Feb. 5, 2013

Inside: With Louisville's Dan McDonnell

CBI Big East preview

Ambassador of the Game

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

phil@collegebaseballinsider.com  @RoadToOmaha


CINCINNATI, Ohio – Brian Cleary (left) is a baseball evangelist, teaching the game of baseball locally and internationally.


Cleary, entering his 17th season as head coach at the University of Cincinnati, has registered 412 victories, setting a program record previously held by the legendary Glenn Sample. He’s been involved with youth baseball in the Cincinnati area. And he’s been an assistant coach for the Great Britain national team.


Yet, Cleary is always looking to learn.


In addition to building the Bearcats program – a program with a passionate fan base of more than 1,200 season-ticket holders – Cleary has been building baseball players from across the pond. Primarily working with the pitchers, Cleary helped the Brits finish second at the European Championships in 2007. And this past September, he coached Great Britain to a 1-2 record in a qualifying tournament for the World Baseball Classic in Regensburg, Germany, which was won by Canada.


“The event itself was, for a lot of us, probably as close to being in the big leagues as you’ll get,” Cleary said. “It was a beautiful park, Major League Baseball ran the event; it was as first-class an event as anything I’ve ever been a part of.


“It was fun to be on the field with so many high-level players and see those guys up close. We all get to go to different levels of baseball and see a lot of it on TV, but to be on the field and in the dugout and watch it from a coaching perspective was really a good learning experience for me.”


Back in Cincinnati, Cleary’s Bearcats are looking to rebound from a difficult 2012, when injuries played a large part in an 18-38 season (7-20 in the Big East). UC had six straight seasons with at least 28 wins before last year.


“We’ve got some players that were not healthy a year ago that are healthy now,” Cleary said. “They would have made an impact a year ago, and we certainly are hopeful that they will make an impact this year.”


One of those injured players was Taylor Schmidt (left), a speedy center fielder from Pittsburgh who batted .500 in 12 games and went 4 for 4 in stolen bases before a knee injury halted his freshman season.


“I feel rehab went real well over the summer,” Schmidt said. “I actually feel stronger than I was last spring, and I’m starting to feel normal.”


Manning left field for the Bearcats will be junior Justin Glass, an all-Big East performer who led UC’s offense a year ago, hitting .366 with 21 doubles, three homers, 39 runs, 26 RBI and 15 stolen bases.


Glass (right) also was not immune from the injury bug: He tore his labrum during the fall of his freshman year and was forced to DH in 2011 before having surgery after the season.


“Last year was hard rehabbing and coming back trying to play outfield because I didn’t play outfield for about a year and a half, making sure my arm got healthy and strong,” Glass said. “This past summer, I had a good summer. I’m back here for the first time in my college career for my junior year fully healthy. It feels good. I haven’t felt this way since my senior year.”


The Bearcats will feature a young squad in 2013, with 18 freshmen and nine sophomores listed on the roster.


“I think we have some talented freshmen,” Cleary said. “We will certainly wind up with some freshmen that will play, which is a good and a bad thing. The world spins fast for freshmen sometimes. But we’ve got a talented group, and I think that we’ve got a chance to be deep enough on the mound if we can have everybody healthy.”


Cincinnati will need everyone to stay healthy to thrive in the Big East, a conference that seems to get stronger and stronger each year.


“I think people are starting to get Big East baseball,” Cleary said. “It’s become so competitive. One of the things I really like about our league is we’ve got a phenomenal group of coaches and some really tough kids. So every weekend is an exhausting event. By Sunday you’re completely out of gas because the games are so tight, and the difference between winning and losing is really fine.”


Locally, fans also are starting to get the Bearcats, where support is strong.


UC has more than 1,200 season ticket holders. This week’s First Pitch Reception at the Riverfront Club in the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ball Park is sold out for the second consecutive year. The Bearcats averaged 1,147 fans in 29 home dates in 2012 and have a school-record 35 home games scheduled this season.




The facilities at Cincinnati are tremendous. Brick-covered Marge Schott Stadium is a beautiful on-campus venue, seating nearly 3,100. The stadium is lighted and has a FieldTurf playing surface. An indoor batting cage down the left-field line is adjacent to the spacious clubhouse.


“The facilities are awesome,” Schmidt said. “We have indoor batting cages. We have an awesome stadium here with turf field. We can pretty much hit on the field any time we want. In the winter they put a big bubble over the football field, so we’re in there all winter.”


Added Glass: “Little did anybody know that if you come down to Cincinnati, we have one of the better facilities in the Midwest. That’s definitely one of the things that most of us learned on our recruiting visit to Cincinnati. I didn’t know they had a baseball field like this, didn’t know the weight room was that nice, the indoor cages. We’re all thankful and grateful for our situation here.”


Cleary is hopeful that that his program plus the recent success of the Cincinnati Reds help spark increased interest in youth baseball in the area.


“We’re losing a lot of our younger kids to other sports,” Cleary said. “Lacrosse has really had an impact; soccer has really had an impact. And just over the past couple years you’ve really come to see that in terms of draft picks from Cincinnati, kids from Cincinnati that are going off to play college. The numbers don’t lie in that there are fewer and fewer kids.


“I think our best players are as good as they’ve always been, but there are fewer of them playing. I hoping that the Reds success will reenergize the young guys who look and say that could be a lot of fun. The Reds ownership has really made some commitments to work in that direction, with more kids playing baseball through the Community Fund. We’ve tried to be involved in that effort. I’ve gotten involved, as much as I can, with some of the youth baseball organizations in the area. We have to get back to where we were with kids playing baseball like they did 10 to 15 years ago.”


(photos courtesy of UC Media Relations Office)