When senior catcher JB Gadd heard the news that Tracy Woodson had been hired as University of Richmond’s new head baseball coach, he was thrilled at the prospect of being able to learn from a former Major League Baseball player.
Almost seven months later, with a fall full of major league-caliber coaching behind them, Gadd and his teammates are looking forward to seeing how the newly configured team performs competitively as the Spiders prepare to kick off their 2014 season, he said.
In June 2013, former head coach Mark McQueen resigned after 19 years with the Richmond baseball program. His resignation made room for Woodson, who came to Richmond after spending seven years (2007-2013) as the head baseball coach at Valparaiso University. Woodson also played and coached professionally over a span of 20 years, including five years spent playing in MLB for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals.
With Woodson’s extensive experience in baseball’s highest levels comes a fierce desire for victory, which Gadd thinks will contribute to an increased dedication to winning from Richmond players. The new coaches have established an urgency about winning that is a refreshing change of pace from the former staff, Gadd said.
“There is a sense of urgency about every practice, everything we do as a team,” Gadd said. “If we do a drill in practice, we know exactly why we’re doing it, and how it will help us win. Everything we do gets related back to winning.”
In the fall, the team and coaches established goals for this season, including what Gadd called a lofty but achievable goal of winning 40 games out of the 57-game schedule. In the last four years, the team’s win total has not climbed above 31.
Both Woodson and Gadd believe that pitching will be the team’s biggest strength toward achieving that goal. Scouts are looking most seriously at juniors Ryan Cook, Jonathan de Marte and Zach Grossfeld, and seniors Chris Bates and Dylan Stoops, all of whom are pitchers, Woodson said.
Despite their strength in pitching, the Spiders’ offense should not be underestimated, Gadd said.
Woodson expects sophomore outfielder Tanner Stanley, who was recently named the top-rated Atlantic 10 prospect for the 2015 draft by Baseball America, to lead the offense, he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of hitters,” Woodson said, “and [Stanley] is one of the best hitters I’ve seen in college.”
Woodson is an offensive-minded coach, which is a significant change from McQueen’s focus on pitchers, Gadd said.
Gadd thinks that shift will be evident by a more aggressive attitude from the players at the plate and on the base paths, he said. That attitude will be beneficial in helping the team score earlier in games, which is something it has struggled with in the past, Gadd said.
Overall, the transition to the new coaching staff was very smooth, Gadd said, because Woodson had the team’s endorsement even before he was hired.
“All the coaching candidates were great, but [Woodson] really stood out,” Gadd said. “His resume was impressive – obviously the fact he played in the majors is really cool – but his knowledge of the game is also impeccable, and he understands how to lead and how to motivate a team.”
The baseball team will open the season in Jacksonville, Florida at the UNF Best Bet Classic from Feb. 14-16. The home opener – one of 13 home games to start the Spiders’ season – will be against Virginia Military Institute on Feb. 19 at Pitt Field.
Contact staff writer Erin Flynn at email@example.com