Harris: Pitt coach Jordano talks more than a good game

Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano watches his team against Akron on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at Charles L. Cost Field in Oakland. The Panthers are the third seed for this week's Big East Tournament.
Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano watches his team against Akron on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at Charles L. Cost Field in Oakland. The Panthers are the third seed for this week's Big East Tournament.
Photo by Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
| Monday, May 13, 2013, 11:10 p.m.

Players get tired of hearing the same voice. Day after day, year after year, it can wear on a program.

It's been 15 years, but Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano is still standing.

Jordano hasn't budged much from his core philosophy, but he's still finding ways to keep baseball fresh for modern athletes whose fleeting attention spans resemble that of young people throughout society.

Did I mention that winning helps?

Pitt's baseball team has won 40 games for the first time in school history, finds itself ranked in five national polls and enters next week's Big East Championships in Clearwater, Fla., with a realistic goal of capturing the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“We have emphasized fundamental, core values and done a solid job executing that plan,” said Jordano, who reached career win No. 750 with Sunday's 10-2 rout of Villanova at Cost Field for Pitt's 15th consecutive Big East win. “We've had very good starting pitching, especially on weekends. We've had solid situational hitting and tremendous defense.”

Nothing new there. Show me a coach who doesn't stress fundamentals, and he won't be a coach for long. No, Jordano's special gift this year is his ability to connect with his players and then motivate them to new levels of success.

Jordano isn't too busy to listen. What's important to his players is important to him.

Witness Jordano's decision to make senior infielder Sam Parente team captain. Jordano never had a team captain before this season.

“We historically have not had captains, but this team in particular wanted Sam as its captain,” Jordano said. “I told Sam it's special to have that ‘C' on his jersey because we've never done that since I've been head coach here. That was something special that came from the players.”

“Sam's a great dude and a great teammate,” said Casey Roche, a junior outfielder/pitcher. “I'd do anything for that guy, and he'd do anything for us. That's how the whole team feels.”

“Did I expect it? No. But when I was named captain, I was looking forward to being one of the guys to lead this team on the field and off the field,” said Parente, who is tied for second on the team with 12 doubles, third in batting (.324), tied for third in RBI (43) and fourth in homers (five). “Every single teammate has looked at me as a captain, and I was truly honored.”

Any coach can teach fundamentals. Jordano also has massaged the psyche of a program that hasn't advanced to the NCAA Tournament since 1995 by rewarding good deeds and building confidence.

Before every game and following every practice, the Panthers break their huddle by saying, “1 ... 2 ... 3 ... Omaha!”

Omaha, Neb., is site of the College World Series.

“That's our goal,” Jordano said. “Especially when you look at last year with Kent State and Stony Brook making the (NCAA) tournament. I basically said, ‘Why not Pitt?'”

Last year, when reaching the NCAA Tournament was a less-realistic goal, Jordano inserted talented freshmen Boo Vazquez and Elvin Soto in the lineup and allowed them to play through their mistakes.

Vazquez finished second among Pitt regulars in hitting (.327) and started 43 of 47 games. Soto tied for the team lead with seven homers and was one of three Panthers to start every game.

Pitt finished 28-28 and 12-17 in the Big East in 2012. The Panthers currently are 40-13 and 18-3 in the Big East. Vazquez leads the team in hitting (.356), and Soto leads the team with six triples and is fourth with a .319 average.

“The experience is huge,” Vazquez said. “It helps us more when we're struggling. When we're struggling, the slumps are shorter, we can shake bad at-bats and have a good rest of the game.”

“Our philosophy has been simple: Anybody that we bring into the program, we expect them to contribute the day they get here,” Jordano said.

Jordano keeps talking, and the Panthers keep winning.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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