Mingione Instilling Competitive Spirit in Baseball Wildcats

During his first fall practice as head baseball coach at Kentucky, Nick Mingione is asking his team to accomplish a number of goals. The primary goal on that list is to always be competitive.

In fact, during Mingione’s media opportunity on Wednesday, many of his players were seen sporting plain blue hats. There’s a good reason for that.

“We have to earn our gear this year,” said junior shortstop Riley Mahan. “We have the plain blue hats to start, and you have to earn your (UK) hat.”

It’s that type of competitive spirit that Mingione hopes to bring to the Kentucky program. Hired on June 14, Mingione immediately went to work on his team and his program, attempting to regain the competitive spirit and on-the-field success that he saw here as an assistant coach in 2006, when the Wildcats won the SEC title. 

“Everything we do is competitive, everything we do has a purpose,” Mahan said. “I think that makes practice a lot more productive. It makes everything a lot more intense and definitely raises the focus level.”

Mahan is now one of the veterans on the team, a group that Mingione praised on Wednesday.

“That has been one of the strengths of our team, is how the guys have embraced our new coaching staff and the culture and environment we have created,” Mingione said. “They have totally brought us in, they have welcomed every single idea. They’ve been a phenomenal group to be around and coach. The reason it’s gone so well is because of them.”

Another veteran who is enjoying the fall is senior pitcher Logan Salow, who thinks adding Mingione has brought a new spirit to the team.

“The biggest change is the positivity and the high energy,” Salow said. “Every day, we’re coming out here and it’s a new experience for all of us. The newness still hasn’t worn off. That’s carrying over into our practices and intrasquads. It’s a really fun fall so far.”

And that’s saying quite a bit for the Wildcats, who didn’t have a lot of fun down the stretch last season. Kentucky finished 32-25, but lost six of its last nine games, including a first-round defeat in the SEC Tournament. Mingione wants the players to forget about last season and start fresh.

“Any time you have a new coaching staff, everything and every day they show up, it’s something brand new,” Mingione said. “You can challenge them in different ways. Obviously, you’re trying to create a whole new culture here.”

While creating that culture, Mingione is still getting his feet wet as a first-time head coach. Like his players, Migione was sporting a plain blue hat on Wednesday, indicating that even he has not yet earned his gear. 

“It’s been a learning experience, not just for me, but for all of our players and coaches,” Mingione said. “It’s been productive. Out of all of the teams I have ever coached or been a part of, this team has grown more than any other team. Not only have they learned, but we have learned as well.”

Fall practice for the Wildcats concludes this weekend with the Black/White intrasquad World Series, beginning on Friday at 3:35, followed by a 12:05 start on Saturday and a 1:05 first pitch on Sunday. All three games will be played at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The biggest question about the 2017 Wildcats will be the pitching. Kentucky lost all three of its weekend starters from last season (Dustin Beggs, Zack Brown and Kyle Cody), so there will be plenty of opportunities for other pitchers.

“We lost all 30 SEC starts from last year, we lost over 70 percent of our innings from last year,” Mingione said. “We’ve had to put some guys in some different roles (this fall) that maybe they haven’t pitched in before. There have been some guys that have really emerged. Salow has done great, Sean Hjelle has been phenomenal, Justin Lewis has done great and of course, Zach Logue.”

In the spirit of consistency, Mingione has presented the vying for pitching spots as another competitive environment.

“The big word we’ve used is opportunity,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity out there, as we know. We need starters, but as far as roles, that has not been established.”

Salow thinks the competitive nature is motivating himself and his teammates.

“It’s been so competitive that you have seen bigger improvements and bigger jumps from guy to guy than you have in the past,” Salow said. “Nobody has a role yet.”

Mahan agrees. 

“That’s one thing that really raises focus for everybody and everybody’s competing, and it’s a lot more fun,” Mahan said.

Competitive spirit is motivating the team this fall, and that should help provide better results when the regular season begins in February.