Home sweet home for FIU baseball

It’s all about home cooking for the FIU baseball team this year as the 2014 season will kick off with 12 straight home games and 33 home games in total.

After finishing six games under .500 last season, Head Coach Henry “Turtle” Thomas has no doubt that the learning experience and return of key players will help the development of this ball club.

“We are expecting an outstanding season this year, we got a lot of veteran guys back,” Thomas said. “We got our three outfielders back, we got three out of our four starters in the infield back and we got a great catcher coming back.”

The 2014 season will also be the first season in Conference USA for the baseball team, but Thomas has no fear that his guys will be able to step up to the plate and compete with the higher level of competition.

“Yes, we do need to raise our level of play because we have a lot of good teams in our conference,” Thomas said. “Teams like Rice and East Carolina and it’s also good that’s we’ve played Rice the last three years so it’s not like we are not used to seeing that type of team or anything like that. No doubt that it should be a very interesting year this season.”

Thomas isn’t the only one expecting his team to step up to the new level of competition. Senior pitcher Ty Sullivan feels like the Panthers have something to prove this season.

“We’ve been talking all year that we feel like we are the underdogs,” Sullivan said. “We are a new face for the whole conference and we are coming in and hopefully we are coming in hot. We want to shake this conference and show them that FIU means business and we are here to play, we aren’t here to let these big boys roll over us.”

The 2014 season will open up at FIU when the Panthers will host visiting Rutgers, a team that went 28-30 and 14-20 when they were on the road. However, the Panthers know that every year is different and when asked which game caught the teams interest they all said Rutgers.

“I know we open up with Rutgers and I’m a big fan of Rutgers,” Sullivan said. “They got a solid program over there and it will be a fun matchup.”

“From beginning to end Rutgers is always a solid team,” Thomas said. “They play us or Miami every year.”

There’s no question that the amount of injuries that the Panthers had last season effected FIU’s overall performance. So it was no surprise that when asked what was the number one thing that needed to be worked on in the offseason, Thomas answer was short and sweet, health.

“More than anything it was just to be healthy, I know that sounds kind of crazy for a coach to say that I just think that guys coming back off the disabled list is as important as anything else,” Thomas said. “It’s just like anything else we at FIU have a certain amount of depth on our team but when you lose to many of your stars it’s just very difficult to compete with teams that we are playing. Especially last year when we were playing teams like Ole Miss and Rice.”

On top of injuries, the Panthers were also inconsistent when it came to pitching throughout last season. Finishing with a team earned run average of 5.03, the Panthers also allowed 289 walks last season which is a nightmarish scenario for Thomas.

“We walked very few guys in the fall which in the past year or two we have walked way too many guys. We would have like 10 or 12 freebies in a game which means walks, hit by pitches, errors and wild pitches things like that,” Thomas said. “When you have that many freebies in a game you’re talking about four innings of bases loaded. Our goal is to have only three freebies in a game and if we can do that we will win a lot more baseball games.”

To help Thomas out with this process he has brought in new pitching coach Sam Peraza. Peraza joins the Panther coaching staff after spending last season as Cal State Northridge’s pitching coach. Peraza brings to FIU nine years of pitching coaching experience along with producing a total of four conference Pitchers of the Year and eight All-Americans as a pitching coach.

“There’s no doubt in my book that he is the best pitching coach we’ve had in the seven years that I’ve been here, no if ands or buts about it,” Thomas said. “He brings a lot of knowledge, he brings a lot of skill and he knows all the little details of pitching from things like pick offs to bunt defense. He’s really stressed the point of going after hitters and trying to get ahead and the expanding the strike zone.”


About the Author

Francisco Rivero
: FIU Student Media Sports Director, Co-Host of Panther Sports Talk Live, Sports and Opinion writer, Communications major.

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