Feb. 9, 2012

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Carley soars in time at Air Force

By Taylor Gelbrich  @According2Gelby



Playing somewhere cold is something Sean Carley (left) vowed he would never do.


Carley played his high school ball in sunny, humid Florida only to choose to play his college ball for the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Carley’s home these days is 7,652 feet above sea level on a mound mowing down batters in the Mountain West Conference.


“I came out on an official visit, and the five other guys I was with, we kind of made a commitment to each other to come here and change the program and turn it around back to the high rise,” said Carley, a junior right-hander. “I came out and fell in love with the place. I came here for more than baseball. Bottom line is it’s a world-class education, and it is a true honor to come here.”


The 6-4, 230-pounder earned a spot as a second-team Mountain West performer in 2011, making huge improvements from his freshman to sophomore years. After posting an 11.46 ERA in just under 60 innings his first year, Carley responded with a 3.94 ERA in 82.1 innings as last year. His ERA was the lowest for the Falcons since 1983, and his 4.10 ERA in conference play was the lowest in school history in the Mountain West era.


Carley has a five-pitch arsenal that consists of a fastball, curveball, slider, change-up and splitter. His fastball hits the low-90s and sharpening his off-speed pitches has been something he has focused on since he arrived at the Air Force Academy.


“I worked on my change-up a lot,” Carley said. “I developed a splitter over the fall, so that has been a pitch I have been fine-tuning. I feel like it is going to give me a background to give me a lot of success this season.


“You can’t just blow a fastball by everybody so one thing I’ve worked on is keeping them guessing and pounding the strike zone.”


Carley’s talent is not his only bright spot.


He is a grinder and an embodiment of the Air Force motto of “Fly, Fight, Win.”


"Workhorse,” said Air Force coach Mike Kazlausky. “That is how I would describe him. There is nobody better when it comes down to practice. He gets his work in, he’s going to work extra hard. He wants to make a difference, and he wants to put Air Force baseball on the map.


“He is going to give you a consistent outing every time. He is going to compete. When he gets that ball, that switch is on and it is his game.”


Playing baseball at Air Force is no easy task. Being a Division I baseball player is a grind in itself, but adding military training requires intense mental toughness day in and day out.


The average day for a Falcons baseball player runs roughly 18 hours.


Everyone wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to be outside at 6:50 in the correct uniform for a morning march. Then, breakfast is from 7:20 to 7:40. The first class of the day starts at 7:50 and three to four more classes follow that until noon. Lunch is from 12 to 12:30, which is followed by military training time from 12:30 to 1:15.


The Falcons have to book it to make it to 2 p.m. practice that runs until 5. Following practice is a team lift that goes from 5 to 6. After a quick shower, the players will run to dinner at 7 and will be there until 7:30. After dinner, the players finally get to tackle the homework from their five classes around 8 and will work until midnight.


Then they get to do it all over again.


The long, arduous days not only make the Falcons better as a baseball team, but they also make the country stronger. After all, these young men are in the Academy to serve their country. It is something that Kazlausky, who retired with the rank of major after 20 years of meritorious service with the U.S. Air Force, stresses to his team and to anyone he talks to about his team.


“The big deal to me is that product that we produce,” Kazlausky said. “When these young men step onto a baseball field, I’m not just looking at them as a baseball player, but I want those kids when they graduate from here to protect my children.


“It is definitely more important than just trying to win a baseball game. These kids have to develop their own leadership traits so when they do leave here, they are ready to lead our country.”


Kazlausky’s first year as head coach brought the Falcons 19 wins, the second-most against Division I opponents in school history. The Falcons look to improve on that as they return their entire starting rotation highlighted by Carley. Air Force only has five seniors, so it could be a team to watch for in the Mountain West over the next couple of years.


The Falcons begin their season in Baton Rouge, La. for a doubleheader against Alcorn State and LSU on Feb. 17.


“We don’t really truly base our success off the wins and losses at the outcome of a game,” Kazlausky said. “It's just how we play. When it is all said and done, I expect the opposing team and every fan in the stands to go ‘Darn right those are our guys.’ They are going to fight for our country.”

(photos courtesy of Air Force Academy Media Relations Office)