Dan Fleser: UT Baseball Facelift Continues

Wednesday, June 26, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

KNOXVILLE – While Tony Vitello was talking on Tuesday, painters were painting.

The men with brushes, referred to as “some gentlemen” by Tennessee’s baseball coach, were toiling inside the batting cages at Lindsey Nelson Stadium, making the surroundings more presentable for those who wield bats.

“I know that’s not a luxurious upgrade or anything,” Vitello said.

No matter, a fresh coat of paint contributes to an ongoing renovation that’s already returned the team to the NCAA tournament this season and earned Vitello a pay raise, a five-year contract extension and a larger pool of money for his assistants. It’s essentially a fresh program.

The facelift regarding facilities will proceed in a linear fashion from smaller projects to larger plans. The roster, on the other hand, will be more of a circular, do-over project in accordance with the toll taken by Major League Baseball’s annual draft.

“You know I have a tremendous amount of respect for junior college coaches,” Vitello said. “I don’t know how they do it because of turnover and a two-year deal there. Especially when you have the draft in our sport, it’s tremendous. Well, at an SEC program, we’re not that far off.”

Vitello said that he won’t know the final makeup of UT’s roster for next season until mid-July. In the meantime, the Vols have lost six players – position players Andre Lipcius, Ricky Martinez and Jay Charleston along with pitchers Garrett Stallings, Andrew Schultz and Zach Linginfelder – in June’s draft.

The coaching staff is using the exodus as an enticement to lure future Vols.

“Now there’s something to point to with recruits rather than just saying here’s our vision,” Vitello said. “Again, the assistant coaches have done a great job of painting a picture that is very clear for recruits to see but it was a vision and now there’s some concrete things there that are truly tangible for incoming players and also potential incoming players to see.”

The Vols made a noteworthy addition for next season this week with the commitment of Tim McHugh, a big-time hitter from Commack, N.Y. who had been committed to TCU. 

 “Last year was a difficult summer because we got slaughtered in the draft in a negative way,” Vitello said. “This year we have almost the ideal setup that we want. We want to develop kids so when they’re juniors we can support them in signing a pro contract. … At the same time we’d like to hold on to our guys that are incoming, junior college transfers or coming from high school because they can be the next wave of those guys to improve their status.”

When Vitello considers next season’s roster, he’s not anticipating a do-over that necessarily will involve a step back in terms of the renovation.

What about Kumar: Vitello said that he and his assistant coaches are asked a lot about Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker, the son of Tennessee assistant football coach Tracy Rocker, and why Komar is not at UT.

“Kumar was locked into his decision before we got this job,” Vitello said, “and he was locked in well in advance before Tracy joined our football coaching staff.”

Vitello would like to post his explanation on the social media equivalent of a highway billboard.

“Long story short, not our fault, not Tracy’s fault that he’s not here,” Vitello said, “and kudos to him for doing what he’s doing. He’ll be pitching in a major league stadium soon and hopefully everyone in the state of Tennessee can cheer for him.”  

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.co



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