's been just quite a ride. Quite a ride.
I've been blessed to have been here as a player and as an assistant coach, but it's even more special to come here to bring your own team into Omaha. To have been at Rosenblatt Stadium a few times and I've been lucky enough to do that, but to be here in the inaugural year of the TD Ameritrade Stadium, you talk about a dream come true, it's beyond that for us because it's even more special to see our kids' faces when they first saw the plane surface and the stadium here. That was priceless.
Little bit about our club. We're built the same way, a lot like coach was saying here. It's pitching and defense. It sounds cliché, but it's the truth. If you don't pitch and play defense with the way the coach is this year, you're just not going to be able to outslug and outmuscle anybody anymore.
So you've got to be a well-rounded baseball team. We've relied on our starting pitching. We've returned all three of our starters from a year ago, so Erik Johnson, Justin Jones and Dixon Anderson are the cornerstone of our whole team. And we had to play better defense. Thankfully we've improved ourselves over the year, and that's been the major difference for us.
Offensively we feature two kids that are probably the standouts of our offense. Tony Renda our second baseman was the Pac 10 Player of the Year, and Chadd Krist our catcher also a Pac 10 player, but they hit right in the middle of our order. They have to drive in runs for us. The tops and bottom of the order have to get on base for us and give us those opportunities to fence a little bit like we do on the west coast. No different that we have to do that this week to perform here.
We've found over the years that the teams that can relax and play their games and get comfortable early enough here are the team that performs the best. That's why getting here your first time you play a little tense and tight. If we can get over those, we'll give ourselves a chance to perform like we know we can. Like Coach said, the field is good enough for anyone to win, and we're just happy to be here."
On his first impressions of TD Ameritrade Park Omaha
So we got close, I said hey, bus driver, tell me when the last place we couldn't see the stadium. So he kind of gives me the high sign.
I asked our team, I said this is corny, I know, but indulge me, close your eyes. So I had them close their eyes. And I kind of talked them through a little bit of what our season meant to us, you know, starting the fall and before our first practice our program was cut. How our freshmen didn't even get one official practice before they thought they would have to go somewhere else. Just kind of the normal baseball things, because our season was filled with normal baseball adversity. You sign up to play baseball and you're going to have to go through it. That's why we feel it's such a great lesson for life. Whether it was our hot start at the beginning of the year and then a couple of rough ballgames, a 17 inning game with Arizona State that we lost, and then probably didn't recover for four or five games and then had that hangover, trying to battle back.
Just the experience of being with each other, just being in a regional with your best friends and unable to host in front of our donors and our alumni that put up $9.6 million to keep you running.
We got to the stadium, and got there and the bus driver pulled up he stopped and he said when you make a decision to commit to each other and work hard and fulfill all those promises that everyone kind of makes about having the best season and then actually have the toughness to go through maybe some off the field adversity and still make it through, there is a chance that you're given those opportunities that can you realize your dreams and get to the destination that you've been shooting for the whole year.
I said then the destination is here. Okay, now open your eyes and to see their faces is pretty rewarding. It's a goal, but it's one of those that you don't know until you go through it and get here and see their faces and realize they were actually in Omaha was priceless.
I had a reporter ask me yesterday, hey, coach, how is your day today? I said any morning you can wake up in Omaha is a great day."
On Virginia's lineup
It's a tremendous challenge for us. But any team here that you play is going to be a tremendous challenge. You don't duck anybody. There is no easy road. No lighter schedule or lighter road to winning a championship.
But, hey, the challenge of playing the No. 1 seed and the top rated team in the country. If you don't get to leave the tournament without playing the best, you may have missed something, so that's good for us."
On the status of LHP Justin Jones
On Cal's pitching rotation for the first two games of the CWS