Andy Lopez stood just next to the home bullpen down the right field line at Hi Corbett Field, his voice rising more and more every time a pitch popped in the catcher’s glove.
The temperature was nearing 100 degrees and with the way the Arizona head coach was treating a workout with the pitchers, you would have thought it was a late-May practice with the NCAA tournament closing in.
“You can hear him, right?” said junior left-handed pitcher Cody Moffett, standing outside the UA’s clubhouse, a good 30 yards away. “He’s very vocal again. He’s back at it. He’s teaching a lot more. Last year, he was a lot more passive. This year, he’s on top of everything.”
Lopez appears to be a different man than the one who led his team to a 22-33 record last season. Nearly a year removed from quadruple bypass heart surgery, Lopez appears to be back to his fiery self.
“I like that I feel good again,” Lopez said. “I’m anxious to get going.”
Of course, there’s still plenty of time until that happens.
The Wildcats won’t open full-squad workouts until Oct. 6. For now, the coaches are allowed to work with the players in small groups.
But Lopez has already declared 2015 will be a lot different than 2014.
He has brought in 27 new players to the program and attempted to create depth and competition by recruiting a half-dozen junior college players.
The coach also welcomed back a few returning players who were thought to be goners. The headliner of that group is catcher Riley Moore, who’s back for his senior season after a 2013 campaign where he hit just .247.
Though Lopez cautioned, Moore, like anyone else, still has to make the team out of fall ball.
“He looks like a man on a mission,” Lopez said of Moore. “You see a sense of urgency from him.”
The Star chatted with Lopez about his health, the makeup of UA’s 2015 team and more:
How much better do you feel these days compared to last season?
Now that it’s all said and done, I can tell you I was taking a nap every day in my office last year when I got back. The visiting team would hit and I’d go in my office and nap. I’m not proud of that; it’s just I didn’t feel very strong. I just didn’t feel good.
My cardiologist told me it would take about nine months to feel really good and all that. But the problem is, I’m the head coach. I’m not the pitching coach. I’m not the hitting coach. I’m not the defensive alignment coach.
Every program has been mine, and I take full responsibility for it. So that means I’m with the pitchers, I’m with the hitters, I’m with the base runners. You’re doing all the things you can do.
I thought, ‘OK, I’ll get back and try to do that.’ And man, I would try to do it and I’d be wiped out by 11 in the morning and be like, ‘Dang, I have to take a nap.’ What I feel now is what I’ve always felt all my life.
How will this year’s roster be different?
When [the] season ended, I said we had to make some changes, which we’ve done. We had to have more of a quick fix mentality-wise. We needed maybe a tougher kid. We needed kids that weren’t afraid to pick a fight with a bully, so to speak.
We were looking for that kind of makeup. We went after a couple junior colleges in California where I’m familiar with, where we’ve always gotten guys with that makeup. We’ve got one in Ryan Aguilar, he’s an outfielder. We have a transfer from TCU, a pitcher, Robby Medel, who can play right away because of a scholarship rule. He has thrown good bullpens.
We have a center fielder/second baseman, Justin Behnke, who did a good job in junior college.
How do you feel about this team as you prepare to open fall practice?
As I told everybody in the first team meeting, ‘It’s like we’re starting over.’ I never planned on having a year like last year, but we had it, so it’s over with.
There’s only so many times you can dig up a body and do an autopsy on it.
What we have now, if I compare, we have some depth, we have some foot speed, we have some guys from last year’s club with a whole different attitude. Everybody has to make the team. We’re going to fix it now.