Mikio Aoki recently took some time out of his schedule to talk to the College Baseball Blog. Mik is entering his first season as the head coach of the Boston College Eagles. He was promoted from the Associate Head Coach position in June of 2006 when Peter Hughes went to Virginia Tech. The Eagles are coming off a 28-25 season (9-21 in conference).
1) Boston College returns six position starters from last year’s team. Who has stepped up to fill Dave Preziosi’s role as the leader of the team and at first base? Who do you expect to step in behind the plate?
Pete Frates will be our everyday CF and he has definitely stepped into take a leadership position on the team. Nate Jeanes has returned for a 5th year and is doing a very good job as the leader of the pitching staff. We also have a number of seniors on the team (I think 9) this year as opposed to just 3 last year and our seniors have been great in terms of leading the younger guys, in particular the freshmen. As far as 1B goes, coming out of the fall Mike Belfiore was the frontrunner for the job and I think he still is. Jett Ruiz and Tony Sanchez will be our catchers this year. Neither player has clearly separated himself as the number 1 guy, but that’s fine because both of them are very good players. I would expect the one who is not catching on a particular day to be our DH or even see some time at 1B.
2) Boston College is returning their entire pitching staff from last season including CCBL Co-Pitcher of the Year Terry Doyle. Has their been any freshman or newcomers to the program that will be competing for a starting or closer role?
The closer’s role is definitely the most unsettled role on our pitching staff and probably the entire team. I think that we have a number of quality arms that can step in and assume that role, but because Kevin Boggan was so good in that role for us for the past few years nobody has been put in that position of closing out games in a while. Boggan has moved into the starting rotation so we’ll have to determine who the closer will be as we progress. Ryne Reynoso and Matt Meyer would have been the co-closers this year but we lost them to the draft so we’ll have some auditions for it. Ted Ratliff, Dan Houston, Nick Asselin, Kurt Hayer, and Steve Cadoret have all pitched well in our scrimmages in the Bubble so far and they’ll all get a chance to see if they can win that job. As far as freshmen arms are concerned, I would say that Geoff Oxley, Mike Belfiore and Jimmy Cozza are probably closest to helping us although Trent Kavnagh pitched really well in Saturday's scrimmage.
3) The uniform start date goes into effect next season, How will that affect your team in the future? Also, What are your thoughts on the rule change?
I’m not really sure how that is going to effect us, but my feeling is not very much. We’ve got a great indoor situation and we’re lucky to have an early spring break. The idea behind is a sound one. I really like the fact that we will have played a similar number of games to our conference opponents when ACC play opens up. We’ll play one three-game set in a tournament or a single opponent on that first weekend and then we’ll play about five games on our spring break trip before our ACC opener. The eight games that we will have played will be a very similar amount to whoever we open with, which is great. However, we’re really fortunate that our spring break begins as early as it does. We’re also incredibly fortunate to have the indoor situation that we do. The Bubble allows us to scrimmage live and really be prepared to go down south without having been outside and compete at a high level. For the majority of northern schools, they don’t have an indoor situation like we do and they have to play weekend to weekend until they can play outside at home. The lack of midweek games will still hurt them as they go south because by the middle of March, the southern schools will have been playing one or two midweek games since the starting date and will be up to 15 or more games while most northern schools will have only played about nine or so games. In addition, you have to count all of the scrimmages that southern schools will have been playing since February 1.
I really hope that the NCAA does not decide to lessen the number of games that we can play, which is a thought attached to the new legislation. Northern schools are used to playing two midweek games a week. We, at BC, have been accustomed to it forever. We graduate 100% of our players, and I’d say 95% of our kids graduate in four years. If a school like us, with the academic reputation and standards that we have, can get to 56 games without hurting graduation rates, everybody else can do it too. Look at Notre Dame, they’re doing it as well.
Yes, it creates some situations where you play games with an unfavorable pitching match-up for you and perhaps you lose a game that you “aren’t supposed to” but on the flip side, you’re developing some depth on your pitching staff. In the larger picture, you’re probably going to have to spread scholarship dollars around a bit more than southern schools are used to do doing to create depth on a pitching staff and maybe that results in more parody in college baseball. If that’s the case, I think it is really good for college baseball – parody has been a really good thing for hoops and it would be for us as well.
4) Boston College is in a Southern conference with many traditional powers in baseball like Florida State and Miami among others. What is a realistic goal of the program? Do you expect to make the CWS?
Obviously we’re going to always be in an uphill battle in recruiting because we are a northern school. BUT, I think we have a great niche. Academically, we are a great school, and now we play in the best baseball conference in America. Our closest ACC rival is 500+ miles away. So for kids in the Northeast and in particular New England, we represent a tremendous opportunity. Those kids, who want to get a great education and play college baseball at the very highest level, can do it while playing in their own backyard. I think we have a really good recruiting class this year. I feel very strongly that we got the majority of the best kids in New England that we could recruit from an academic standpoint. The couple of big names that committed elsewhere from up here that we could have gotten into school are kids that are going to go really high in the draft, and while we would have loved to have signed them, the likelihood of those couple of kids playing in college is very questionable. Our goals are the same every year and they are in chronological order for our season – 1. Win the Beanpot 2. Play in the ACC Tournament 3. Get to the NCAA tournament 4. Get to Omaha We play in a conference that will allow us the opportunity to accomplish all of those things. Our are challenges as a highly academic school in an northern climate more difficult than some other places. They might be – every place has its own challenges and obstacles. However, I know that when it comes to achieving goals – if you can’t say it and envision it, it isn’t going to happen. I believe it can happen here and once we get our new facility in the next year or so, we’ll be that much closer to it because one more hurdle will have been cleared.
5) When do you expect the new baseball facility to become a reality?
Within the next year or two. There’s a lot of red tape with the City of Boston and we at BC want to be good neighbors. The property values of the surrounding neighborhood are out of sight and we don’t want to just jam things down there throats. We want to work them and be aware of their concerns before we start putting shovels in the ground. I’ve seen the drawings that they have and the stadium will be first-class in every way and precisely what we need and the right fit for BC.
6) Mik, You were named the head coach of Boston College on June 8th, 2006. What is the biggest challenge you see yourself dealing with?
I think it has to be the recruiting aspect. BC is doing everything they can to ensure that we’re going to be competitive in the ACC so we’ve got to hold up our end of the bargain by recruiting great players and students. We’ve had a great track record of developing players here. I think we’ve had 18 players drafted in the past three years and only two of them had been drafted out of high school including Chris Lambert who came to BC undrafted and left as a 1st-rounder three years later. If we can recruit the right fit for BC, I think we’re going to be pretty good
7)What player or coach have you enjoyed working with the most during your career?
The player question is tough because I’ve been blessed to have been around truly great kids here at BC and during my other coaching stops. The coaching one is tough too but it has to Pete Hughes. He and I have been friends for 20+ years now and he’s one of my closest friends and he is like a brother to me.
The College Baseball Blog would like to thank Coach Aoki again for taking the time to do this brief interview. If you have any questions or comments send them to me here.