bleedCrimson.net: Your first weekend of play with the ball club, your first weekend as a head coach. Your thoughts on the experience?
Brian Green: The experience was very emotional. I told the kids that when we were on the bus before we opened up on the first day. I said, “Hey, this is a really special moment and I’m honored to share this thing together and can’t wait to get on the field with you guys.” It was pretty crazy. It was really cool. We played Illinois who is a Top 25 program and I’ve known Dan [Hartleb] a little bit just being at Kentucky. The community of coaches, it was, “Hey, I’m rooting for ya.” It was a very cool experience. Then to actually go out there and play the way we did in the first three games, even though we don’t get a win, we’ve got a lead on Illinois twice in the ninth. They’re a legitimate Regional team, we pitched well, played well, plus defense and some clutch hitting late. It was really disappointing we didn’t get the results. We certainly went at them and competed well. Shoot, we could be sitting here talking about being 3-1 or 2-2. I know that’s baseball but our guys came out of the gates really competitive.
bc.net: When we talked last week you expressed that you were interested in seeing how your guys responded to adversity. What was your takeaway from that this weekend?
BG: It was kind of like, this is how we’re going to draw it up and see how it goes. It was interesting. To be quite honest there were some tentativeness at the plate. Our guys really, really want to do well and I thought they tried maybe a little too hard. We tried to calm them down and get them into the process. Offensively we didn’t look the way we looked even a week ago with rhythm and with some of the keys we have from an approach standpoint. Some of the guys who had first opportunities in the bullpen didn’t look like they’d looked in practice and you understand that’s all part of it and you have to let the guys go out and succeed or fail and create their own identity instead of trying to determine it for them, especially early in the season.
It was a quick four-game synopsis but we certainly have some things we wanted to address and got right into work today with really two days of work and practice and said let’s focus on these two things, both pitching and defense and let’s get back to work.
bc.net: Obviously once you get to that fourth game of a weekend with pitching, all bets are off but it looks like you had a pretty good weekend in the first three games in terms of starting pitching.
BG: No doubt. Barr gave us a great effort. Loeffler was outstanding. They both kept their pitch counts down. Those four game series are taxing on 2/3rds of America in terms of having four starters with the ability to give you seven strong and not tear into your bullpen. We found a little bit of that on Sunday and had to bring Billy [Conard] out a little bit earlier than we’d hoped for and obviously that stretched the pen and guys had to show up twice. But I agree, I felt really good about Riley [Barr], I felt really good about Matt [Loeffler] and if Bob [Kraft] can zero in a little bit better on concentration and keep some of his offspeed stuff down he can be very effective. He had one bad inning and that’s baseball also. It typically comes down to a bad inning or two.
bc.net: From a standpoint of your team taking all the lessons they learned in the fall and this little bit of spring practice leading up to the season starting, how do you feel like the kids did from the standpoint of execution of your team philosophy?
BG: I think it’s kind of a mixed bag. I think from a competitive standpoint, from a team standpoint, from a hustle standpoint, energy standpoint, the cultural things, I thought they were really good. I think if your’e watching us play, you’re going to say, “Hey these guys have real energy, they’re fun to watch.” That part was really good. From an execution standpoint of specifically the game, our bullpen guys late in counts didn’t go after guys with two strikes. I think Coach Mangrum would tell you that. They kind of centered some breaking stuff, some off-speed stuff that we would like to see expanded or varied. Offensively I think we saw the same thing. We have our three keys and we talked for six months in terms of this is what’s going to happen and that is what happened but I think mentally our guys were a little amped, a little nervous, trying a little too hard and we found ourselves not where we wanted to be. A little bit away from the plan. I think it’s probably a 50/50. Culturally really good, game execution and skill perspective was not where we’d like it. It was kind of a mixed bag.
bc.net: How much of that would you attribute to opening weekend and how much of it would you attribute to new coaching team, new coaching staff?
BG: I think both. I think new coaching staff more than anything. I felt like our guys wanted to do well. I really felt like the guys wanted to do so well for this team and for their teammates and their coaches, I honestly thought they put a little too much pressure on themselves and some of them flat out said that. I told them, “This is about us and you. You go out there and do your best. Don’t worry about what’s happening for Coach Green or Coach Mangrum or Brown or Jackson.” It’s a hard enough game without putting a little extra pressure on yourself. I really felt like they wanted to do really well for us which made us all really proud but at the same time getting back into playing the game a pitch at a time is what’s most important.
I think the first series of the year, that always plays a part but I think that wears off after the first game. I just felt for a lot of the weekend guys were just a little extra amped up and we’re going to see if we can calm them down a little bit over the next week.
bc.net: Individually were there certain players that stood out more than others in the first weekend?
BG: Mike Paulson had a great weekend. His quality at bat percentage was really high. He was very consistent in terms of having the kind of at bats we like to see a guy have. Cam Haskins, he’s a good story but he’s a guy who has a lot of toughness. He showed really good rhythm throughout the weekend. He had the monster pinch-hit home run. The matchup was right, he comes in off the bench and faces a legitimate All-Big Ten type conference pitcher. We leave the yard and know we have a lead going into the ninth. AJ Duran, a freshman off the bench gave us three quality at bats which is really impressive. Those three guys offensively.
In terms of on the mound, obviously Riley and Matt were flat out good. They were down in the zone, their secondary stuff was for strikes and they kept their pitch counts down and really gave our team a chance to win not just the game but the series. Obviously we’ll hope to continue that again as we go up to Oregon who is going to be a beast of an opponent.
bc.net: Quinnton Mack was a player who was out all of last year with injury. How would you assess his return to the field?
BG: He played great defense. He’s going to be one of the premier center fielders in our league. He has a huge arm, he has great range, he commands it out there. He’s a leader. Offensively, I think he would tell you that it was a C or a C-minus. His rhythm was off and he started pressing as the weekend went on. His first at bat he hit an absolute missile to the center fielder for an out but as the series progressed he started pressing a little bit because he wasn’t getting the statistical hits even though his quality at bats were up. He pressed a little bit and because of that his last four or five at bats he lost his rhythm. He did an average job. He knows what he needs to do to get better. His competitive level was where it always is with Q, it was very high. He’s a guy who’s teammates root for him. He’s a great teammate, he’s a great person and we expect great things from him. He’s going to hit somewhere at the top or middle of the order the whole year.
bc.net: From a defensive standpoint we talked about how you’ve put a lot of emphasis on pitching and defense. You come out of the weekend, four games in the first weekend and you only have three errors. I’m sure you’d love to have no errors but how would you assess your team defensively?
BG: When you hit as poor as we did for a weekend, sub .200 for the weekend, and you have the lead in three of the four games late, that just shows the power of just pitching and play defense and you’ll be in the games. Just don’t give it away because that’s our game. In baseball you don’t really win it, you usually lose it. I was really proud of our defense. Our catchers did a great job, all three of them. Their receiving needs to improve but very minimal opportunities of balls going to the backstop. From an infield perspective we played great catch. Umphres has gotten better, Dan Kennon is a legitimate defender. Graf, Duran, Evans, they all play good defense. Paulson was great at first. It was a big step for us just to change the identity into more of that. It was a turf infield which helps but guys played really good defense. It kept us in the games even when we weren’t hitting and gave us a chance to win.
bc.net: From your standpoint and your first weekend as a head coach. Was there anything that you expected to have happen that didn’t happen or anything that happened that you didn’t expect to have happen from a head coaching standpoint?
BG: Nothing really out of the ordinary. The one thing i was very confident of was I was going to have real emotions. I didn’t have any nerves, but I had a lot of excitement. I was so proud and honored. I was so proud to walk out there. I was taking pictures of the umpires and our coaches. Just being the head coach of the Aggies. I knew i was going to have that. I didn’t know how emotional I was going to be. There were a few moments where I had to hold back some tears. It was really special. But in terms of the game, you’re taking out the lineup card as the head coach, you’re making pitching changes and those were some new experiences but all things that were planned on and anticipated. Nothing really out of the ordinary and our kids, we really wanted to go in to the first weekend and give our guys the opportunity to play. We think we know our guys and who they are, let them go out and prove us right or prove us wrong. I think we’ve got a much clearer picture of our kids and I think after the following weekend in Oregon we’re going to have a much better sense of our team as we head into our third weekend and our home opener.
bc.net: The Ducks are out in Hawai’i, they still have a game to play today [Monday] so you’ll have a couple extra days on them in terms of prep. Obviously they’re a really good team and it’s a tough place to play especially in the winter time.
BG: We know that in terms of us having an opportunity to win, we’re going to have to pitch even better, we’re going to have to play even better defense. Oregon is an impossible place to score. Big park, wind blowing in, high turf, slow surface. The biggest thing we’re going to have to do is we’re going to have to improve in terms of competitiveness at the plate and at the same time improve on the mound and on defense. You would anticipate a lot of low-scoring games. Who knows, it’s baseball, it might be 10-8, but we know we’ve really got our hands full and we know when we go up there we’re going to have to ramp it up offensively and force those guys to really dial it in on the mound. That would be the biggest thing for me for us to improve collectively offensively in terms of one pitch at a time toughness and making the pitchers work a little more. We struck out a little too much this weekend and that’s something we went right to work on today.
bc.net: One of the things that’s always important for good baseball teams is how the team travels on the road and team chemistry. You’re getting an early look at it. How would you assess early on this team’s road presence?
BG: It’s pretty good. Just right out of the gates I didn’t feel like the game unnerved our guys. I really just felt like trying too hard or wanting to do too much. I don’t think going on the road scared any of our guys or made them tight. This will be the first real opportunity to gauge that. Lamar is a great place but it was a tournament setting. We didn’t see the crowds we’re probably going to anticipate at Oregon where they have a chance to be loud and on you and knowing you could potentially play in front of 3,000 people. Culturally our guys like each other. We took a really long bus ride to Beaumont but we wanted to do that. I think it helps with team chemistry down the road. Guys just hang out with each other for two straight days and they get closer. I think that’s really important for the second half of the season. First weekend, first gauge at it, our guys like each other and that’s a good start.
bc.net: As an assistant coach at Kentucky, you’ve obviously had a lot of experience with your teams playing in front of big crowds in the SEC. It’s not always the case at New Mexico State where you’re playing in front of big crowds. How do you prepare a team for that/
BG: You just try to get them into the moment. We’ll go out there on Wednesday and we’ll go to the yard and we’ll practice. We did this at Kentucky too and I thought it was really good that our head coach, Coach Henderson did this, you get to the field and it’s not about being afraid but you actually embrace it. This is why you schedule a team like Oregon, this is why you come to New Mexico State, to play the big teams in the country and hopefully we’re one of those teams in the near future. From my perspective, this is awesome, let’s embrace it. When you’re in the dugout, go ahead and peak out into the stands and look how awesome this is and let it fire you up. There’s really two ways to go with it. We used to always talk about the bigger the venue the better. Why do you play college baseball? We’ll go out there with a very optimistic, this is awesome approach and we hope they’re screaming at us because if they do it means we’re doing well.
bc.net: Were there any guys who didn’t get a chance to play this first opening weekend that we might see have a chance to play this weekend?
BG: I was really proud that, and it’s something you hope to do and you don’t know if you can because sometimes the game doesn’t allow it but every player on our program got into the game this first weekend. I was really proud of that. You’re trying to build culture, you’re trying to find answers. Every hitter had a chance to get an at-bat and every pitcher had a chance to get on the mound. We had a chance to see very kid which was very productive.
bc.net: From a coaching standpoint what does that enable you to do?
BG: This is what we talked about and we continue to talk about. We’re going to play the guys that are going to be the most competitive. The most important thing aside from culture and family and the core values of the program is that your teammates think you’re competitive. If you go 0-for-5 or give up a double on the mound, that’s one thing. But if your teammates don’t think you’re competitive, that’s the worst thing that can happen to you. For us, getting a chance to see everybody, there were a couple guys that ramped it up and there were a couple guys that need to ramp it up. It’s just going to help us to move guys closer to the top of the list of guys we feel are competitive because at the end of the day that’s all you’re really trying to do is put your nine most competitive guys in the lineup.
bc.net: What will be most memorable thing for you from your first weekend of the season as a head coach that will stick with you for maybe the rest of your career?
BG: In the dugout, that hour before the game started, I’ll never for get it. I still have the game card and I took a picture with Coach Hartleb from Illinois but the hour or so before, on the bus, talking with the kids and then in the dugout before we took pre game and our players coming up to me and tapping me on the back and shaking my hand and telling me, “We’re going to get this for you. Good luck coach.” Those are moments I’ll never forget and I will never, ever forget that day. We didn’t do what we wanted to do on the field. I know where the program’s going but that day meant a lot to me because I know our kids, it meant a lot to them and for them to give me that was pretty awesome.