The morning after Travis Jewett was hired as Tulane’s baseball coach in July, he sent an email to everyone on the team — at exactly 6:28 a.m. and 17 seconds — laying out his plans for the future.
He's an early riser, but that was not his point. In his first meeting with the team, he explained the reason for the timing: June 28, 2017 — in other words, 6-28-17 — is the date of the final game in this season's College World Series championship round.
“I just wanted them to have a vision of it,” he said. “I talk to these guys all the time about visualization and belief and close your eyes and self-talk. You got to see it, man, and we ask a lot of these kids. They have to know what they are investing for and what are they doing it for.”
With every move he made from the moment he got the job, Jewett set a vastly different tone than predecessor David Pierce, a jarring experience for a veteran team that thrived with Pierce’s low-key approach the past two years.
Jewett, who was part of a national championship team as an assistant at Vanderbilt under Tim Corbin in 2014, is much more boisterous and meticulous than Pierce. After seven months of getting used to the new approach — sometimes uncomfortably — his players said they have bought into his philosophy entering Friday’s 6:30 p.m. season opener against Army.
“He’s extremely passionate,” said senior pitcher Corey Merrill, who is set to start Friday night. “He brings a lot of energy to the table. In practices, he’s out there right behind second base yelling around the field, saluting people and dapping up everybody. Coach Jewett’s kind of adapted to us a little bit and we’ve adapted to him, and now we’re starting to all mix together and develop some good chemistry. We’ll be ready.”
Jewett’s winning pedigree helped.
“It’s been a tough adjustment,” senior second baseman Jake Willsey said. “He’s a lot different, and we’re still adapting a little bit, but we’re definitely getting there. It’s just a different style. We’re trying to adapt to him, he’s trying to adapt to us and we’re really starting to get there, which is good timing. He’s been where we want to go. That’s what he brings to the table.”
Tulane reached an NCAA regional for the first time in seven years during Pierce’s first season and won a conference championship for the first time since 2005 last year before he left for Texas. The Green Wave did not make it to a super regional or Omaha, Nebraska, though — like Jewett has.
With five seniors in the everyday lineup and an experienced weekend pitching rotation, he inherited a team with big goals.
“I’m foaming at the mouth just thinking about it,” Merrill said. “It’s my last year of college baseball. You definitely can’t put into words how excited we actually are.”
Jewett embraces those high expectations even though he recognizes there are holes to fill. Other than left-handed middle reliever Sam Bjorngjeld, Tulane lacks experience in the bullpen. The Wave also has to replace the best defensive catcher in school history, Jake Rogers, and standout shortstop Stephen Alemais, who made some dazzling plays in the field while leading the team in hitting.
Jewett’s comfort factor comes from the seniors. Merrill, Willsey, outfielder Lex Kaplan, third baseman Hunter Hope and first baseman Hunter Williams are proven performers on their fourth coach in four years.
“The price tag for the age is invaluable,” Jewett said. “It's maybe not typical of college baseball where you see so many (seniors). But, geez Louise, it's good for us. You look around at the guys we're talking about, and they're good players. I'm excited about what they are going to bring to the team.”
After an empty recruiting class in Pierce’s first year followed by a light one in his second, the pressure will be on Jewett to win right away before a potential rebuild in 2018. That pressure was exacerbated by athletic director Troy Dannen picking Jewett over LSU assistant (and former Wave legend) Andy Cannizaro, who wound up with the Mississippi State job in November.
Having spent the past seven years at powerhouse programs Vanderbilt and Arizona State, Jewett understands.
“I feel pressure every day,” he said. “That’s not me putting expectations on them or myself or the staff, but when you play a sport, the expectation is to win. I like the experience and the heartbeat of this team.”
Pierce never talked about the heartbeat, but the Wave played hard for him. Jewett will try to produce even better results with his own style.
“It’s totally different, but we’ve gravitated well toward it,” said sophomore Ross Massey, who is slated to pitch Sunday and is coming off a banner freshman season. “It’s definitely fun to play for him. Our older guys are starting to bring the energy themselves, and the younger guys feed off of that.”