ON SPORTS: Led by hometown contingent, youth movement is on at UHV
Oct. 17, 2012 at 5:17 a.m.
Updated Oct. 18, 2012 at 5:18 a.m.
They were opponents in high school, but have become college teammates. Andrew Thibodeaux came to UHV from Cuero last year and will be joined in the 2013 season by Seth Harrison from Victoria West and Gabe Verduzco from Victoria East. The three Jaguars could be roaming the outfield at Riverside Stadium for the next three seasons.
Senior Tyler Steiner will start in right field, but UHV coach Terry Puhl has shown no hesitation putting younger players in the lineup.
"I think that they need to play," Puhl said. "I think that if you don't get a young player out on the field and show him that it's not about production that it's about experiencing what college ball is about you never find out."
Harrison and Verduzco were among 10 freshmen to begin fall workouts on Monday.
Puhl 's first order of business was to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
"I think a lot of the time they get a little intimidated coming in," Puhl said. "It's their first time in a college program and being away from home. I don't want to say I try to be a father figure, but you have to do a little bit of that also."
Puhl will mostly observe the younger players before making suggestions on how they can improve.
"I usually let them show me what they can do," Puhl said. "I'll watch them for this week. If I see they need drastic changes immediately, I'll do that. But generally speaking, I'll let them go."
Puhl showed patience last season with Thibodeaux.
Despite leading the team in strikeouts, Thibodeaux was able to stay in the lineup enough to hit four home runs and drive in 20 runs.
"A lot of it was just putting stress on myself and trying to make myself do well," Thibodeaux said. "I realized it was more of focusing on the team and I really didn't have to do that much myself and it kind of fell into place when I started relaxing. You've got to take it day by day and when something happens try to blow it off and move on."
Puhl has no doubt Thibodeaux will benefit from his experience.
"I expect him to cut down a little on the strikeouts and I think he understands college pitching is just a little bit different than high school," Puhl said. "He is a smart young man so he should be able to lock in a little bit of this in his memory bank and start out acting like a more seasoned player."
Puhl was impressed by the athletic ability of Harrison and Verduzco.
"They've got to play good defense," Puhl said. "I know they can run. If they play good quality defense, I can keep running them out there.
"If they do play, they'll be at the top of the lineup, we have to get that speed on the basepaths," he added. "It's my job to get them where they can handle that bat and keep the ball in play and be competitive."
Puhl's suggestion to Verduzco was to get bigger and stronger.
"I'm going to have to start eating more and going back to the gym," Verduzco said. "I'll be ready when my number is called. I'm just trying to get back into baseball to build back and we'll see where it takes me."
Puhl has already begun working with Harrison on an adjustment in his swing.
"The defense and everything else will come around," Harrison said. "He's trying to help me with my swing and I'm going to work on that so I can be ready for the season."
Harrison and Verduzco appreciate Puhl giving them a chance to play as freshmen.
"At most schools you go and be a redshirt your freshman year," Harrison said. "This one you actually have an opportunity to play so that's really good."
Puhl remembers being a young player and was thankful for the chance to play.
He went on to have a 15-year major league career, including 14 with the Houston Astros.
"I would have never become a player if I never was given extended opportunity," he said.
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.