Things are going to be different.
After 21 seasons of the same coach – Eddie Cardieri, who will hold every coaching record for quite some time and took the USF baseball team to nine NCAA Tournament appearances – changes are bound to happen.
Now steps in coach Lelo Prado, coming straight from Big East rival Louisville and returning to his hometown.
While the majority of the 2006 team is returning as well, players are quick to say things have already been different since Prado took over in June.
“Everything is moving a little quicker this year,” shortstop Addison Maruszak said. “Little different coaching style, but now it’s time for us to get it together.”
A different coaching style is what earned Prado the 2002 Conference USA Coach of the Year award. However, he is taking a new approach to handling the Bulls, which had a mere .268 team batting average and a pitching staff 4.79 ERA.
“He doesn’t care who you are,” Maruszak said. “You can be an All-American, you can be a nobody – he doesn’t care who you are because he’s going to start the best nine (for the lineup) on this team.
“That’s his pride right there, because he’ll get all new kids to play if he needs to.”
But it’s not just about keeping egos in check. Prado’s coaching style promises to shake things up for the Bulls.
Maruszak says small ball, (or bunting out a run an inning), has been implemented. Second baseman Dexter Butler agrees that everyone is going to see something different when the season starts.
“I think this year, everyone is going to see a total different style of ball,” Butler said. “Most will probably think it’s a whole new team out here.
“Everything we’re going to do this year, we had the people to do it before. It’s just this year they believe in themselves more. … I think that every single person coming out of that dugout is going to believe they can do it.”
Prado said playing small ball should be no shock to anyone who knows him – that’s his coaching style.
“That’s the way I like coaching. I like bunting; I like squeezing runs out of the game,” Prado said. “We don’t have a lot of power on this team, and we’re going to have to manufacture our runs. We’re going to have to get those little things right.”Prado added that it includes getting better in the classroom as well.
“We didn’t win on the field, but they didn’t win in the classroom either,” Prado said. “They have to do better than that – have to be held responsible. They have to produce as players, and we have to produce as coaches.”
Prado’s frequently used motto sums things up.
“Don’t have any excuses on why we’re not winning,” Prado said. “When I took the job, there were a lot of excuses of why everything was so messed up.
“We have a saying: ‘Don’t point the finger, point the thumb.’ Because then it points it at yourself – you’re held accountable.”Butler agrees.
“I don’t think he’ll take any type of mediocrity,” Butler said. “He’ll work hard to get the very best out of every single one of us.”
Changes will keep coming, according to Prado. Red McEwen Field – about which Prado said, “They’ll take pride in this facility. … It’s a beautiful place to play baseball” – has been painted and fixed up. The field has had additional fencing installed in front of the dugouts and has had some of the older bleachers repaired. Prado said that the Sun Dolls will start attending games, Rocky the mascot will be at nearly every game and, in a move to attract even more students, beer will now be sold at the games.
“I want the student body to be here every game,” Prado said. “I want this place to be crazy – for people to be creating all kinds of havoc. That’s the way I want it – it may not have been the way Eddie wanted it, but it’s what I want.”
The biggest change Prado is looking forward to isn’t really a change at all. It’s reverting back to the old ways.
“I want to bring back that tradition of going to regionals every year,” Prado said. “That’s something that has really bothered me. This team has gone to a lot of regionals, had a lot of players play professionally, and nobody knows about it. It’s my job to get people to know.”
Even with the many changes, most of the players are still the same – but attitudes have changed.
“There’s a lot more intensity out here,” Butler said. “But to me, it’s not that much different because baseball is baseball.”
Added Maruszak, “(It) almost is like a fresh start. Even if Cardieri were here it would be like a fresh start, but with (Prado), it’s like a new mentality for the team. It feels different because were doing a lot more. We’re playing small ball now.”
But Prado – with his fresh start, with his changes, with his coaching style – said he knows what USF has in his hometown.
“We have a chance to have something special here,” Prado said. “Will it be this year or will it be next year? I don’t know. But I feel we can have the pieces to get to Omaha, (Neb.).
“It’s the best kept secret in the world.”