Chad Holbrook making baseball fun again at College of Charleston – Charleston Post Courier
It’s conditioning day and normally this would be an afternoon that College of Charleston pitcher Evan Sisk and second baseman Dupree Hart would dread.
The season opener against Southeast Missouri State is still almost four months away, and running through a series of conditioning drills isn’t the way that any college athlete wants to spend a cloudless fall afternoon in the Lowcountry.
But with music playing in the background, Sisk and Hart go through their routine with smiles on their faces.
When College of Charleston coach Chad Holbrook took over the Cougars’ baseball program in July, he said his main goal was to make the game fun again for the players.
“Last year, the year before, everyone on the team would be like ‘I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be here,’” Sisk said. “But this year, everyone wants to come to the ballpark, they want to compete, get better and enjoy each other. Even if it’s running, everyone wants to be here. The mood of the team has changed. It’s a lot more positive. It’s easier to be here when you want to be here.”
Holbrook, who was forced out at South Carolina after five seasons as the Gamecocks head coach, was hired in late July to replace former Cougars head coach Matt Heath. Heath was fired after the school launched an investigation into allegations of abusive behavior toward players. Heath has denied any wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the school for wrongful termination.
“You see a lot of guys a lot more excited to come across the bridge and get after it at practice,” Hart said. “The last couple of years, I know guys didn’t want to be out here, they didn’t want to practice, but this year everyone wants to be here working on their game. The coaches are excited and that gives us energy and then they feed off of our energy. It’s great to come down here every day and be excited about what’s ahead of us this season.”
Holbrook is smiling right along with his players.
“I just feel like you’re more energized when you look forward to coming to the ballpark every day,” Holbrook said. “I’ve tried to let the players know that we care. A couple of hall of fame coaches have told me this and I believe it. Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I truly believe that. We’ve all jumped into this thing together.”
The Cougars are putting the finishing touches on their fall practices as they prepare for the season to start in February. The Cougars held their final inter-squad scrimmages over the weekend.
“We’ve had a great fall,” Holbrook said. “The kids have come to the ballpark every day ready to work, to have fun and to get better and that’s all any coach can ask for.”
Holbrook watched the Cougars from afar the last couple of seasons as the Gamecocks and Cougars squared off against each other. Like any opposing coach, he had formed some opinions of the Cougars before the first day of fall practice in August.
“I tried to enter the fall with no expectations,” Holbrook said. “I wanted to base my opinion on what I saw up close rather than what I heard or saw from the other dugout. I think that’s the fair thing to do. I’ve been really, really encouraged by the talent level. Matt (Heath) and his coaching staff did a good job in recruiting. There are definitely some talented kids here. These guys are chomping at the bit to show what they can do.”
Holbrook even feels like the Cougars have some budding superstars on their roster. Luke Morgan, who played in just 28 games and hit just .202 a year ago, has had a strong fall and should be the starting center fielder.
“Luke’s had a great summer and I think he’s going to be one of the better players in the area and maybe even in the country from a talent standpoint,” Holbrook said. “I think he’s got a chance to be a high draft pick in June. If he was playing for us at South Carolina, he’d be hitting very high in the order.”
Holbrook knew the Cougars had one of the best defensive infields in the Colonial Athletic Association last season, but seeing them every day in practice has only lifted his opinion of that group.
“I knew they were good, but they’re more elite than I thought they were,” Holbrook said. “They are all very gifted defensively.”
The one area of concern for Holbrook has been with the pitching staff. Sisk returns as the Cougars’ ace, but Nathan Ocker, the projected closer, has missed the preseason with an injury.
“We’re not as deep as I would like them to be,” Holbrook said. “The guys that have experience on the front end threw the ball very well in the fall. We need to get Nathan Ocker healthy again. He won’t start throwing in December or January and he’s going to be very important for us.”
With Holbrook’s late arrival this summer, he missed the major recruiting period in June and early July. That didn’t seem to matter on the recruiting trail. The Cougars already have 17 verbal commitments in his first recruiting class. Because the Cougars might lose several players to June’s Major League Draft, he has heavily recruited the junior college ranks. The early signing period begins Nov. 8.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the draft and who will stay and who might leave,” Holbrook said. “I didn’t want to have a young team next season, so we concentrated a lot of our resources at the junior college level. We signed some high school kids, but most of this first class will be junior college players.”