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Indiana baseball ‘going to be special’ in year one under Mercer

Indiana baseball first year head coach Jeff Mercer meets with the media for the first time in 2019. The 33-year-old head coach will lead his team at Memphis in the season opener on February 15. (Josh Eastern/HN)

First year Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer is doing things his way in Bloomington.

And so far, the Hoosiers have responded to the challenge presented from the 33-year-old man in charge.

After two very successful seasons at Wright State, including a NCAA Regional appearance, Mercer is focused on building relationships with the group that won 40 games a year ago at IU.

“I think you have to respect the success the team has had and the individuals have had, but when you come in you have to be able to build a relationship first,” Mercer said. “We have to build those relationships first and then make adjustments within the game plan of both the player and what we would like to see in our system.”

As former Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis darted for Mississippi State shortly after last season, he didn’t leave behind a land of misfit toys.

The Hoosiers return six upperclassmen position players that started 40 or more games a year ago, a top of the rotation starter in Pauly Milto, a strong bullpen and preseason conference player of the year, Matt Gorski.

Its been a seamless transition between the new coaching staff and the veteran players.

“They came in with a good mindset, not try to change the whole program around, kind of just change to us and they’ve done a good job being personable and they’ve got us a lot better,” senior catcher Ryan Fineman said. “Our swings, our pitching staff I mean everything, we’ve seen improvements in everything.”

Mercer isn’t focused on changing everything in the program, but rather making subtle adjustments in order to steer the program in the direction he wants it to go.

The Hoosier upperclassmen have helped with that, serving as a liaison between the staff and the younger players.

“The biggest thing they’ve done is that they’ve given their support and they’ve really been invested to the winning culture and to working hard and to helping allow us to communicate efficiently to everybody,” Mercer said about the upperclassmen. “They’ve been a nice facilitator for the staff and have done a nice job of that.”

Building those relationships with the players has been key for Mercer as he brings an abundance of knowledge to the game at a young age.

Mercer played at Dayton and Wright State during his collegiate career and since 2011 has been an assistant coach with Michigan, Western Kentucky and Wright State.

In 2017, he took over as head coach for the Raiders keeping them prominent in the Horizon League with a 77-36 career record and league championship before making the leap to IU.

As a younger coach, Mercer is more personable with the players. Gorski mentioned that he likes to kid around with the team and knows the ways of a college kid, but on the field, he’s as baseball minded as they come.

“I don’t know about analytics and all that, but I just know he’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever played for,” Fineman said. “I mean, everyday you get better, there’s nothing he says that doesn’t register to me as incredible.”

For as much experience as Indiana returns in 2019, Mercer said nothing is set in stone yet with how the lineup plays out.

He wants to look at the full body of work that his players have showcased and judge off of that. With the season opener at Memphis still two weeks away, this is the most important time for players to separate themselves in the eyes of the coaching staff.

“We’ve asked guys to make adjustments here and you know the majority of the first six months have been a lot more physical with the weight lifting and the diet and the mechanical adjustments and how you play the game and introducing the approaches and the systems,” Mercer said. “The last piece here over the last two the three days and the next couple of weeks is how that is applicable to the game and how we’re able to execute efficiently and the execution of the process is the most important part.”

Mercer and his new staff have done enough this offseason to make an impact on the players and the IU program.

The Hoosiers have welcomed them in with open arms and embraced their style of business. Now, they feel like this season has the chance to be historic.

“Right when they got here, there’s two things you can do, you can say screw it, I want to go back to the old way or you can go to the new ways and we just went right to the new way, Fineman said. “This fall, this spring has just been different, we’ve gotten after it more than ever and I think this team is going to be special.”

Zain Pyarali

I am a junior from Edwardsville, Illinois majoring in Sports Media. I formerly worked for the Indiana Daily Student for two years serving as the Sports Editor and beat reporters for Men’s Basketball, Men’s Soccer, Baseball and Field Hockey during my time with the student newspaper. Currently I am the Men’s Basketball beat reporter for IU Student Television while I also broadcast games for BTN Student U. Email me: zpyarali@thehoosiernetwork.com and follow me on Twitter: @ZainPyarali

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