Cody Lassley, Bret Bascue and Ryan Jones are the three old men in the Wichita State baseball locker room. Of the team's 10 seniors, they are the only ones who spent their entire careers as Shockers. Counting redshirt seasons, they offer a total of 14 years of experience, and hope the highlight is still to come. They also offer the perspective of local products — Lassley from South High, Bascue from Derby and Jones from Bishop Carroll. Add their status as well-spoken individuals, and they seemed naturals to assess the highs and lows of a college baseball player
With those credentials, the trio sat down over pizza last week to discuss their time at WSU, with topics ranging from winning two NCAA regionals to scholarship limits to spades and whether or not it's time for coach Gene Stephenson to retire.
Let's start at the logical place — take us back to your first days as a Shocker (for Bascue and Lassley in 2005 and for Jones in 2006). Is there a "Welcome to college baseball moment" that stands out?
Lassley: It was me, Bret and (pitcher) Matt Smith, and it was one of the first days we had to be here. All three of us are local guys, and we're walking around, and I remember saying I can't believe we're here and I can't wait to get started. I was in awe of being at a big-time DI program. I was so pumped to be here.
Bascue: We get here my first year and I'm on the field with these guys I grew up watching — (Derek) Schermerhorn, Matt Brown, (Damon) Sublett, Kenny Waddell. Now I'm on the field with them, competing against them for a job. It was almost overwhelming, that first fall, especially the first couple weeks making that change to start competing against them instead of watching them.
Jones: My favorite, definitely, was first senior-led practice. I walk out of the tunnel and Danny Jackson is sitting right there with his chair in front of everybody. That guy — some of the things he said. He did the rundown — this is what we expect, this how Gene is going to be, know your signs, different stuff like that. He said it in a certain way that you can't really repeat. That guy was a different character.
How important is that senior leadership, and how has it played out in 2010?
Bascue: I think that was one of the biggest things from last year to this year. We only had one senior last year. Gene wanted some of us juniors to step up in that senior role, and a lot of us, I don't think, did and take it the way we should have. This year, we really wanted to emphasize it a lot and be the leaders. Last year was a down year and none of us wanted to do that again. We established early that our goal was to get to Omaha. That was the seniors. That wasn't the coaches or anybody.
Lassley: During senior-leds, we try to establish that we're going to be the leaders of the team and this is how things are going to be. It's tradition. Lay out the law. Let guys know how to deal with the coaches and how to deal with the pressure. I think that's a big step as a freshman, to get those things out of the way and learn how to cope with them and you can go on and play baseball.
Bret and Cody, how was the redshirt experience?
Lassley: It was tough to know you're going to go into a game and you're not going to play. At the same time, it was good because me and Bret got to sit back and really learn.
Bascue: I'm very happy I did. It's just an extra year to mature and an extra year to get better.
Jones: I wish I would have redshirted. I wasn't mentally ready to play baseball, really. My first game of my college career I'm standing over there trying to take everything in, and we're playing at Pepperdine. The pitcher is an All-America stud pitcher from the left side. In the second inning, Matt Brown gets hurt. He has stitches in his hand. All of a sudden I hear my name 'Jones' thrown out there. It was a shock to me. I was not expecting to play. Mentally, I was not ready. Did I want to play? Of course I wanted to play. My first at-bat I was shaking and everything. It kind of sent me into a little bit of a slump my freshman year.
That brings up a familiar point I hear from all athletes — the mental challenges are more difficult than the physical ones?
Bascue: Everybody here has the physical. That's what they see when they go recruit. They look at how good you play. The mental part is something, there's guys that have come and gone because they couldn't handle that.
Jones: All of a sudden you're starting struggling right away. You're not getting hits. They have never experienced that. I know I hadn't. We were all three-hole hitters our whole high school career. Coming out here and you're 0 for your first 12. You're thinking 'Wow, am I good enough to play here.' Then you start doubting yourself.
What advice do you give younger players to deal with that mental burden?
Lassley: My biggest thing is telling them failure is going to happen, but you have to learn from it. You're going to mess up on the field and (coaches) are going to rip you for it. You're going to make a bad pitch and Brent (Kemnitz) is going to rip you for it. You just have to learn from the mistakes.
Bascue: It's almost like there's not much you can say — you just have to go through it. You have to experience failure before you're going to get better.
With many coaches, it seems important to learn how to filter out the frustration and noise and focus on the teaching. How true is that?
Lassley: You've got to pick out the positive. Every time they get on you, they're trying to teach you something. This isn't the type of coaching staff that is going to sit there and baby you. They want you to figure things out on your own. They're going to give you the things you need to be successful, but you have to apply them.
Jones: Gene's got a different teaching philosophy. There's certain things you really need to listen to. He's got so much wisdom. But after a tough loss, he can go on his rants. Or if you're standing in the box and you take a pitch right down the middle, and you look over and he's waving his hands in the air. There's certain things you just have to take with a grain of salt. You know what — the guy is passionate about the game. I want some coach that's going to go in there and get just as fired up as we are, and that's what Gene is.
Lassley: All the coaches live and die with every pitch. We'll be up by 13 runs and some guy on the other gets a dink hit and Kemnitz is in the dugout just pissed and screaming.
Jones: Just like that KU game we won 22-7. We were up 22-2 and we end the game and everybody's high-fiving and we're all excited. Brent is downstairs, already dressed and ready to leave. He was just mad at the fact they gave up seven runs. That's what you want. You want to strive for perfection. That's what I love about it.
What are the pros and cons of playing in your hometown?
Bascue: My dad and even my mom are at virtually every game. Having that kind of support is awesome. I feel bad for certain guys... who don't have that kind of support. I heard somebody say 'You can use my pass list, nobody is going to come watch me play.'
Lassley: Having your dad's input is a big thing. If he sees you being lazy, he's going to get on you.
Jones: I have over 15 people here a game. I love it. The toughest part, really, is I did live at home my freshman year. I live at home now. Going home after a horrible game or you're struggling for awhile and you're getting advice from everyone around Wichita. Then all of a sudden your mom comes out and says 'Why don't we go hit together. I'll put a ball on a tee' — like your mom knows what she's talking about.
Cody, you have a 3-year-old daughter, Elyzabeth. How challenging is to balance baseball, school and a family?
Lassley: It's been a blast. The biggest struggle has been when I go away. Those three, four-day road trips are just killing me. I wish I could take her everywhere I go. Having her around — it's like she has 30 dads. Tyler Grimes, you would never think this because he's such a fireball, but he absolutely loves kids. Everybody, deep down, wants to have a kid one day.
Bret, you're enjoying a great senior season, starting every day and hitting over .400. How gratifying has this season been?
Bascue: This is how you want to end your career. I was a role player and this was my next role.
Jones: He deserves every minute of it. The guy his hitting unbelievably and lefties fear him. We've loved every minute of watching him.
Ryan, you're going to leave WSU as a three-year starter in the outfield. What stands out?
Jones: The struggles. The high points. The low points. Just being around the guys. There's so many points I've struggled and it's only made me a better player. I could have signed (professionally) but I didn't feel my senior year was worth the money they were offering. I still have no regrets. We still have one of the bigger chances to get to Omaha (for the College World Series). I think we have the team to do it.
Let's exclude present company for this one _ Who is your favorite teammate, past or present?
Lassley: Conor Gillaspie, my brother. From day one, we were pretty good buddies. We would go hit in the cages together those first few days. We really formed a pretty good relationship from that. Conor gets obsessed with these little things. The first couple years it was fishing. He would drag me out every day to go fishing. Then the next couple years he got into hunting. He would be blowing me up every day, wanting to go hunting. I love that about him.
Bascue: (Clint) McKeever. He's one of those guys who always puts you in a good mood. He's funny. He's smart. Everything.
Lassley: You can be around that guy and he never gets old.
Jones: Think about it — the guy had a pretty rough senior season. The guy got hurt. He's been hurt. You wouldn't notice it from him. He's an unbelievable leader.
Ryan, who is your guy?
Jones: Andy Dirks. Absolutely. He's a guy I could joke with on every pitch in the outfield. He was never afraid to stand up to anyone, Gene especially. He had so much knowledge and so much wisdom, and he put it in his own little way. He's not going to be the guy that sits there and lectures. He's going to be the guy who talks to you.
You're in charge of college baseball for a day. What changes do you make?
Lassley: Better scholarships.
Jones: It's ridiculous how we get 11.7 to split between 30 people. We barely get anything, and it's tough.
Bascue: To hear other players from other sports complain that they don't get enough money _ you're like 'OK.' It seems like we get the short end. Especially with the local guys. We take scholarship cuts because we're local. Which is something we have to do so Gene can go out and find other guys.
Give us the funniest moment that's fit for publication.
Lassley: The fight at K-State between Kemnitz and J.T. (assistant coach Jim Thomas).
Bascue: Khol Nanney was pitching. They put a bunt play on, and I think it was supposed to be a pick (to first base). Khol threw home, threw a pitch home.
Lassley: He bunted it, but we got the out.
Bascue: J.T. looks down at Brent, you know how they stand at opposite ends of the dugout, J.T. looks down at Brent.
Lassley: He gave him the J.T. glare.
Bascue: And Brent comes back at him 'Don't you look at me. Don't be looking down here.' And it's a pretty big dugout at K-State, so they're talking pretty loud, yelling at each other. They keep talking, and then they meet in the middle, face to face, nose to nose. It just about goes to blows. Everybody was sitting in the dugout, going 'Oh my.'
Lassley: But everybody had a good laugh, because we ended up winning.
Bascue: You can't say a lot of the stuff that was said.
Bascue: Coming back from California, either last year or the year before, when Gene got held back (from a flight) and he was throwing out the 'Do you know who I am' card. That was pretty funny.
Jones: What about freshman year, when Danny Jackson struck out and he came into the dugout and took off his helmet off and he hit it against (something) and it bounced back and smoked him in the face and he had to get stitches.
Bascue: He said it was the first time he threw his helmet, and it got him.
The Shockers are playing well in 2010. Can they keep it going?
Lassley: I definitely think so. We're getting Charlie Lowell back in the bullpen. We've been hitting the ball better lately. Preston (Springer) has been tearing it up.
Jones: I don't think we've hit our full stride yet. There's a bunch of guys who are struggling, trying to bust out. I know I am. If we can bust out and hit on all cylinders, it will be scary.
Pick a moment that stands out from your career:
Bascue: Definitely winning the regional here (in 2007). I don't think there's anything that can compare to that, 8,000 fans going crazy.
Lassley: Winning the conference tournament last year was a highlight. Nobody expected us to win that. We shouldn't have won it. But guys stepped up at the right times. Gene was almost in tears after the game. He was so proud of us.
Jones: Watching McKeever's home run hit the foul pole (in the 2008 regional at Oklahoma State), for right now. I batted right ahead of him, maybe two guys before he hit it. I had a runner on third with one out and I flew out to short left field. It was one of the lowest points I had. When he hit that ball out, it was a huge relief.
When WSU goes through a difficult season, like in 2009, or a difficult stretch, you start to hear that it's time for Gene Stephenson (age 64) to retire. How do you respond?
Lassley: I think he has a lot of years left to coach. I know he loves being around his players. He makes us a part of his family, and that's a testament to what kind of person he is, not only a coach. He's definitely got a lot of good years left.
Bascue: You'll never find a guy that cares about it more than him. After a loss, I think it was Oral Roberts, he was so mad at us. He went off 30 minutes in the dugout. On the other hand, Sunday after we came back and win (at Creighton), he was almost in tears he was so happy for us and so proud of us. He just loves the game and loves being around it.
Jones: You can see from the moment he sits with you recruiting you, how much he is into baseball. I remember sitting his office and him talking to me for, literally, two hours about baseball and what he expects from us and what he expects the next three years.
Lassley: His competitiveness, too, is unlike anything I've ever seen. Everything he does is a competition _ if he's shaking your hand he wants to crush you. Anything. Spades. He thinks he's god's gift to spades.
Jones: I hope he coaches for as long as he can. Nothing angered me more than when we were struggling this year and people would be talking about how Gene needs to retire and J.T. needs to be fired. At that point in time, we had the team that could have won all those games. But, it was on us. We didn't do it. It wasn't our coaches, it was us. I think we realized it and we took it on our shoulders and that's why we've flipped the script.
I've heard about the spades games on bus trips. Give us a taste.
Bascue: I don't think I've ever seen him lose.
Jones: I've been close to beating him three times. One time, it was because of one single point that we lost to him. Nothing is better then when you look across and you know you have got him set or you know you're in his head and he's shaking his head, trying to look at his card. Nothing is worse than losing to him and having to listen to him. We had that first spades tournament and he's walking up and down the bus "Who's the spades champion.' You want to punch him.
Jones: He and J.T. play together. I guarantee they have something working. Nothing's better than if J.T. does something and they both start bickering. I remember J.T. laid down a wrong card and Gene started wearing him out and J.T. was saying 'That's why I hate playing with you.'
College will be over in a month or so. What's next?
Lassley: Getting a job. I think I might try to get my teaching certificate and be a teacher.
Bascue: I'm trying to ride baseball, try to ride this as long as I can. Hopefully, we're playing until the end of June. I guess then I'll start looking.
Lassley: I don't think we want to think about it.
Jones: Hopefully, I'll have a pro-ball career and try to ride that out until they kick me out the door. Once that ends, I'm going to be a teacher and be a coach. I would love to go back to my old high school and coach them.