Bakich Has Success In Sight
Feb. 1, 2010
Optimism means having a confident, hopeful demeanor. If anyone could spend some time with first-year head baseball coach Erik Bakich and his staff, they'd find there is no shortage of optimism at Shipley Field at Bob "Turtle" Smith Stadium.
Bakich came to College Park in June 2009 after building a reputation as one of the nation's best recruiters during seven seasons as an assistant at Vanderbilt. He is the man challenged with turning around the Maryland baseball program. The Terps haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1971 and have struggled in the powerhouse Atlantic Coast Conference. Despite Maryland's shortcomings throughout the years, Bakich jumped at the opportunity to become head coach in College Park.
"I've always thought Maryland baseball was a sleeping giant, from the time that I played against them to the time I coached at Vanderbilt," said Bakich. "I always thought this was a program that could be a powerhouse in the ACC and on the national stage."
Bakich is insistent on having a blue-collar team that prides itself in out-working the competition. That will be a necessity in the early going as the Terps try to change the culture and go into games mentally prepared to defeat any of the six ACC teams ranked in the top 25.
"Will beats skill every single time," said Bakich. "We are going to be out-skilled on paper when you line up our roster next to the so-called juggernauts of college baseball in our conference. But nobody has out-trained us, nobody has out-worked us, nobody will out-hustle us and no one will out-will us."
Talk to anyone involved with the program in the past 10, 15 or 20 years, and optimism abounds about Bakich and his staff of tireless workers. Optimism also fuels the effort at Shipley Field. Bakich, along with recruiting coordinator Dan Burton and assistant coaches Sean Kenny and Nolan Neiman, have worked nearly around the clock looking to turn the tide on Maryland's recruiting efforts, going after top-ranked players nationally.
The effort paid off in the fall signing period as the Terps signed nine recruits for the 2010 class, including the top two players from Maryland. The Terps also signed the No. 1 recruit from New Hampshire, the No. 2 recruits from Virginia and Connecticut, and the No. 125 recruit in the nation - Patrick Leyland, son of Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
Another reason for optimism is the fact that Bakich has a distinct plan to succeed and has already been involved with two turnarounds in college baseball. He spent two years as a third baseman and outfielder at East Carolina, helping the Pirates win 46 games in both 1999 and 2000 after they hadn't surpassed the 30-win mark in the four prior seasons. ECU won back-to-back conference titles and was the No. 1 seed in an NCAA regional in both of Bakich's seasons.
Then came Bakich's stint at Vanderbilt. He arrived in 2003 to a program that hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1980 and hadn't participated in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in eight years.
In his first season there, with only 26 players and seven pitchers, Vandy made the SEC Tournament and built a foundation for what was to come. The next season, the Commodores earned an NCAA Tournament bid, won a regional championship and advanced to the Super Regional. Vanderbilt is now a perennial contender in the loaded SEC and attracts top talent such as David Price, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball draft.
Bakich is quick to point out parallels between Vanderbilt and Maryland, and says the two elements to Vanderbilt's success will be the same at Maryland.
"Recruiting and development - which are the two cornerstones of this program, enabled us to have a great amount of success in a short time at Vanderbilt," said Bakich. "Those are exactly the things that our coaching staff and I expect to do here as well."
From the day Bakich arrived, he immediately set his sights on getting the Terps to the ACC Tournament this season. Only the top eight of 12 teams qualify and Bakich says making the ACC Tournament will be the first goal each season. It will be an uphill battle in the first season, as the roster is short on power-hitting and filled with several walk-ons. But Bakich's approach has been to develop each player so they reach their maximum potential.
"We're teaching these guys to play each pitch, each inning, each game, each day, with a focus on developing themselves to their maximum potential," said Bakich. "And as it pertains to baseball, not living in the past, not thinking about the future, but living in the present moment and that's tough to do."
With Bakich's proven success in recruiting and his ability to maximize players' abilities, there is little doubt it's only a matter of time before optimism fuels success at Maryland.