Jeremy Christian is going into his second year as Head Coach of
the Virginia Intermont Cobras. Virginia Intermont is in Bristol, VA,
and competes in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
Bob Broughton, courtesyrunner.com: You played at
Milligan, and you were an assistant coach at Union College (KY). Your
team at Union College was ranked #7, so you know how to win. The year
before you came here, VI was 8-41.
Jeremy Christian: We were
15-33 in my first season here.
BB: So you nearly
doubled the number of wins. What made that possible?
JC: The biggest thing
we've done here is change the mentality of the program. I knew coming
in that I was here to rebuild the program. I've been fortunate enough
to have worked at other places. At Brevard Junior College we had a #3
ranking in the country. At Milligan, we won a conference
championship. At Union College, I won a conference championship as a
coach. So I feel like I have a pretty good idea of how to win.
At VI, they had four or five down
years, and weren't as competitive as they would have liked to have
been. In order to get those guys to be able to compete, I had to
change the mentality. I really came in and changed everything about
the program. We painted the office. We threw everything away. I
changed everything about the program except the logo. Then I brought
in guys who wanted to work, wanted to be part of something bigger
than themselves. And then the rest was just baseball.
BB: You've done some
recruiting. When you try to convince somebody to come and play
baseball at VI, what's your sales pitch?
JC: It's difficult, it
really is. The school itself had some difficult financial times. I
grew up in Bristol, and I know that in the 90's, VI was very good. I
know that in 2000, VI won national championships in three or four
sports and competed at a high level nationally. But I know that they
had been in some trouble financially. When I was in college and when
I was coaching in Kentucky, I knew what was going on. But for me, it
is a family atmosphere here. It is a small campus, a small community,
we've got 550 kids that go to school here. It's a family atmosphere,
and that's what I want them to be a part of. You're not a number,
you're a face, you're a name, you're a person. The faculty generally
cares for their students here. My philosophy is all about
development, so when I go and do my recruiting pitch to those guys,
it's about development. A lot of college coaches these days know it
is big business; “I rent a player for a year. If they don't
produce, then I find a new one.” I tell these guys “you'll have a
chance to compete for a position.” I'm not locked into “all
Seniors must play” or “Freshmen must red-shirt.” To me, the
best nine play. If I've got to play nine shortstops, I'll play nine
shortstops. They like the fact that they know they can compete for a
position. We're a small enough place that I can develop them. It's my
job to get the most out of them.
The development side is the biggest
step this season. We'll get you prepared to move to the next level.
BB: Let's talk about
some specific individuals. You've got a right-handed pitcher named
Justin Hutton, who had a real good summer. Tell me about it.
was a guy we brought in last year at the break, a junior college
transfer [Wilkes CC]. It was interesting... Huddy's a great kid, a
guy that can really pitch... we brought him in to really shore up the
back end of our bullpen. He closed the first three to four weeks of
the season, got a couple of saves early on in the season. He's got a
low ¾ arm slot sidearm delivery, unorthodox. He's a sidewinder, not
a knuckle-dragger; he doesn't go real deep. He can locate three or
four pitches. He's not dominant velocity-wise, but he knows how to
pitch. He's not scared. He can run the ball inside and outside, and
he can throw all his pitches for strikes. We had talked about him
leaving the closer role. My Assistant Coach, Jimmy Nave had said, “I
really believe he can go deeper in the game, if we give him a
chance.” I had some difficulty last year setting the rotation, so
we gave Huddy a chance to pitch late in the year as a starter, and he
flourished. I think he struck out 12 or 13 against Milligan the
next-to-last conference weekend, and really came into his own late in
the year as a starter. So when we sent him to the Southern Collegiate
Baseball League [Morganton
Aggies] this Summer, I told his coach, “This guy's been closing
for us over the year, but we want him to start, I think he needs some
time.” He was an All-Star, and by the midway point, he was tied for
the lead in wins in the league, had a couple of saves. Here's a local
guy who did really well, threw a shutout inning in the All-Star Game.
He's the guy we're counting on to lead our rotation this year.
got a bunch of people coming back. You've got Mark Schultz, who was
your leading hitter.
has been here for four years. He's a red-shirt fifth year Senior. I
inherited him when I got here. He was a guy that I knew was a pretty
good player. He's very athletic, very toolsy, can really run. He
battled some injury problems last year. I think he could have had
even better stats last year, but he missed three or four conference
weekends. We've got to fix that, from a health standpoint, but he was
20 for 20 in stolen base attempts last year. He has the ability to
hit the ball out of the park and drive in runs. He's really going to
be the centerpiece of our offense. We're not going to hit a lot of
home runs. We play in a monster ballpark. So our guys really run. We
hit 20 triples last year as a team. We set records in stolen bases,
and that's the name of our game.
ballpark do you play in?
play at DeVault Stadium, home of the Bristol White Sox, two miles
from the campus.
that Single A?
Advanced Rookie, Appalachian League.
their season and yours don't overlap. That's too bad, but it helps to
have a high-quality ballpark.
You've got a
guy named Josh Paolucci.
is going into his second year, he's a Sophomore here. “Pooch” is
another local guy, went to a local high school here. Pooch really
knows how to compete. We're still early enough in our program that we
don't have those guys who can go out there and be big-time starters.
We don't have a lot of velocity. One day we will. One day I'll be
able to get those top-end guys when we get this thing turned around,
and we are light years ahead of where we were at this point last
year. Pooch is a guy we brought in last year who tied our mark for
wins in a season as a freshman. He had six wins last year as a
Freshman. He did a tremendous job, and we actually ended up having
three or four blown saves in his outings, so he could have had
double-digits wins as a Freshman. He's very polished for a young man.
He attacks the zone, he's not scared. We ran him out against
[National Champion] Tennessee Wesleyan, his first conference start,
and he gave us six good innings. You'll see that with our team. When
I took over the job, we only had 14 players, so I signed 22 guys, and
I leaned heavily on some young Freshmen. We threw a lot of Freshmen
out there last year, and we had another good recruiting class this
year to get our depth up. But Pooch is a guy who just competes, and
our guys are blue-collar guys that work hard. They're not scared.
They don't know any better [laughs], they're not supposed to be any
good as young kids, and this program's been bad. They're here because
they believe they can move this to the next level, and Pooch goes out
there and competes. He did a great job last year, and he'll be in the
weekend rotation this year and do the same thing.
other name I have is Preston Asbill.
had a good summer as well [Fuquay-Varina
Twins]. The big thing about “P” is, he ran into arm trouble
last year. He's a junior college transfer, he had played at a high
level early on in his career. He had a pretty good year last year. We
actually moved P to do more offensively last summer. He was a guy who
was a pitcher for us last year, DH a little bit, had arm trouble and
was not where he once was arm strength-wise. We thought it was best
for him to work offensively this summer, moved him to first base to
see what he could do. He's got good stuff from a strikeout
perspective. He moved to first base and was actually an All-Star this
Summer in the Carolina-Virginia League at first base. He can really
hit, he's going to make the move to first base this year. He's got
potential to be a middle of the order hitter for us.
talk about your schedule. Your home opener is February 15. What kind
of weather do you have in Bristol at that time of year?
cold. Last year, we actually were very lucky. We didn't get the snow
we had a couple of years ago. We do have four seasons here, but
they're a blur for a couple of months of the year. It's gonna be
cold. We're just hoping the snow holds off, if we can get it above
35-40 degrees, we'll be all right. But it's gonna be cold. I like our
guys to play at home as much as possible, so I scheduled a bunch of
home games. The truth is, we've been bad for so long, folks want to
come here and play us. I don't have to go out and look for games;
they all want to come and get at me.
have defending champion Tennessee Wesleyan as a conference opponent.
Are they coming here, or are you going there?
coming here this year. That'll be our final home weekend, and Coach
Berry does a great job. I've know him for years, since my time at
Union College, while I was a player at Milligan and he was at
Bluefield. They are the gold standard of our conference. We have a
very difficult conference, where routinely you're going to have three
teams in the top 25. It's not often where you get to play the
national champions, and I told Billy last year that one of these
days, I'm going to have a squad that can go toe-to-toe with them. I
know he expects that, and hopefully this year, when they come to our
place, we're going to be prepared for them.
you going to try to play Cumberland some time in the future?
would love to get down and play some of those guys. We've played Lee
in the past. When I got here, I removed a couple of teams from the
schedule. My goal for the first couple of years is to establish
depth. By year three or year four, I want to be able to play the
best. That's the only way we're going to get better is playing those
guys, and eventually to get back on the national scene.
also have Montreat as a conference opponent. I looked at the stats
from this past year. Marti Sementelli pitched 3 1/3 innings against
you, faced ten batters, and struck out one of them. What did you say
to that guy who struck out when he came back to the bench?
didn't say much to him at all. I told the guys, “look, she's there
for a reason.” She's able to compete at the collegiate level. I
received a scouting report on her. I knew what she was going to
throw. She throws 85% breaking balls, and it's a pretty good breaker.
I said, you treat it like any other pitcher. She's trying to strike
you out, our job is to get on base and score runs. She actually had
two pretty good outings against us. She did her job, got ground
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