By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State made a strategic move in the off-season by adding outfielders coach Adam White to the staff. It was a move that has since paid off as White has rallied his players and honed their skills exceptionally.
In baseball, playing in the outfield is like living on an island where the main purpose is to do whatever it takes to defend the large patch of grass by preventing extra base hits or runs from scoring. Whether it involves making a diving catch or throwing a runner out at the plate; the task can be daunting with the space an outfielder must cover while dealing with the elements.
Coach White prepares his players by developing a mindset that everything is a challenge and they need to always be mentally and physically prepared. He wants them to be enthusiastic and motivated both on and off the field.
"I want these guys to be competitive and have a lot of energy in everything that they do," said White.
He focuses on the details of each player's game, beginning with their footwork, which acts as the foundation during any given play. The moment a batter makes contact, an outfielder knows when it's coming their way and is taking a step back to judge their next movement. Footwork can also be a key to preventing careless errors.
"I typically start off with their footwork," said White. "Whether it's just catching a routine fly ball or fielding a groundball they have to be very efficient because it will cut down on mistakes that are made. So I hammer a lot with their footwork."
Discipline and being alert are two top priorities for White's players. There are times when the ball seems walled into the infield when a pitcher is getting a lot of ground ball outs, which can cause them to grow complacent. These are the moments when crucial mistakes occur that can cost a team a game.
"It's just being competitive, being ready, and anticipating the ball getting hit to you," said White, "because in the outfield it can be very boring. You might only see one ball a game and that time that you're not ready is the time it could cost [your team] a game."
Players have embraced coach White's style and are working hard to improve. His scrutinizing tactics are having a positive impact on each player's game.
"Coach White has helped a ton," said junior outfielder Zach Ell. "He really delves into all aspects of the game and cuts into every part of it. He analyzes every little movement you make."
The Nittany Lions lost a talented senior class last season including outfielder Sean Deegan, who made an impact with his glove, at the plate and in the locker room. Filling Deegan's shoes is going to be a challenge, but White is confident in this group of players.
"They're a great group of kids to work with," said White. "This is a very promising group. They're very athletic. We still have some work to do, but they're getting better every day. I'm very pleased with the progress so far this year."
The players learned from former seniors like Deegan, Jordan Steranka, and Joey DeBernardis and are prepared to take the reins. As is the case with almost any athletic program in the country, new leaders have to emerge each season. Coach White is looking forward to discovering the next captain in the outfield.
"It's going to have to be the next player to step up," said White on finding a new left fielder. "Throughout the course of the spring we'll figure out who that guy's going to be. We have some interesting battles for that spot and it's going to be fun to see how guys compete for that job."
Penn State's new and improved outfield consists of both returning veterans and talented young players. The Nittany Lions welcome back outfielders Steve Snyder, Aaron Novak and Ell, each of whom saw play time last season. Snyder started in centerfield and Novak started in right field, but all three are passionate about defending their island.
"I love throwing guys out," said Ell. "I think that's the best feeling ever. Especially when that ground ball is hit to you and you know that guy's going to be running. You're just hyped up to get it and fire it in there."
Coach White also has his eyes on several incoming recruits, like freshman James Coates, who show a lot of potential.
He set the tone in practice when talking to his players by giving them an ultimatum, a reason to raise their games to the next level: protect their turf.
"[Coach White] told us this is our outfield," said Novak, "and challenged us to be the best that we can be. He made it seem like we have something to push for. We're working harder to become better and better every day."