Tennessee’s baseball team took another step in its foray back to SEC relevance Thursday night. The Vols took the field for a nine-inning scrimmage in 92-degree heat. For Tony Vitello, it allowed two hours to focus on the actual product involved with being a first-year head coach.
“We’ve got to get a little better around here,” Vitello said. “That relates to the facilities improving a little bit, our relationship with donors, alumni. We’ve got to recruit literally in between innings. You hate to have your phone out here, but it’s nonstop.”
To start, it’s more than just pitching and hitting. It’s reconstructing a program that’s stumbled to a 55-120 conference record over the last six seasons.
And transitioning in an entirely new staff.
“I think we’re slowly putting together the best assistant coaching staff in the country,” Vitello said. “We have another person who’ll be added to the staff next semester, a former big league player, that’ll be a pretty exciting contributor for us.”
Having a former Major Leaguer on staff would bridge several periods of Tennessee’s baseball successes together for the 2018 season. The Vols won the SEC Tournament three years in a row from 1993-1995. They finished as the 2001 and 2005 runners up in the East. But since, 2007 UT hasn’t achieved better than 5th place in the division.
The Tony Vitello era is as new to Tennessee as it is to Tony Vitello. At each of his last three stops, he’d served as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
He’s established himself as one of the country’s premier recruiters, securing MLB talents Andrew Benintendi, Max Scherzer and Ian Kinsler. Six of his recruits have been first-round Major League selections. Recruiting is one matter, being a head coach is another.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that have bought in,” says senior Benito Santiago. “We’ve been behind every guy teaching them day by day. We’ve been behind every guy, teaching them day by day, it’s just showing by action.”
Thursday night, Santiago took a belt-high fast ball over the right-centerfield fence in the 5th inning. He finished 2017 with three home runs and a .250 average.
Santaigo: “We’re here to get after it. As long as we buy into that, we’ll be locked and loaded.”
Vitello: “We’ve got some guys that can run. We have guys that’re athletic and guys who can run. Coach [Josh] Elander and I have been together on offense for quite some time and he wants to be ultra-aggressive. I’d like to be really aggressive, he wants to be uber-aggressive. So we’ll meet in the middle. The bottom line is we’re willing to take some chances on offense.”
BIG MARKET TEASE FROM TONY V. pic.twitter.com/lFvrRyJD67
— Boomer Dangel (@boomerdangel) September 21, 2017