FULLERTON, Calif.--- With the 2016 fall season in the books and the holiday season in full swing, the 2017 Cal State Fullerton baseball season is just around the corner. FullertonTitans.com got the opportunity to sit down with head coach Rick Vanderhook and talk everything from fall ball to the upcoming season to his favorite holiday tradition. Below is part one of our two-part Q&A series with the four-time Big West Coach of the Year.
FullertonTitans.com: Let's start with last season. The Titans qualified for their 24th straight postseason and claimed their sixth Big West title in the last seven years, clinching the outright title on the final day of the regular season vs. Long Beach State. How has this program been able to stay consistently great for so long?
Vanderhook: It's definitely the players. Some groups definitely feel the pressure more than others in terms of what the success has been before and the standard we have here. Some guys feed off it and some don't. We'll see what this group does this year. I thought last year, some guys felt some pressure and it didn't lead to us getting quite where we wanted to go, but overall I think we've been pretty successful over a long period of time. Over the last five years we've pitched super well. I thought back in 2013 we pitched and hit really well, but unfortunately we ran into some unlucky situations in the Super Regional. Some balls didn't fall and the other team made a few plays. Overall I think it's just about players knowing what the other guys have done before them and going out and executing. They also have to understand that baseball is truly different than any other sport in where it's a true team game. Not one guy is going to make you or break you.
FullertonTitans.com: What do you personally get out of the fall season? What do you look to evaluate?
Vanderhook: We use the fall to put our system in. Whether it's our system on bunt defenses or our system on what to do in first to third situations. We make sure our guys know our philosophy and how we want to play. I always tell our guys; the fall is a lot hard than January or February will be because we're not going to teach them anything new. Do they need to refresh on what they've learned? Yes, of course, but there's not going to be anything new. The fall is the time to figure out what you have trouble with as a player and it's the time where as a coaching staff we can work with you.
If you have trouble with something in the system, we just won't do it. It's just that simple. Not every guy can do everything we ask them to do. There's some things you can improve on, but there are also some things that you won't be able to do. We spend a lot of time hitting in the fall as well. We want to make sure the guys understand their adjustments and they understand their swings. There are obviously some situations where ideally we'd like to bunt, but if you can't bunt, then you can't bunt. Ok, fine, so let's figure out another way we can move the runner over. We want to find out what our guys' strengths are and capitalize on those areas. Obviously, we still work on the weaknesses too, but not everyone can do everything we ask them to do. If they could everyone would be making millions.
FullertonTitans.com: Who impressed you the most coming out of fall ball?
Vanderhook: Hank LoForte offensively has really established himself as a real leadoff hitter. That's something we've lacked for a while. That's going to give us a big boost right there. Chris Prescott was also impressive, really just on his ability to defend. We're basically running three centerfielders out there. We have pitched well in the past because we've played defense well. Our goal defensively is always to shrink the field and I think we're in a place right now where we've been able to do that. On the pitching side of things, Gavin Velasquez and Joe Wills have both been really good. Wills didn't walk a guy until the final day of fall ball and he was super upset over that, so that was great to see. Both of those guys were really impressive though.
FullertonTitans.com: You and your staff were able to ink yet another top-25 recruiting class this year. Why is Cal State Fullerton such a great place to come play baseball?
Vanderhook: We get kids who want to play here. We don't get kids who want to go watch a school play football five Saturdays a year. We get kids who want to go to school and play baseball. You have the guys that love all of the hoopla in terms of being able to go to a football game, but it's only five times a year for three hours a day. If you want to jeopardize your career and go somewhere because you get to watch football, then so be it. We want guys who want to be the best. If you look at the Cal State Fullerton baseball fraternity, it's a pretty elite group.
FullertonTitans.com: Let us in on a Vanderhook holiday family tradition.
Vanderhook: On Christmas Eve we all wear pajamas. They're new every year. This year the ladies of the family will wear reindeer pajamas, while the boys will dress as Santa Claus. See I'm growing the Santa Claus beard right now. It's a pajama Christmas Eve party, even the dogs get involved. We take it pretty seriously. Two of them have the reindeer antlers and the other one is at the groomer as we speak getting a haircut and he'll have a Santa Claus beard.
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