Growing up as a baseball lover in Arizona, and later in Omaha, Nebraska - the mecca of college baseball - Andrew Nelson dreamed of making it to the highest level of the game.
During his seven years in Arizona, Nelson basked in the pleasure of the year-round baseball circuit. When he moved to Omaha, his love for college baseball flourished in the acclaimed site of the College World Series.
Nelson played catcher and infielder growing up. He served as Millard West High School's primary backstop as an upperclassman. He also pitched in two games as a senior, eating up innings when the team had a fatigued pitching staff.
Determined to ascend to the Division I level, Nelson went to Cuesta College (Calif.) and was unwavering in his mission to make the team, regardless of position. It was at Cuesta that Nelson began to zero in on the possibility of moving to the mound full-time as he searched for a path to major college baseball.
"I tried out for everything there," Nelson said. "Honed in as a pitcher because of a leg injury where I couldn't slide, run, or steal bases for a couple weeks. Went to pitcher and never went back."
As a sophomore in 2013 at Cuesta that things began to click for Nelson. He was named the Western State Conference Pitcher of the Year and first-team all-conference.
There, Nelson caught the eye of the UK coaching staff, landing a spot on the 2014 UK roster. Nelson experienced a challenging fall in adjusting to a new level of competition for a right-hander who was just two years earlier was still learning to pitch.
"It started in the fall," Nelson remembered. "I was going from the junior college level to SEC caliber hitters and it was very different. You had to, obviously, hit your spots better and that was so different."
In his first NCAA outing, on Sunday of opening weekend vs. a scrappy Virginia Military Institute, Nelson worked 1.2 innings, allowing a run on three hits over 31 pitches.
After working consecutive scoreless outings vs. Wright State and Eastern Kentucky, UK coach Gary Henderson turned to Nelson for his first career start in the nightcap of a twinbill vs. Cincinnati.
Nelson allowed one earned run over four innings, and just four days later, filling in for an injured Kyle Cody as UK's Sunday starter vs. Ball State. He fired 6.2 innings and allowed one run vs. the Cardinals, and with Cody on the shelf for 21 days, Nelson earned the Sunday starting nod.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, who works exclusively from the stretch on the bump, faced an entire new test the following week at Alabama in UK's SEC opener.
"It was a struggle for me up until a week before that start (at Alabama)," Nelson said. "Once I started getting those guys out (in non-conference starts), building confidence and figuring out how to pitch down in the zone, I kept building up confidence until that SEC start."
The Wildcats split the first two games of the series and turned to Nelson in the rubber match vs. the Crimson Tide.
"I thought a lot about that start, because it's SEC baseball," Nelson said. "I went into it saying that I was going to be as confident and relaxed as possible and I was able to do that. I was able to throw strikes in the bottom of the zone. I was able to get through the first inning and was able to throw strikes where I want it just went from there. I felt good that day."
Nelson took a two-run lead into the ninth inning without allowing an earned run, forcing the Tide into a litany of ground balls, not issuing a walk and doing it all in under 90 pitches.
A two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning ended his bid for a complete-game win in the rubber match and a Mikey White walk-off homer in the 10th inning lifted Alabama to the win. But the loss did not diminish the confidence Henderson - and his club - was quickly developing in Nelson.
He went on to make eight of UK's 10 SEC Sunday starts as the Wildcats brought Cody back to health with a fastball-only, relief role. In addition, UK's staff was hurt by a three-week injury to fellow weekend starter Chandler Shepherd, forcing him to eat innings. A five-inning win over No. 12 Florida, without allowing an earned run, and strong starts vs. No. 1 South Carolina and at No. 5 Vanderbilt, secured Nelson's role as a go-to weapon for Henderson.
Nelson then slid into a relief role for the final two weekends of the regular season and into the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, shining for the UK bullpen. He had a heroic 2.1 innings in relief in a 12-inning marathon at Murray State, worked 4.2 shutout innings at Georgia, and worked two games in the SEC Tournament, picking up a save with four shutout innings vs. Alabama.
He finished the year with a 2-5 record and a 3.94 ERA in 19 games and 10 starts, working 75.1 innings, allowing just 20 walks and striking out 37.
As a senior, Nelson will have the ability to serve nearly any role on the UK pitching staff. With a funky right-handed delivery, Nelson could be used to get out righties, or could eat up innings as a weekend starter or middle reliever, and has proven to have the ability to finish a ball game with his ground-ball, aggressive approach.
Nelson's versatility will give Henderson a bevy of options with his pitching staff.
"That's what coach Henderson has talked about with me," Nelson said. "He's not really sure of my role yet, he's going to put me out there and see the best role that I fit into for this team. It is basically whatever the team needs and wherever the innings need to be eaten up. Still not sure what I am going to do this year, but whatever it is, whether it is starting or bullpen, I'll be happy and I'll be ready."
Armed with a whole new mindset after experiencing the transition of his junior season, Nelson is poised for a strong senior season.
"Going from a junior college to (UK) is a really big jump in the caliber of the hitters," Nelson said. "Going through a whole year and knowing what to expect; going on all the traveling and everything that you do, even just dealing with school and baseball at the same time and just being through it all makes a huge difference. Knowing what to expect improves your confidence and you can start mentally planning ahead of time because you've been through it. You can go over those reps in your mind. You can visualize it and it is just easier to be prepared."
Kyle Barrett joined the Kentucky roster for his freshman season without big expectations for him to be an instant-impact performer.
He quickly dispelled any notions of low expectations.
Barrett burst onto the scene with a Freshman All-Southeastern Conference campaign in 2013, leading the Wildcats with a .349 average in his debut season.
He pushed his way into UK's everyday lineup, showcasing a top-of-the-order skill-set that features blazing speed and an opposite-field, line-drive approach.
"Coach Green and Coach Henderson had a lot of confidence in me," Barrett said about his freshman season. "I came in not knowing what to expect. Everyone here is the best of the best from wherever they come from. When I was in high school I was a big fish in a small pond and you come to college and everyone has skill. I worked my way up little by little and they threw me out there against Eastern (Kentucky) and I got a couple hits, then Michigan State they started me on Saturday. I played well, I had a double down the leftfield line against Michigan State and that is when I knew that I could belong and knew I could hit a little bit."
Barrett didn't stop hitting after his freshman season. He ventured to the Perfect Game Collegiate League for the summer, earning all-star honors and leading his Amsterdam team to the league title.
He changed expectations from those which he entered his freshman year with. He was UK's opening-day rightfielder and leadoff hitter for UK's win over No. 1 Virginia and went on to start 32 of Kentucky's first 34 games before facing adversity for the first time in his career.
"Last year, mentally I just wasn't right," Barrett said. "If you look at my stats, I really wasn't hitting bad and then I looked around, saw AJ, Max, MT hitting above .400 and I was hitting in the .300s and was thinking that was bad so I tried to do more, swing a little harder and get out of my thinking process. I wasn't really hitting it bad, I was just trying to do more than I should've and I got out of who I was need to be at the plate."
After fighting through a brief slump during the Missouri series and with UK freshman outfielder Storm Wilson battling for the SEC freshman lead in homers, in addition to a blistering-hot pace, Barrett slid into the fourth outfielder role for the remainder of the season.
"One of the things that happened to Kyle Barrett was that Storm Wilson stepped right up and just said thank you," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "That happens in athletics and I don't mean that in a mean way at all but he got his opportunity and made the most of it."
He made just six starts and playing in 14 of UK's final 28 games, going 3-for-24 during the stretch.
"Honestly if it wasn't for (coach) Henderson sitting me down last year, I don't know how I would've done," Barrett said about his mindset before heading to the Cape Cod League for summer ball. "When we sat down it was a low point for me. I was really magnifying the negative aspects of my game and I got to sit back and watch. I was able to sit back and see what I bring to the table and the things I do well."
After the season, Barrett was shipped off to the Cape Cod League, considered the best amateur summer baseball in the nation.
In the Cape, Barrett shined, earning the starting centerfield job in the all-star game. He finished with a .313 average - 17th-best in the circuit - and 10 steals, marking one of eight players in the league with an average over .300 and at least 10 steals.
"When I went up to the Cape, no matter who was pitching or the type of arm, I knew what kind of player I was and I was going to go out there and have fun with it," Barrett said. "No matter the outcome I was going to have fun. I did that and went up there and had fun and was able to perform with the best athletes in the country. It was just an awesome experience. I was able to play with a bunch of very athletic guys and good guys at that. I was just an awesome experience."
Now entering his junior season, high expectations are nothing new for the Douglasville, Ga., native. He is positioned to be a leader for a talented UK outfield that features speedsters Marcus Carson, Ka'ai Tom and Storm Wilson.
"It is going to be real hard," Barrett said about the schedule for the Wildcats in 2015. "Freshman year, we had a really tough schedule, similar to this year. Going to LSU is no joke, playing in front of 11,000 people. We have young guys but we also have a lot of older guys who are going to be able to step up. Dustin Beggs is a very talented pitcher that will be starting on the weekend for us. We'll have to tell him that you can't get caught up in the crowd. Evan White over at first base; these are all guys that are going to play and be very impactful for our program. They have to stay within themselves, not let the crowd bother them and stick to doing what they do."
A year after the Wildcats boasted the top offense among the major conferences, UK's lineup will have a different feel in 2015. With the losses of physical sluggers Max Kuhn, Micheal Thomas and, of course, AJ Reed, and veteran hitting machine Austin Cousino, UK's lineup will rely more on speed and athleticism than power. "Kyle Barrett is a really talented kid, he's likeable, he cares and his athletic instincts are good," Henderson said. "He plays hard what he has got to do in my opinion and just show up and be consistent in everything in his life every day. He has performed really well in January and our team needs him to be a very good player. He's a guy that can really impact plays, he runs really well, he's got a gene to hit there is no question about that but we got to get him back to where he was and we will. The biggest thing in my mind for Kyle Barrett is consistency in everything that he does."
The Wildcats lost 47 of their 60 homers from 2014, so proven power production is not a strength of UK entering 2015. Barrett's consistent ability to get on base - he's reached safely in 66 of his 76 career starts - will be a factor for the UK offense, as well as his defensive ability in covering large amounts of ground in the outfield.
With Cousino's departure, a question in the preseason will be who replaces the two-time Rawlings Gold Glove award winner in centerfield.
"We have four guys (in the outfield) that are pretty legit defenders," Barrett said. "It helps us because it makes us push each other. If one person pushes another person, then that makes the person next to them push even more. It makes everyone around them a better player. Makes everyone on edge and ready to go and if you aren't ready to go then we have someone we can replace you with."
JaVon Shelby was UK's opening day starter in leftfield, before making his second 51 starts at second base. JaVon's brother, John T., starred at UK from 2004-06. (Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky sophomore JaVon Shelby has been around baseball his whole life.
As the son of 11-year big league veteran and longtime MLB assistant coach John Shelby - who won the 1983 World Series with the Baltimore Orioles - baseball is in his blood.
Kentucky blue is also in JaVon's blood, as his older brother, John T., is one of the top players in school history.
John T. paced the Wildcats from a last-place finish in the Southeastern Conference in 2005 to a regular-season championship in 2006, earning All-SEC honors at second base, while belting 16 homers.
"Just growing up, watching him play in that Kentucky blue it just kind of soaked into me," JaVon said. "Ever since then I wanted to be a Wildcat and didn't want to be anything else. Glad it played out the way it did."
John T. is currently a scout in the Brewers organization, the same franchise that his father works for as the first-base coach.
"We used to travel with my dad every summer," JaVon remembered. "We would try to go early to the field to hit every single day. Being around baseball my whole life, you get that feel of the clubhouse, even at a young age you see how everything is planned out and rolls together efficiently."
Seven seasons after John T. manned the pivot at Cliff Hagan Stadium, JaVon emerged as an Freshman All-SEC selection in 2014 while helping UK to its eighth all-time NCAA Tournament berth.
Despite missing the entire fall of his freshman season while rehabbing an injury from high school, it was hard for the UK coaching staff to hide its excitement about the newest Shelby in the Kentucky baseball family in the preseason.
JaVon earned the opening day start in leftfield against No. 1 Virginia, with the Wildcats facing off with Cavaliers lefthanded off-speed artist Brandon Waddell.
"I struck out swinging on a changeup," JaVon said. "I had a whole bunch of butterflies, because it was my first game and we were playing the No. 1 team in the nation so it was easy to get hyped up. I got out of my rhythm in that first at-bat thinking (Wadell) was going to throw me all fastballs."
A high school draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers, JaVon got a second chance against Wadell in the fourth inning, with UK owning a 2-1 lead and two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. He ripped a RBI line drive into the right-centerfield gap to give UK a two-run advantage.
"As the game went along I settled down and we were in a spot where I needed to get a hit," JaVon said. "Later on the game I sat back on a fastball and got a single. That was a great experience."
In his first career home start, a twinbill sweep or Cincinnati, JaVon belted his first career homer and added a double. He went on to make his next 51 starts at second base - including 41 consecutive to end the year - tying UK teammate Storm Wilson and Alabama outfielder Casey Hughston for the freshman SEC homer lead (four). Overall, Shelby hit .250 during his debut season, with six doubles, two triples and 21 RBI.
Somewhat new to second base, but with enough jaw-dropping athleticism to play anywhere on the diamond, JaVon's transition to the keystone was not without challenges. Learning the intricacies of turning a double play, holding runners and playing up the middle at the SEC level was a new challenge to the star centerfielder as a senior at Tates Creek.
"I didn't start playing outfield until my senior year of high school," JaVon said. "After playing second base in summer ball, I got back to school, we had lost Dorian Hairston left and we needed a centerfielder. I made that transition to outfield, which is easier than making the transition to infield. UK recruited me as an infielder. I had to step up, I had to fill the role because we lost (former UK star 2B) J.T. (Riddle), so I was trying to do anything I could to fill the role."
It became obvious as the year went on that Shelby's transition to second base was getting smoother. His turn was better and he was able to utilize his above-average arm strength in completing plays other defenders couldn't,
During the summer, JaVon teamed with Marcus Carson, Zack Brown and Connor Heady on the Amsterdam Mohawks in the Perfect Game Collegiate League. He earned the starting shortstop gig in the PGCBL All-Star Game, belting 12 doubles and three homers in 134 summer at-bats.
After his summer, JaVon was forced to sit out the 2014 fall practice season while he worked to get back to full health for his sophomore campaign.
As the Wildcats enter 2015, JaVon will be counted on as a middle-of-the-order run producer for a left-handed heavy UK lineup. With UK missing right-handed power veterans Max Kuhn and Micheal Thomas, Shelby and veteran right-handed hitting infielder Thomas Bernal will be key in balancing out the UK batting order.
His quick right-handed bat is not the only thing that he will be counted on for, as JaVon owns a charisma and infectious personality that screams leadership potential.
"You can't really make a guy a leader. You are born with it or not and you can't go out of your way with it," JaVon said. "You have to be yourself to be a leader. You have to tell jokes, be serious at times, tell guys what they are doing wrong and sometimes you have to yell at a guy to straighten them up."
Storm Wilson tied JaVon Shelby and Alabama's Casey Hughston for the SEC freshman home run lead. (photo by Britney Howard)
Storm Wilson was an accomplished switch hitter in high school.
He was the Commonwealth Journal Player of the Year as a high school senior at Somerset High School, hitting .557 with three homers, 13 triples and 25 steals.
Success was not something new to Wilson.
But as he got going in the fall of his first collegiate semester, while also trying to learn the ropes of becoming a strictly left-handed hitter, he found SEC competition to be quite stiff.
"It was tough, I didn't have a good fall," Wilson remembered. "I hit under .200, .160 or something. It was hard. I hit .600 in high school. So experiencing failure for the first time was tough and it was hard to get over."
Wilson, a native of Science, Hill, Ky., spent his redshirt season working feverishly to hone his craft. With the help of longtime UK hitting coach Brian Green, Wilson started focusing on his skill set as a speedy left-handed hitter.
He had an all-star 2013 summer in the Prospect League, finding his stroke with a .288 average in 55 games, stealing 15 bases.
Somewhat of an unknown to UK and Southeastern Conference fans in 2014, Wilson began the season as a back-up outfielder to proven standouts Kyle Barrett and Austin Cousino, and junior college hitting machine Ka'ai Tom. He made his first two appearances off the bench as a defensive replacement the first two weeks, before he was rewarded with his first career start as the DH at Old Dominion.
After AJ Reed belted a two-out solo homer to tie the game in the seventh inning and the Wildcats managed to load the bases in a 5-5 game, Wilson came to the plate.
He was carrying a 0-for-3 with two looking strikeouts and was facing a veteran senior reliever for the Monarchs with the bases loaded in a tie game on the road in his first career start.
"It was my first actual start. After redshirting the year before that, any player is trying to get some validation for why they should be there," Wilson said. "I was still thinking about if I really belonged at this level. Going 0-for-3 in your first game as a starter, that ain't easy. Especially getting those two Ks."
Wilson smacked the game-winning, two-RBI single to rightfield to lift UK to a 7-5 win, with Ryne Combs working hitless relief to lock down the win.
"When I got up there and had that opportunity, I was just thinking about how I need to prove myself, I had to be strong and be tough," Wilson said. "They went left on left and I looked at BG (Brian Green) wondering if I was going to hit, and he kept me in there. Then when I got that hit I knew that I could do this at this level and since then it kind of took off."
That signaled that Wilson was going to get more playing time, and he started the next game vs. St. John's and the following weekend vs. Eastern Michigan.
With Tom nursing a hamstring injury, Wilson was called on to serve as UK's leftfielder during the SEC series opener at Alabama. Wilson showcased the kind of toughness in the box and relentless quest for a quality at-bat that helped change the dynamic of a potent UK lineup.
"One at-bat that sticks out to me that I had was against Alabama, it was my first SEC AB against Spencer Turnbull," Wilson said. "It was a 10-pitch at-bat and I ended up lining out to centerfield. Everyone in the dugout was on my side, they were yelling for me, I got out but they were still going crazy. That is when I kind of turned that switch that people admire a player being a tough out. Since then that it has clicked for me that what I need to do to help the team win is be tough and get some (quality at-bats) going."
The Wildcats went on to lead all BCS conference schools in nearly every offensive category, including runs scored, with Wilson a scrappy hitter that forced pitchers into extended at-bats, pouncing on mistakes and playing the game with an infectious competitive fire.
"One of our keys as a ball club last year at the plate was to be really tough, be really tough with two strikes and be a hard out. I took that to heart," Wilson said. "I am not a guy that is going to hit 15 bombs every year. I'm not that kind of player. I am an on-base guy, I'll take the walks, the hit-by-pitches, do anything I can to help the team by getting on base."
Overall during his freshman season, Wilson hit .289 in 45 games, making the final 21 starts of the year as UK's rightfielder. He tied for the SEC freshmen home run lead with four, belting six doubles and driving gin 20 runs - with 10 coming as two-out RBI. He reached base safely in 39 of his 45 games, hitting .409 in April and .305 in May.
Now as an experienced performer in the nation's top conference, Wilson will enter the 2015 season with a whole new set up internal and external expectations. He will be expected to be a vocal and emotional leader for a youthful UK lineup and continue to churn out quality at-bats at a strong clip, while also managing the challenge of playing in some of the best venues in college baseball.
"I am actually really excited to go to some of these venues," Wilson said. "As a team, when we got in a tough environment last year, we got better. That is kind of when we hit our stride. I am pumped."
Unanimous national player of the year AJ Reed is back at UK this weekend. The UK baseball star and new Houston Astro will be honored this weekend for his historic season and memorable career as the Wildcats take on No. 1 Mississippi State in football. UK baseball will host a tailgate starting at 1:30 p.m. to celebrate Reed and he will be recognized on the field during the game.
Reed caught up with the local media on Friday afternoon to talk about the start of his professional career, his historic season and the state of the UK program.
Newest Kentucky baseball assistant coach Rick Eckstein joined Dick Gabriel's Big Blue Insider on Tuesday night. Eckstein talked about his time as a big-league hitting coach with the Washington Nationals from 2009-13 and his last year with the Los Angeles Angels and UK baseball great Collin Cowgill.
On why he would leave the big leagues to come to the SEC ... "That's an easy question. To reconnect with Gary Henderson and be in the SEC. Raise my family here in Lexington. There are just so many positives; I can go on and on."
On his previous relationship with Gary Henderson at Florida ... "He recruited me as a preferred walk-on. Made the team and earned my way. We ended up finishing third in the country that year. When the year was over, I was offered the opportunity as a volunteer assistant coach and that is where I really got to work side by side with Gary and see how he went about his day. And right away I recognized why we were so good. Gary is meticulous, just so knowledgeable. Gary was our recruiting coordinator and we were just getting so many great players. As my career unfolded we stayed in touch and this opportunity came up and my wife and I looked at each other and said this is the right opportunity for us. I couldn't be happier. We are here in Lexington and looking forward to raising our family here and settling down in Lexington. Jumping in head first the last few days has been great, getting to meet the staff and the players, I just couldn't be more excited."
On following along with UK when it soared to its first No. 1 national ranking in 2012 ... "It doesn't surprise me. I know Gary. I know what Gary stands for and I know what he is going to build. When I had the opportunity to be a part of that I didn't even hesitate. I knew it was where I needed to be. On a side note, being with the Angels and Collin Cowgill being on the major league roster, I got to talk extensively with him about his time at Kentucky. And Collin is just a wonderful human being and just an outstanding player on top of it. It is no wonder the Angels are right there in first place because he is a part of that. He brings that type of attitude with him. And that is what Kentucky baseball represents and he is representing UK in the big leagues with that same attitude."
On working with Collin Cowgill as he impacted the Los Angeles Angels ... "Having worked under Mike Scioscia and knowing his philosophy. It's everything that I believe in, and Gary too. It's the character of the player. It's the work ethic. It's the attention to detail. It's the commitment to excellence. Its giving it everything you have for your teammates. That is what Mike Scioscia values for his system. And when Collin came over in spring training and was earning a spot on the team, it was visible from day one that this guy was going to help us win. Whether it was coming off the bench to steal a base, or coming off the bench to get a bunt down. Or whether he was going to hit the game-winning home run like he did against Oakland earlier in the season. He had every trick in his bag and that is because of the development Gary and his staff had in the program. It is just a wonderful process that you can see in Collin."
On his relationship with Albert Pujols ... "Well Albert and I were able to work together through the years. My brother was a part of the St. Louis Cardinals and I was around them for a lot of time and then in 2007 I was hired by St. Louis and got to see Albert 1-on-1 for a good portion of the season. He has a work ethic that is second to none; his attention to detail. He would not let anything go. He wants to know everything and he will work until he figures it out. Our relationship blossomed because of one at-bat. It was against Carlos Zambrano and needless to say he did a few things to get himself in position and the rest is history from our relationship standpoint. We reconnected again with Anaheim and from day one it was the same type of approach, the same mentality, the same work ethic. He showed up every day with the same commitment on day one that he has on day 162 and more. It is phenomenal."
On how much he can talk with UK's hitters about his big-league experience ... "No you are absolutely right. This is about JaVon Shelby. This is about Zach Arnold. This isn't about Albert and Collin. It is my job to understand our guys as a person and a player. Get inside their head and understand their mindset. I believe in coaching as a two-way street. We are both going to understand each other so we have a great line of communication and dialog. The buy in is going to be easy, they are going to understand where I am coming from and I am going to understand where they are coming from. That respect is where you gain miles and miles of knowledge and acceptance and everything that comes with achieving the goals that come with that. I am sure players are going to want to know about Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Barry Bonds and all the guys that I have had the great fortune to work with. But at the same time, I am going to focus on our players and I am going to use the knowledge I have working with those guys to talk about adjustments. To talk about mindset, the mentality, about the character it takes and the understanding that failure is a part of how to be successful and how do you handle the tough moments and how do you rise to the top. That is all a part of the message."
On if UK's offense has some big pieces to replace in former stars AJ Reed and Austin Cousino ... "Absolutely. You are going to lose some of those good guys in AJ and Austin Cousino. But we are going to get to replace them with some great guys that Brad Bohannon and Keith Vorhoff have helped bring in and recruited. They are getting talent into the system and that is exciting. I am glad to be a part of that. I am proud to be a part of that. We might miss out on a little power but we have team speed, we have the ability to get on base. We have the mentality, I know has been preached and that is right up my alley. The make-up of our team is going to be a huge strength. We had a team meeting last night. Gary Henderson led the meeting and I just sat back and watched the room. I watched the players. They were into it. They were there. You felt like one big family. I tell you what, I left that room and I told my wife after I got home late, 'I am fired up. I am ready to go. These guys are ready to go.' I am not a big guy. My brother is not a big guy. We were raised on the mentality that the size of the player doesn't matter. It's what you give every day. It's how much you pour into the program. What stamp are you leaving on the program? That is indicative, whether you are the giant monster of Kyle Cody or the little big guy of Rick Eckstein."
On what hitting philosophy he subscribes to ... "I would say that I know Charley Lau's theories. I know Ted Williams' theories. I know Davey Johnson's theories. I've worked for Frank Robinson. I know Mike Scioscia's theory. I've had the great fortune to work with some of the best hitters that have ever played the game, and talk with them. I had a chance to work 1-on-1 with Barry Bonds for three weeks in Japan for the Major League All-Star Series and literally was fascinated with how his mind worked and we talked and hit it off. I have taken pieces of everyone I have been around and you file those in your head. Everyone is unique. Everybody is different. Everybody is going to stand in the box different. Everybody is going to see the baseball coming at them differently. It is my job to get into the mindset and understand how they see and how they digest that information to make it efficient. To say that I am a Charley Lau guy or a Ted Williams guy, no, I am a guy that is going to work to help each guy individually to see who they are supposed to be with the parameters of that I believe that there are table setters and I believe that there are run producers. When you have a table setter like David Eckstein trying to hit home runs, then that isn't going to work. And when you have a run producer, like Barry Bonds, we don't want him hitting singles the other way. There is a common sense in that philosophy, where we are looking at you like what is your potential? What are you supposed to do in our system? Where are you supposed to be? And that is how the philosophy shapes the guys while they are here under my watch and by the time that we get everything settled and the lineup, top to bottom, everybody will be pulling their weight."
Logan Salow allowed just one run over six innings in UK's season-ending loss to Louisville on Sunday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
LOUISVILLE -- Kentucky head coach Gary Henderson called freshman Logan Salow's number Sunday evening to start the regional final vs. in-state rival Louisville, and Salow did not disappoint.
The lights were never too bright for the southpaw who had only thrown 25 innings all season.
Making just his second-career start, the Ashland, Ky., native tossed a career-high six innings, while only allowing one run on five hits. Salow threw 95 pitches in the game after a previous career high of 63, which also came against the Cardinals back on April 15 in a winning effort. In his brief UK career, he had never thrown more than 3.2 innings in a single game.
When it seemed like Louisville would finally break through, Salow continually got himself out of jams, twice with double plays and twice by retiring American Athletic Conference Player of the Year Jeff Gardner with the bases loaded, including one of those by strike out.
"I thought it was tremendous, I really did," said Henderson. "That's six innings against a really good opponent. ... He got strikeouts on changeups. He threw the ball off the plate to induce the double-play when we were trying to do that. He made pitches and I was really proud of him."
Salow has come a long way from the start of the season and a performance like this will only do wonders for his confidence as he enters his sophomore campaign, though he was the hard-luck loser as the Wildcats saw their season end with a 4-1 defeat.
"He hadn't done anything like that this year and to be able to do it against a club like Louisville, it's significant and that's going to help him," Henderson said. "He'll draw upon that next fall. In athletics you have to do it -- you can talk all you want about practice and the skills are getting better and all those things -- but you've got to do it in a competitive environment and even more significantly if you do it in a hostile environment or a sense of heightened awareness."
What makes the performance even more remarkable is that the team, and even Henderson for that matter, didn't know what to expect from Salow. With a limited amount of pitchers available for the game, Henderson was going to have to piece together a pitching staff to force a game on Monday.
Salow delivered and then some for his team.
"I'm not sure I expected anything," Henderson said. "I know what I was hoping for and I was hoping for three (innings) clean. If we could get that then I felt like we could go, two (innings), two (innings) and two (innings) with three guys, but to get six with one run and hold them to four on the night with where we were on game four, I think I probably would have signed that deal going into it."
After the third inning, Salow strolled back to the mound. Then came the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth. Most people in the stands were probably second-guessing the head coach for sending Salow back out there after clawing his way out of jams in basically every one of those innings. And every time he made Henderson look like a genius.
The Wildcats' future is bright with two freshmen pitchers gaining valuable experience in the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Along with Salow's performance in the nightcap, fellow freshman Zack Brown helped UK reach the regional final after defeating Kansas in an elimination game earlier in the day.
When it looked like Kentucky's chances of advancing were slim, two of maybe the unlikeliest guys stepped for the Wildcats.
don't think you could have drawn up better freshman starts than what we
got today," Henderson said. "Pretty amazing today from Zack Brown and
Logan Salow in this environment against those teams."
Brown's final line won't look as spectacular as Salow's, but Brown gave UK exactly what it needed to advance. The Seymour, Ind., native was able to pitch with a sizable lead for a large portion of the game en route to five innings pitched and four runs allowed, which all came in the sixth inning when he was running on fumes.
"It gives you hope, but I didn't need that to make my vision for those kids any more clear," Henderson said. "I have a pretty good idea where they're (Brown and Salow) going at least in my mind. It's more significant for them I think. When you pitch well in a regional that sticks with you. I have a high opinion of those two kids both as people and as pitchers. They're going to be good."
A.J. Reed, who saw his remarkable season and potentially UK career end -- he's a draft-eligible junior likely to be selected in the early rounds -- has a similar appraisal of his school's future.
"I think they've got a lot of upside in the future," Reed said. "We've got some young guys that can hit and we've definitely got some young arms in the freshman and sophomore class who can definitely pitch. I think some of these guys are going to be able to step up and take over the staff when some of us older guys are gone."