Tennessee Baseball head coach Tony Vitello met with the media after the Vols’ 6-1 win over Charleston Southern on Tuesday night.
Vitello discussed the significance of Maui Ahuna being declared eligible, what the reactions were to the news and more. Additionally, Vitello talked his recent suspension and what the process was like behind the decision.
Everything Vitello said on Tuesday night is below.
On the moment when Maui Ahuna found out he was eligible:
“It was in the weight room, and he kinda took over from there. I believe there was a Haka dance going on all kinds of stuff. I try to keep away from any celebrations right now with what I got going on with the jaw. Probably one that goes in the memory bank with this team, and that’s good. Because it’s kind of been a theme with this group of finding themselves, we’re trying to find out things about them and create memories along the way, which is what this whole thing’s about. It’s what everything’s about, really.”
On how it feels to hopefully have the Ahuna situation and suspension in the rear view mirror:
“At this point, I’m glad the kid got to play baseball. To be honest with you. Seeing him out there and having success, now, I probably need to not act like a three-year old. I thought that first one was going over the fence, but it just wasn’t a very lively night to hit the ball until the sun went completely down. And those two homers, obviously Jared for us and then Burke and then their guy juiced one too, I mean those are out on any day. It just wasn’t a very lively day, but he smoked that first ball. And then to see him get the first hit out of the way. To get a lot of the firsts out of the way is nice.”
On what the process of reaching the suspension decision was like:
“Was just kind of talking with administration, anyone possible for me to talk to, really. You want to make the right decision, but you are kind of under the gun with the timeline. And we, and when I say we, I mean everybody that you could think of that would be involved in that action, wanted to support the kid. Just wanted to do whatever we thought was right to get him back on the field. It was a contributing factor, hopefully, to getting him back out there.”
On how the team has handled adversity:
“Oh I think that stuff, outstanding. About as well as they can. Kinda like game time news, I think Q was the one to tell them right after stretch in Arizona. Q was the one to tell them, he’s kind of the hatchet man in a lot of different ways, the one to tell them on Friday here kind of last minute news. They’re kids man, I think a lot of things, there’s a lot of things out there, because everyone has a voice, you can pick them apart and make them a bigger thing than they are. And at the root of everything, kids just want to play baseball. So while I don’t blame you for sitting and wondering, ‘What does a guy think if they’re using him in this role, or if they make this change, or there’s this dramatic situation going on?’ They’re just kids and they want to play ball. They like doing that more than they like going to school. Don’t tell Megan I said that. So I think they’ve handled it well, there’s other stuff that’s come up that’s the nature of the game: a good challenge from a starting pitcher or focusing all three days on a weekend, there’s still things we’re looking to improve at.”
On how Associate HC Josh Elander stepped up in his absence:
“Yeah, that’s why he has the title that he does. I think it’s more calming to know at night I don’t have to work as much as I used to, on the phone or during the summer going on the road. You guys know how integral that stuff is in college sports or just sports in general, the personnel you have. So more than anything, he’s a calming influence with that. But this is… when it came to his hiring, experience was a thing that you have to question, but his experience on the field is unmatched. He was in the cage more than any hitter I coached, he kept every hand out as a player, he’s always studying the game, obviously a lot of catcher’s make good coaches for obvious reasons, so, how he works with the catchers and how he works with hitters and just how he relates with kids made it a no-brainer to hire him. The only thing you’d ask if you were to play devil’s advocate would be ‘How’s he going to do with this recruiting thing?’ And I don’t know which he’s better at at this point. There’s a reason he has that title and overall there’s a reason why it’s easier, I ain’t a good sleeper, but it’s easier to sleep at night.”
On why Maui Ahuna batted sixth in the lineup:
“Man, sometimes there’s a purpose to some things and sometimes there’s not. Just kind of slid him in there. Now I will say this in defense of myself, there’s been repetitions at leadoff, in the two-hole and at six in scrimmages where you are trying to find out what’s the best combination of everybody. But again, just happy to have him out there. He obviously can handle the bat, but he’s a really good defender. And plus he’s playing at shortstop. Like Jazzy, who was speaking with you all before, if you can defend behind the plate or at short, anything you do with the bat is kind of a bonus. But I think that it goes without saying, we like the middle of that order to seem a little bit meatier.”
On how it felt returning to the dugout after the suspension:
“It felt outstanding at the start of the day, got the good vibes going and all that. Probably smiling more than I normally do. And then when the action starts, with pregame and everything, whether it’s a playoff game or a road game or a home game, you kind of get into the, I wish I was a player like that where maybe I was a little bit more regimented, but you got routines you got to stick to and what’s the next step, and you gotta hold everybody accountable to what you’re trying to do. So while it was exciting for everybody, I think [Monday] was the day that was kind of ‘everybody act a fool’ and today was down to business. Everybody, if you had a microphone of their internal thoughts was ‘Let this guy (Maui) get a hit,’ or ‘Let this guy (Maui) get a play.’ I wanted him to get a play, too, but I didn’t know he was going to run in front of CMo like that on that one, but I kind of liked it to be honest with you.”
On how Austen Jaslove did starting at SS to begin the season:
“Outstanding. I thought it was fitting he was in the lineup today. One man’s celebration doesn’t have to be another’s downfall. There’s opportunity out there. You guys see that. We almost pinch-hit in the DH spot, so that would’ve been a new guy each time that spot came up in the order. We’re still figuring out who belongs where in the bullpen, and fortunately, starting pitching is kind of the thing you worry about the most. You can see the vision that we have there. But there’s availability out there, and he hit really well against left-handed pitching, took some good swings against a few righties, too. I think that experience will calm him each opportunity he gets from here on out. He showed he’s a capable defender and, right now, he’s a little better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching,”
On why Seth Halvorsen threw against CSU:
“Tuesday is typically a bullpen day for Doe, which he did today, and he and Halvy have been matched up together, and I would anticipate that again for this Friday. He did get us eight outs if I’m not mistaken, so it’ll probably be a smaller role for Friday, but that’s what went into it. He’s one of our better arms, and as he comes along with getting his pitch count built back up, and just being out there and getting more comfortable out there with repetitions, he’s capable of doing anything we need him to I think.”
On what Kirby Connell brings to the team:
“Good hair and a good mustache. Maybe he can sing the National Anthem like the Super Bowl, that was pretty dang good. I think the guys, you don’t want to pick favorites, but the guys in the dugout immediately are cheering for him, and they also immediately know what they are going to get. They are going to get a guy that can field his position like he did there, wasn’t the cleanest play, he’s going to compete, he’s got experience and isn’t going to make the situation bigger than it is. So, he kind of excites the dugout and at the same time gives you that calming feeling. That’s a difficult combo to achieve, but when you are a great kid and you are a hard worker and you got some ability, you can do that, especially if you rack up a couple years where you’ve proven yourself. And the one thing that’s nice, too, and he’s not the only one, you like a guy in the bullpen that, when the coach isn’t really on it as much as he should and says ‘Holy cow, get hot. Code red,’ whatever it is. He can get ready like that, so that’s a big thing, too.”