Blake Dean wasn’t worried as much about his team’s hitting or pitching in his first practice as head coach of the UNO baseball team.
When the team assembled at Maestri Field on Friday, the former College World Series champion at LSU was more focused on developing the intangibles of his team.
“We just want to be a really tough and smart team,” Dean said. “We have a lot of work to do, but it’s great to finally get this thing going and begin the work. But in order to go where we want to go, we have to build off of those principles.”
Dean was named the coach of the Privateers after the retirement of former coach Ron Maestri following the 2015 season. Maestri coached the Privateers for the past two seasons after leading them to prominence from 1972-85.
Despite Maestri’s retirement, the winningest coach in school history is still very much involved with the program and will be providing assistance for Dean, one of the youngest head coaches in Division I.
“(Maestri) is always going to be around because he loves the game so much,” Dean said. “He’s been a big help in my adjustment to the new job, and he’s really showed me just how much hard work it takes to do the job properly.
“But more than anything else, his advice has just been to remain true to myself and build the team around all the things I believe in.”
Coming off a disappointing 14-40 record in 2015, one of the main priorities for Dean as the team prepares for the season-opener on Feb. 19 against Alcorn St. is rebuilding the confidence of outfielder Hezekiah Randolph and shortstop Sammy Capielano.
After bursting onto the season during their freshman campaigns in 2014, both were preseason All-Southland Conference selections but were unable to live up to the expectations that surrounded them going into their sophomore year.
Dean said injuries (a combined 33 games missed) and inability to live up to some of the hype surrounding them hindered the duo last season, but he said a fresh start heading into this season can provide the juniors an opportunity to make up for last season.
“It was a rough year for those guys for a lot of different reasons,” Dean said. “They are coming into the year healthy, which is big for them, and they are looking forward to putting that season behind them. I think they can both make a huge impact on the team now because we won’t be asking as much from them as we were last season.”