College baseball is returning to Stillwater, but this year is a little bit different for Oklahoma State fans. For the first time in a while, fans are excited before the season starts, and it can all be linked to Stillwater native Josh Holliday.
Holliday came home to coach the Cowboys baseball, and in his second year brought home a Big 12 regular season title:
"The team itself was very much what we had hoped to build, which was a great team," Coach Holliday said. "They were true to each other and they played hard, and to see the fans come back out and respond with great crowds and support was really what we hoped to build, which was a great following."
The fans are not the only ones taking notice of the change around the program. Players who were in Stillwater when Frank Anderson was coach, such as senior RHP Jon Perrin, have taken a liking to Holliday.
"It's a completely different culture...it's been pretty interesting throughout my four years, being able to see and just kind of the mindset of what we were trying to do here," said Perrin. "You can't help but be excited with the type of coaches we have and they bring great talent every year and they've got this program heading in the right direction."
Holliday's coaching philosophy worked out well his first year with the clipboard. The team is ranked in the top 10 in multiple preseason top 25 rankings, and most expect the Pokes to contend for the Big 12 Championship, if not more!
The Cowboys haven't made an appearance in the College World Series since 1999, but last year's record of 48-18 was an improvement to be proud of. It was a marked improvement from the previous four years where the Cowboys had a combined record of 132-100.
All of the accomplishments are fantastic, but the fans are putting pressure on the team to do more, and that's alright, because Coach Holliday has his players prepared to take on these expectations.
"We're just out here trying to get better. Obviously we have extremely high expectations," said Gage Green, a returning senior who splits time between the outfield and catching. "We expect to win the Big 12, we expect to be there at the end of the year. Omaha is definitely the goal, and not just make it to Omaha, but win the whole thing."
With the return of players who are among the best in the conference in Perrin and Green, any goal is attainable.
"They make a choice to be here, they see a high value in the educational piece of this experience, they also see the high value of being part of this team and developing their skills here before they enter pro baseball," Holliday said.
Take into consideration the six position starters and other returners to the team and add a recruiting class that has been tabbed as one of the top 10 in the nation, and you can see why there's so much to be excited about. Players like Jon Littell for example. Guys that are willing to put in the work.
"Jon Littell is doing a great job, you can probably say he's the freshman leader of that group, he comes in, he's not scared." said Green. "Littell is a guy who works really hard and you see it."
The Cowboys aren't without attrition though. Players like first baseman and outfielder Tanner Krietemeier will be missed. Some teams might start looking for a new leader to fill the opened role, but the Cowboys don't think that way.
"We just look for every player to play at an increased level," Holliday said. "Everyone just needs to be themselves and play to their ability and I think one through nine, we'll have a good offense."
As good as the season outlook is, Holliday isn't celebrating yet. He's knows there's work to do, and he's made sure his players don't care about the hype or those rankings.
Perrin states, "We don't worry about rankings, preseason polls are what they are; Oklahoma was ranked No. 4 last year in football and we saw how that worked out for them."
Holliday is right to be worried. The Big 12 is going to be a gauntlet this year with Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech all ranked in the Top 10.
Holliday purposely put together a tougher non-conference schedule to make sure his team is ready for the challenge.
"That was the nature of the design, was to continue to put OSU baseball in those places where we can grow as a program, by playing the very best teams we can schedule to speed that process up for your team," Holliday said. "So we tackled a tough schedule, we're looking forward to it, we'll know where we're at right away with the way we open the season."
The run to a long awaited College World Series begins this week.