Q&A: Voice of IU baseball ready to squeal like a pig
Indiana is 48-14 and headed to its first College World Series. Along the way, the Hoosiers have won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships and swept its way to the Bloomington Regional and Tallahassee Super Regional crowns.
Few have enjoyed a better seat for the historic season than Jeremy Gray, the voice of Indiana baseball and the school’s assistant athletic director for broadcast services. Gray joined the Indiana program in 2005 and started calling games in 2008. Read our Q&A with him in this post.
Q: Here’s a good place to start: Baseball’s a long season, so what was the exact moment when you first thought, “You know what, this could be a College World Series team?”
A: I knew heading into the season that this team would be good and a safe bet to win the Big Ten Title, but it was right in the heart of that long winning streak, when IU hosted Louisville at Bart Kaufman Field and won 6-2 to take the season series. At that moment, I thought the pitching was good enough against elite teams to make a serious run in June. I remember tweeting, “Folks, get on board. This is real”. They haven’t looked back since.
Q: Have you ever been around a better baseball team at Indiana, or seen a better one in the Big Ten?
A: The 2009 Indiana team was very talented, but by any measure this is the best Indiana team of all time. As far as the Big Ten is concerned, the other team in this weight class that I have seen would be the ’07 and ’08 Michigan teams. Man for man they were as good, but this team has that intangible quality that I think they’d prevail in a best-of-seven against those UM squads. Of course, I’m paid to say that.
Q: This team has it all – pitching, hitting, bullpen, you name it – but what aspect, other than lack of CWS experience, are you most worried about?
A: There are a few vulnerabilities with this team. For starters, they are not a great base-stealing team. In a 3-3 tie in the late innings, they might struggle stealing second to get in scoring position in a crucial situation. While the pitching is both underrated and objectively tremendous, they don’t have a strikeout artist so the defense will have to account for around 22 of the 27 outs. They will have to make a lot of plays against elite competition, and there is little margin for error (pun intended).
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Q: If you’re an opposing coach, how do you approach this white-hot and deep Indiana lineup?
A: Throw and then duck! I say the following knowing that almost all of the teams at the CWS were the number one seeds in their respective regionals. There are eight elite teams competing in Omaha. That said, there is no doubt in my mind that Indiana is the hardest hitting team in Omaha. They are also getting more disciplined as the year goes along. Early in the year I would have said throw first-pitch breaking balls. I don’t think I would say that any longer. I would simply advise a pitcher to never throw two pitches in the same location in the same at-bat.
Q: What it’s been like to watch, to announce, to follow, to hang out with this team during its incredible season, postseason run.
A: Broadcasters can go in any number of directions in their careers. Early on I knew I wanted to be the “voice” of a team to get to be around the coaches and student-athletes in a more direct and permanent way. This is a great group. They joke, but are not clowns. They are serious, but not tightly wound. Their attention to detail, selflessness – there are a half dozen guys who would be weekend starters or middle of the lineup guys on most teams – and toughness are truly unusual. This is a why-you-work-nights-and-weekends-to-do-this-for-a-living team. It has been a joy to be around this group.
Q: Who’s the biggest character on the team, the guy who’s going to keep the players loose on such a big stage?
A: Some surprising choices. Kyle Schwarber is hilarious. The kid will literally say anything. Joey DeNato is the prankster with freshman Will Coursen-Carr being his favorite victim. The reserved Justin Cureton also had a great moment in Tallahassee. By a factor of ten, he is the best defensive player on the team and he dropped a routine pop up in the late innings against FSU that helped cut the IU lead down to two. After the disastrous inning, he jogged back to the dugout and looked at equipment manager Rusty Stillions and said, “Rusty, why did you give me a glove with a hole in it?” The team laughed and relaxed and found a way to hold on.
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Q: Who’s the most important player to success in Omaha?
A: There are two. Schwarber, (Sam) Travis, (Dustin) DeMuth, etc. will do what they do, but my choices are Michael Basil and Kyle Hart. Basil is the unquestioned leader of this team. He willed this team past Ohio State to win the Big Ten title. He helped create the culture of selflessness and attention to detail that I mentioned earlier. He also plays a vital position and has had his share of clutch hits. If Indiana rolls in Omaha, Basil will be a big reason why. Hart went 8-2 this year, but has yet to get the opportunity to pitch in the postseason – he was scheduled to go in the deciding game of both earlier rounds. He’s dying to pitch. He’s also a bulldog of a competitor. Totally fearless. If IU pulls this off, Kyle Hart will have a heroic moment.
Q: What’s been your favorite highlight, moment along the way to Omaha?
A: Most will think it was the (Chad) Clark homer and the (Justin) Cureton catch (listen to Gray’s call of the catch). While those are inarguably the most important plays of their kind in the 100-plus year history of IU baseball, they are not my choices. The first would be Game 2 of the weekend series at Ohio State where freshman Nick Ramos came in to pinch hit with Basil on third in the top of the 9th against OSU’s ace reliever. He fouled off nine pitches to stay alive and eventually drove the ball deep to centerfield to score Basil to tie the game and go to extras. The other was Schwarber’s homer in Tallahassee. Understandably, FSU fans thought they’d romp this team from the north. Schwarber sat at 3-2 vs. a pitcher with 96 mph heat, and hit the ball 430 feet over the right field wall. The whole tenor of the stadium changed. They knew they were in for it. It was an electric moment. Like when Rocky punched Apollo in the jaw for the first time.
Q: Be honest: Have you thought about or rehearsed the call you’ll use in the event Indiana hoists the NCAA trophy?
A: I have, but when/if it happens, I’ll probably just squeal like a pig caught in a bear trap.
Q: Finish this sentence: If the Hoosiers win the national title, I will __________________.
A: You remember Shooter when Jimmy Chitwood hit that game winner in ‘Hoosiers’? Them whitecoats might have to put me in a straightjacket.
|About Brent Yarina||BTN.com web editor Brent Yarina covers football and men’s basketball for BTN.com. He writes the popular uniform feature “Clothes Call,” which also focuses on the latest cosmetic changes across Big Ten arenas and stadiums. Read all of his work here. You can subscribe to Yarina’s RSS feed and follow him on Twitter @BTNBrentYarina.|