For the past two seasons, and much of the program’s existence, the face of baseball at the UNO has been former coach Ron Maestri.
With Maestri retiring at the end of last season, the Privateers head into the 2016 season opener on Friday against Alcorn State with two new faces leading the program.
Friday will be the first game for Blake Dean as UNO’s new head coach and Dakota Dean, Blake’s little brother, will be playing his first game as a Privateer after transferring from Northwest Florida State Junior College.
“It’s a new experience for a lot of us, but it’s great to have my brother with me for it,” Blake said. “The team has been working really hard and we’re looking forward to the beginning of the season.
“We’re a little short-handed in our pitching staff, but we expect Dakota and a few of our other guys to help us be really good offensively.”
After Blake became the youngest coach in Division I baseball following Maestri’s retirement, one of his main priorities was getting Dakota to enroll at UNO, not only to reunite with his younger brother, but to add a much needed bat to the middle of the Privateer lineup.
The Privateers had .a 269 batting average last year, good for sixth best in the Southland Conference, but finished last in the conference in runs scored (199) and second to last in slugging percentage (.319).
Blake said Dakota will immediately bat third and his power should provide the boost that may help UNO get over the hump in some of its closest games.
“He’s a very good player, and honestly, I think he has a chance to come in and be one of our best hitters right away,” Blake said. “We made a jump hitting last year, but we weren’t getting enough of those hits that can drive multiple runs in and I think that’s something he can help us with right away.”
After transferring from LSU, Dakota had a .316 batting average with 39 RBIs while leading Northwest Florida State to the first JUCO national Championship victory in school history and was named to the JUCO World Series all-tournament team.
Dakota said he understands he will immediately be stepping into a leadership role for the Privateers, but he is embracing the challenge and is looking forward to playing under his brother’s tutelage.
“(Blake’s) played at the highest level and he obviously knows a lot about the game,” Dakota said. “I love hitting in the three-hole and getting up in situations with runners on and driving them in. When you get those hits everybody on the team feeds off of it and the energy just travels through the whole team.”
While Blake will continue to take many of the lessons he’s learned from Maestri and apply them to the way he runs the team this season, the former LSU slugger plans on changing a few things in hopes of turning things around going into the new season.
In particular, Blake said he wants to be more aggressive on the base paths and increase the number of stolen base attempts for the Privateers after finishing 2015 last in the Southland Conference with 49.
“We’re really fast. We may hit a lot of singles, but that’s fine, because we’re going to try and steal a lot of bases,” Blake said. “I think that’s a good way to get more runs across the board for us. Overall, we just want to be more aggressive and steal as many bases as possible.”