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Birdball: Q&A With Head Coach Mike Gambino

BC baseball manager Mike Gambino sits down and talks about the upcoming season and the excitement and challenges he has for his current squad.

BCInterruption: Looking back on last season, the record obviously wasn't where you wanted it to be (12-40 overall, 4-25 in ACC play). What is the first step in getting back and what are the goals and challenges for the upcoming season?

Mike Gambino: Our goal is to get into the NCAA Tournament, so the first rung in that is to qualify for the ACC Tournament. We aren't sitting around and saying, "20 wins is our goal." We have to ask how we're going to get there, instead.

Last year's results is not something we can happy with. It's not something I'm happy with as an ex player, as an alumnus of Boston College, and as a coach who cares about his kids, it's not something I can be happy with. But it's a new year, and having faced those challenges, we know that we have a lot of work in order to get to that first rung, which is qualifying for the ACC Tournament.

Obviously when you look at our team, the first thing that anyone notices is that we're dominated by freshmen and sophomores. I'm really excited about our younger guys, but anytime you see 4-7 freshmen in a lineup, it's hard at any level, especially in a league like the ACC. But at the same time, we were a good team at the end of last season. We lost a couple of one-run games against NC State, won two of three games against Miami, lost another one-run game in extra innings against Virginia Tech while winning one, and lost a couple more one-run ballgames against Maryland, one of which was in extra innings. That right there was against three teams that made the tournament, two of which hosted regionals, and another one in Maryland that was a bubble team.

It might've taken a while to get there, but the feedback at the end of the year was that we were a good, competitive ballclub.

BCI: Looking at your roster right now, what are the improvements that you're making as a coaching staff?

MG: One of the things we needed to get better at doing was preparing the team for losses within the ACC. You're taking a bunch of kids who have never lost more than one or two games in a season, and when you're playing in the ACC, they have to be ready for the struggle against some really great teams and that struggle has to be part of the fun of playing in the league. Last year, we went out and played against Florida State and Georgia Tech; those teams were both top 10 in the country when we played them. We played well but we ended up letting those games get away from us. And after those games, our confidence was blown. So it falls onto us to be better at preparing them for the struggle that can happen when you're in such a tough league. Going .500 in ACC play gets you into the top 15 in the nation, and our sixth place team in the league last year (Virginia Tech, who went 15-14 in league play) hosted a regional.

BCI: What is that you're trying to build with the current team?

MG: We're looking at our team and looking at a group of kids who love with compete with anyone. They love the game of baseball, and it's all about talent, work ethic, and character. They want to compete with, and I think they can compete with, anyone. We have a young roster with only five seniors, but I'd take a team with character and work ethic over experience.

For those seniors, they're really valuable to our long-term success by making them understand. They know what it's like to be a northeast baseball team, and we really believe that what is tough makes (being a northeast team) special.

It's funny because there are always perceived disadvantages towards being a northeast team. People always say you can't win at Boston College because of the facility, the weather, the travel, or the academic standards, but I see those as the reasons why we will win, and when we are able to win, we'll look back and say those were the reasons.

BCI: What are those disadvantages and how are they advantages for your team?

MG: Well the first is the travel; we have to play on the road for the first month of the season, spending more time in hotels than other teams, with crazy schedules, and hostile crowds. But if you think about it, that's what being in the national tournament is; it's a crazy schedule on the road with a loud crowd. I can guarantee that we have the tighest, closest-knit clubhouse within a few weeks of the start of the season because we spend so much time together on the road.

Then there's the weather; anyone can play in warm weather, but playing in the cold weather up here toughens it up. When we're hosting games in March or April, we're hoping it's still cold out. And people forget that places like Virginia and North Carolina are still cold early in the season.

The knock against the facility is that we have to face adversity every day, but BC has everything the players need to get to the next level and be big leaguers. We have everything we need to produce big league ballplayers and successful baseball teams. If anyone says we don't have the facilities to produce big leaguers, all they need to do is talk to Tony Sanchez, Mike Belfiore, and Joe Martinez, who were all in the majors last year. Terry Doyle is right on the cusp. Our facilities help create a toughness and an ability to grind it out every day, and it forces us to answer if we can work in those challenges each day.

And, of course, everyone talks about academic standards. But the academic standards let us know that we're going to get great students cut in the BC mold. They're going to have high character, and they're going to care about the Jesuit mission. As we're building here, that's something that we've incorporated into our recruiting approach.

BCI: The summer is considered important to a player's development in college. What are your thoughts on your team's summer development?

MG: It helps build the database. Last year, Joe Cronin was a freshman and in his first game, he about to make a play that a senior is going to make at shortstop. But he got a little too ahead of himself, and he was unsure as to what to do with the play, so instead of making a good throw to get an out at second, he reset his feet and hesitated enough to cost him the play. This summer, he built up his database, and the exact same play came up for him (playing for the Wachusett Dirt Dogs of the FCBL), and he remembered what happened and made the play.

Then there's a player like Chris Shaw. He used the summer to learn how to trust himself and come out of a funk. He learned about how to deal with a slump and get back within himself and hit himself out of it. That's something that'll help him this year back in the ACC schedule.

I probably have 20 or so stories like that. So summer baseball is important to the development and continuing to build that database for our guys.

BCI: How badly did having rough fall ball (where weather canceled the Sonny Nicktakis World Series) hurt the end of the practice for the team?

MG: It is what it is; we had a great fall in practice despite the fact that we weren't healthy. We kept having guys go down with weird injuries left and right that weren't baseball related. But I sat back and joked that, hey, let's get them out of the way now and get everyone healthy for the season. Until that point, it was probably the best fall I've had in my time at BC. This is the tighest clubhouse we've had, and we have an awesome senior class. I love our captains; they're a special group.

BCI: Talk about those seniors for a second. What's their impact on the younger guys with such a youth-heavy roster?

MG: It would be a daunting task for a team without character kids. But the kids put the program first, and they're tremendous teammates. I don't have to worry about them at all, and I love the fire they bring every day.

BCI: What about the recruits? I know you have a good class coming in this year (for 2014).

MG: I love our recruits, and I feel our 2014 class has a chance to be really good. There are other teams that go out and just accumulate players; our goal is to get 9-10 kids a year and not just collect those kids. We want to get the right 9-10 kids each year according to a model that we have. We want to get baseball players - high character kids that are driven in class and on the field. We need to push them to be competitive and we intend to graduate people ready to be professional ballplayers or professional in the world. And we need kids who love playing baseball, love watching baseball. We need tough, hard-nosed competitive kids. I feel like we've done a good job of that with our current class, and we're really excited to see what they can do.

Boston College opens up next month in Santa Clara, California, where they'll play both the Nevada Wolfpack and the Santa Clara Broncos.