Eric Wedge on WSU’s first practice: ‘This is the most important fall we’ll ever have’
The first time Eric Wedge had his entire Wichita State baseball team in a room with him, at the first team meeting Sunday, the first-year Shockers coach shared a story from his days as an MLB manager with the Cleveland Indians.
It was 2007, and the Indians were competing with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to go to the World Series. Wedge recounted what it was like to play both of those teams in the American League playoffs and the aura those teams had when they took the field.
“He told us how we want to be ready for that first game of the season, and we want the other team to be like, ‘That’s the Shockers, and they’re ready to play and they’re already up 1-0,’” WSU senior Jacob Katzfey said. “That just reminded us he’s been there, and he’s seen success at the highest level. We know the tradition he helped build here, and we want nothing more than to get back to Omaha.”
Restoring that type of aura to Wichita State will be a process, and it began Wednesday when the Shockers held their first practice of the fall season at Eck Stadium.
“This fall will be the most important fall we’ll ever have here,” Wedge said. “We’re talking about creating a culture, about driving success, about helping these young people understand what it’s going to take to become the best versions of themselves. A lot of what’s going to happen here this fall is less about what’s happening (on the field) versus what’s happening everywhere else.
“Ultimately, we feel strongly that what you do off the field influences what you do on the field and vice versa. We want them to understand what hard work truly is and ultimately have pride in being a Wichita State Shocker.”
It’s already clear that the players have a profound respect for Wedge, the catcher on Wichita State’s 1989 national championship team who left his scouting job in the majors to coach his alma mater.
They hadn’t experienced the coaching side of Wedge before Wednesday, but Wedge has made sure every player has had an up-close view of what he is like as a person. He exudes confidence, from the words he speaks to the booming voice that projects them.
Three months after accepting the job, Wedge is as confident as ever that the Shockers will return to national prominence.
“Regardless of what’s laid in front of me, regardless of what kind of hand we’ve been dealt here, we’re going to be successful,” Wedge told reporters before the practice. “When I talk about driving success, that’s what I mean. Failure is not an option. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s only a cliché if they’re just words. You have to live it.”
It’s bold of Wedge and his staff to speak so matter-of-factly about WSU’s turnaround, as if the question should be when, not if. And that confidence has rubbed off on the players.
“It makes you want to lay it all on the line for him,” WSU junior catcher Ross Cadena said. “The energy is something you can’t really explain. He won a national championship here, so of course you’re going to work your hardest for someone like that.”
Wedge and his staff, which includes former Shocker stars in Mike Pelfrey and Loren Hibbs, are quick to remind players of their ties to the program’s peak success. But Wedge has made it clear he isn’t entering his first collegiate job thinking everything that worked in 1989 will work 30 years later.
“We’re 30 years removed from it, but when you are going to be successful and you’re going to be a part of something special, you’ve got to understand how we got here,” Wedge said. “You’ve got to understand the history of this program. So we’re going to keep that in front of them. We’re not going to live in the past, but we’re going to take everything good from it, and we’re going to make sure we pass that forward.”
When the season begins in February, the Shockers will be playing for their first NCAA Regional berth since 2013. They’ll have two fall games in the meantime, as WSU will host Nebraska on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m. at Eck Stadium, and then play at Missouri State on Saturday, Oct. 5.
Of note in Wednesday’s practice, senior Alex Jackson and sophomore Brady Slavens took fielding practice at shortstop after both played primarily in the outfield last season. Ross Cadena (catcher), Garrett Kocis (first base), Jack Sigrist (shortstop), Paxton Wallace (third base), Jacob Katzfey (outfield), Hunter Gibson (outfield) and David VanVooren (outfield) are the notable returners from last year’s team.