A new era of Tennessee baseball officially got underway on Friday afternoon.
Tony Vitello’s team hit the field for the official start of spring practice. He and his players preached a new culture of positivity and fun on Friday during the first media availability of the season. Throughout the offseason, that’s been the main objective for this team: To enjoy playing baseball.
Senior catcher Benito Santiago said that things couldn’t be more different now.
“It’s been a complete 360,” Santiago stated. “There’s been a lot more positivity. We’ve been having a lot of fun.”
Vitello wants this team to enjoy itself. He’s into the “superstition” of baseball. He also mentioned that he enjoys the way Joe Madden and the Cubs show their personality on the field in the majors.
He even created a group chat for his team. And he encourages them to dig on each other and pick sides when an argument breaks out.
For him, that’s all a part of baseball.
“You got to have some fun,” Vitello said. “Baseball is full of superstition and fun things like that. But we always say you have to eat your meat and potatoes before you can have your dessert. The work has got to be put in on the front end for you to have the confidence to have a little bit of leeway to have some fun.”
Of course, this team wants to win too.
“Nothing’s more fun than winning,” Vitello added.
And with a stacked schedule and only two upperclassmen on the roster, this team has its work cut out for them.
When asked about what he believes the strength of this team is, Vitello pointed to his pitching staff without hesitation. But he’s more focused on his group’s glaring weakness at the moment.
“I definitely think the pitching,” Vitello said when asked about his team’s strengths. “And then the hitting second and the defense third. That’s the challenge that we make to our team everyday. Because the thing you want to have as your rock is your defense…It is our weakest area right now, but it can be shored up…that needs to be the rock that we have everyday when we come to the park.”
The rock of the Vols’ pitching staff is sophomore Zach Linginfelter. The Sevier County native worked his way into the weekend rotation last season after starting the year in the bullpen.
This offseason, he’s worked on his breaking pitches. And he feels confident with where he is right now.
“It’s a little different because I kind of had to change who I was from last season,” Linginfelter stated. “I’ve always had off-speed, I just lost it a little bit freshman year. But I finally got it back.”
Vitello will need Linginfelter to have a big year if they want success. He’s the most likely candidate to get the ball when Tennessee opens its season against Maryland on February 16th.