There are high hopes for Rice baseball in 2020. Those expectations rest on the Owls’ players who will set the course for coach Matt Bragga’s second season.
The arrival of February has always brought joy to Rice baseball head coach Matt Bragga. No, it’s not Cupid, flowers or cheesy cards that make Bragga excited. February has always meant it’s finally time for baseball.
After an offseason that feels like it stretched on forever, Bragga and his blue and gray-clad ballplayers will take the field at Reckling Park on Valentine’s Day. Trading a nice quiet dinner with his wife for a ballpark full of boisterous fans is nothing new for Bragga. It’s become part of the all-encompassing responsibilities of leading a college baseball team.
Leading Rice baseball, like leading every program Bragga has ever been responsible for, starts with letting go. Last week Bragga handed the reigns to his Iron Group, a collection of seniors and select juniors that Bragga trusts to be the catalyst for the team’s efforts this season.
Some coaches call it a leadership council. Others call it a steering group. Bragga has always labeled it an Iron Group, with purpose. Proverbs 27:17, the Bible verse from which the name originates, says “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Bragga believes he can guide and teach, but the onus rests on his players to make each other better every day. To sharpen each other.
“You want your guys to have ownership,” Bragga said, “It’s their team.”
That group met and set the goals for the upcoming 2020 Rice baseball season. Bragga said letting his players own that moment “makes [the goals] more real” than having them mandated from above.
Asked how big is too big or how small is too small, Bragga said if they put Omaha on the board “I’m in. If that’s what they say the goal is, and I hope they do because I think every college program should [aspire to reach the College World Series.”
On a more micro level, the team will focus on being what Bragga calls “five units strong”. To win any given game against any given opponent, Rice needs to have strong infield play, strong outfield play, strong catching, strong pitching and strong offense. That’s what the message from the top will be and has been from the moment Bragga arrived on campus. Having big goals is a good thing, but this team has been trained not to get caught up in the big picture and sacrifice the day-to-day steps it takes to get there.
“We can beat anybody if we go beat the game of baseball, “Bragga said. “Because there’s enough talent in that room to do that. That task starts Friday against the University of Texas. It’s not going to be easy, but as the old saying goes, that’s why they play the game. The Iron Group has set the course. Now it’s time to play ball.