HENDERSONVILLE - Baseball players and fans from all over the area are invited to join the University of Tennessee baseball program this Saturday, Oct. 19 at Drakes Creek Park Field No. 3 as the Vols come to Hendersonville for a free kids clinic and a meet-and-greet with the players and coaches.
The clinic starts at 2:45 p.m. for kids in first through eighth grade.
“Coach [Tony] Vitello called looking for a place to practice the day before their game at Lipscomb, and we are glad to have him,” Hendersonville Parks and Recreation Director Andy Gilley said. “It was his idea to put on the clinic after their practice and offer it free to the community. We think it is a great thing.”
Fans are encouraged to show up for the Vols practice that begins at 1 p.m. before a meet-and-greet opportunity with the players and coaches at 2:30 p.m.
“Playing at Lipscomb on Sunday, we wanted to simulate a road trip for our players,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “Our normal routine is to go into town the night before and have a practice. It gives our guys a chance to travel, dress on the bus, follow an itinerary and stay in a hotel. We decided it would be a good idea to combine a few different things at once. We invite all fans and kids to come watch us practice and meet the team, as well as the coaches. If you are an autograph seeker we would love to have you come by and say hello.”
Vitello arrived in Knoxville two years ago and says the biggest thing he wants to improve is his team’s community service.
“We have really lagged in community service, and that is something we want to improve,” he said. “This is an easy way to get kids to come out and run around, and what better place than at Drakes Creek. It is a perfect facility with multiple picnic areas, fields, and a place that can hold so many kids. We are familiar with the area because of the high school producing great kids. We are always there scouting several tournaments, so it just couldn’t have worked out better for all parties.”
The Vol players are getting ready to enter fall break and haven’t had much time to be just regular kids. Grinding since the summer, Saturday will offer a chance for UT to get out of their normal routine and enjoy playing the game they love.
“Saturday will be a great chance for us to do something other than the daily grind of baseball, academics and weight lifting,” Vitello said. “We are entering fall break, and we haven’t had much of a break. We started early, our strength coach is intense, and it has been a grind. When our period is over in December, things become less restrictive, but so far there hasn’t been a lot of breaks. This Saturday will give them an opportunity to be a kid, and I think everyone will enjoy that. It is big business here in the SEC, but at the same time they have to be kids or the whole thing loses its luster.”
Vitello is entering his third season on The Hill and says he is depending on the older guys to help push the culture of the program to another level.
“I hope this turns into a deal where the older guys and returning guys can keep pushing our culture in the way we want to do things,” he said. “My hope is that they can lead the younger guys to do things a little quicker and a little better. If you look at our basketball program, they have what we are striving for. Coach [Rick] Barnes has humbled and mentored me since I got here, and I am grateful for that. He always talks to me about the start of his career here, and how he was able to change things for the better and get guys to act a different way. Now if you look at his program, the players are coaching each other as much as the coaches are. That is a staple of how every SEC program is established.”
Two former Sumner County players are on the Tennessee roster as Pope John Paul II graduate Jake Rucker enters his sophomore season, and former Hendersonville Commando Cameron Hansen prepares for his freshman campaign.
“Like most freshman, Cameron is going through an adjustment,” Vitello said. “Whether it be the workload that comes with academics, athletics or getting back to the tremendous amount of success he enjoyed before his injury. He is trying to return to his roots.
“Rucker has been forced to play shortstop for us everyday because our other candidate ended up with a concussion, and has not been back,” Vitello continued. “Jake is one of those guys that can play any position and has enough experience, and (he) hit well for us last year to be in our lineup. In order for him to be an everyday guy, he needs to continue to swing the bat well. He is an incredibly athletic kid and a well-coached kid. It’s always ‘yes sir’ with Jake.”
Drakes Creek Park is located at 120 East Main Street in Hendersonville.