BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - He is, in a way, a walking contradiction. Mike Neu – Cal’s new head coach – anything but a new face in Bay Area baseball.
“It's definitely my #1 job choice I could ever have, being a NorCal guy and a Bay Area guy,” says Neu.
The Napa native is a former head coach at Diablo Valley College and Pacific. In between, he was Cal’s pitching coach for four seasons, which makes for a built-in comfort level.
“It's great. I got a chance to recruit a lot of players currently here, coach all the seniors that are currently here,” says Neu.
“Having him back has been awesome, says Cal senior Andrew Buckley. “He's creating that kinda chill environment. He does a really good job of relating to us as young adults, treating us like adults. That's really cool.”
Even cooler than that - Neu is a former big league pitcher for the A’s and Marlins – an accomplishment not lost on his players.
“It’s very rare at this level to have someone with that sort of pedigree come in and the stories and little tips he has based on his own experiences,” says Cal senior Matt Ladrech.
“It gives everyone that drive that hope that someone like Mike being the athlete that he was able to accomplish these big things, just gives us all that drive and focus to accomplish what a lot of people expect us to do,” adds Buckley.
It’s not just a new attitude in Berkeley. It's a new protocol as well. Given Coach Neu's background as a pitcher and pitching coach. he's part of a growing trend in college baseball: head coaches who spend up to three-quarters of their practice time in - and around - the bullpen.
“It just makes it easy for me to put my focus on pitching and recruiting,” says Neu. “Still having an overall general concept of the team, but leaving the hitting and defense to other coaches who do a great job.”
“Myself being a pitcher I'm a little biased, but I enjoy it,” says Ladrech. “Having the pitching coach run the show it's been an effective strategy for a lot of teams we're really hoping the same can happen with us.”
The payoff would be the playoffs. Cal has been to the postseason just once in the last six seasons. But that just might change with the Neu order in place.
“We're not gonna micromanage these guys, let them play the game, let them understand the game,” says the Coach. “I think it's a great fit because these guys feel the freedom to be able to go play but they also know expectations are really high.
I think all the guys here are on the same page. It's exciting to go through and navigate this conference which is as tough as it gets. But we definitely plan on being very successful here.”