The College Baseball Blog continues our series of interviews with coaches around the nation today with Ritch Price of Kansas. CBB contributor Aman Reaka was nice enough to get together with Coach Price last week to discuss his 2010 squad. The Kansas program is coming off a 39-24 season and played in the Chapel Hill Regional where they lost to North Carolina by a score of 12-1.
1. I notice you have put together another difficult non-conference schedule this season (playing at LSU, at Arkansas, etc., Last year at Arizona St., San Diego St., Arkansas, etc.). What are the benefits of playing such a tough schedule?
When you play in one of the best conferences in America, you can’t hide. In order to compete in the Big 12 conference you have play a tough non-conference schedule or you will be in trouble when league play begins. Your hitters have to see plus velocity and your pitchers need to develop their secondary pitches in your non-conference games to be prepared for league play. In addition, with the importance of the RPI in the NCAA selection process, the better non-conference schedule you play, the better your chance of competing in the tournament are at the end of the year.
2. We have now been through two seasons with the Uniform Start Date being in effect. What is your early opinion on the rule change?
Even though I coach in a cold weather state, I still don’t like the rule. We are also geographically challenged like a lot of teams in America that aren’t located in a metropolitan area. We lost 9 games with the start date change, now those games have to be made up in doubleheaders, or by adding another mid-week game. It’s a lot of missed class time for our student-athletes, and if you play a Tue-Wed series, you never have the opportunity to practice or to prepare for a conference weekend series. I don’t know about other programs but our guys need to practice in order to keep developing and getting better.
3. How have the new rules with the way scholarships are split on the team affect your program? Do you think it was a good change for college baseball?
When the new APR rules took effect, which require a 25% minimum amount, the number of guys on scholarship in our program went down. We only have 22 players on aid, and personally I would like to be able to reward kids who contribute to our program, even if it is just paying for their books, which we no longer have the option of doing. Despite the success of baseball in meeting APR goals and record attendance across the country, the reality is that baseball will probably never see an increase in scholarships. With title IX regulations and the fact that several programs don’t offer the NCAA max of 11.7, I don’t see a change ever happening.
4. With the removal of the one-time transfer exemption that allowed student-athletes to change schools once without having to sit out a red-shirt year, do you feel that there is more pressure on a coach to recruit with responsibility or for the student-athlete to be aware of what programs are the best fit for them?
I think it has helped stop the process of over signing that several major programs were very fond of doing. At Kansas, we make a four year commitment to the players that we recruit and we expect the same loyalty from the players as well. Your performance will dictate your playing time, and if your not a starter, you can still be a valuable member of the program and contribute to the success of the team. Obviously the rule is improving graduation and retention rates and has stopped players from being recruited out of summer leagues as well.
5. A lot of opinions are out there concerning the over-usage of college pitchers that may have a strong chance to play at the next level. As a coach, how do you try to balance "team" against "a kids financial future"?
We rarely have a starting pitcher go over 120 pitches, most of the time they are out of the game at 100-110. We try to protect our guys from possible injuries and have them healthly at the end of the season as well as when they enter professional baseball.
6. What are your thoughts concerning "hecklers" in the college game? and how do you prepare your team accordingly?
They are part of the college game, as long as the hecklers don’t cross the line, I have no problem with them. We preach to our guys to play against the ball, and we expect them to wear it and never respond to a heckler. When a player does that, the heckler wins!
7. I notice that the recruiting at Kansas has really taken a big step forward in recent years. What can you correlate to this? What has changed?
The major improvements to Hoglund Ballpark have really helped us with the recruiting process. Kids can come to KU now and know that they will have first class facilities to continue their development and reach their individual goals. Also, having had a couple of ex-players already reach the big leagues has helped. Every college player wants to make his dream of becoming a professional baseball player a reality when they leave college, and we have now had over 30 players sign pro contracts since we have been here. And we all know, players want to win, and after we won the 2006 Big 12 Tournament Championship, the caliber of our recruits improved. This summer after we reached the 2009 championship game at the North Carolina Regional, the caliber of our 2010 recruiting class improved again. Its all about your conference, academics, facilities, schedule, and success. The more you win the better your program gets!
8. The Big 12 Conference really looks to be wide open this year (other than Texas being a heavy favorite). What are your expectations for Kansas baseball this season?
We want to continue to improve, our goal is to finish in the top of our conference standings, be a Top 25 team and host a regional for the first time in school history.
9. You have a legitimate Player of the Year candidate in junior third baseman Tony Thompson. How difficult will it be for him to match or exceed last years historic Big 12 Triple Crown numbers?
Aman, that’s a great question, Tony had a once in a lifetime year as a sophomore. He may be a better player this spring and not have the same kind of numbers. We have talked with him about this very thing, teams will pitch around him in key situations and now that he has developed a reputation, he will not get the same opportunities as he did a year ago. Maturity will be a huge key in his continued development. He is a great young man with a positive attitude, and I think he will handle all of the distractions properly.
10. Who was your favorite player(s) when you were growing up?
Willie Mays, he was the greatest player of his generation.
11. Final question, who has been your biggest influence on your coaching philosophy or career?
My Dad was a former professional baseball player and high school coach, he instilled in me at a young age a passion and love for the game. During the course of my career I have had the pleasure of learning from many of the brightest men in the game. For example, I loved Tommy Lasorda’s energy, enthusiasm, and love of the game. I wear #2 to honor him.
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Ritch Price for taking some time out of his busy schedule to answer a couple of questions for us. If any other schools are interested in being featured feel free to contact me by clicking here.