The Cougars (27-26, 11-16 Pac-12) are in town for a season-ending series with Washington, giving Marbut the opportunity to talk with the crimson faithful living in the Puget Sound region.
With doubt, Marbut noted, the UW series will mark the end of Taylor Ard’s career in a Washington State uniform. The power-hitting junior first basemen enters the series hitting .346 with 12 home runs and 49 RBIs and has his sights set on the next level.
“Ard’s out of here,” Marbut said. “Ard will not be in our uniform (next year) ... Guys like that need to be in professional baseball. They need to start their pro career.”
Marbut said he plans to move former left fielder Brett Jacobs to first base next year to replace Ard. Jacobs hit .340 and collected 22 RBIs his freshman season before a nagging thumb injury dogged his sophomore campaign. With the thumb still hampering him, Marbut opted to redshirt Jacobs in 2012 to give the Richland, Wash. native two more years of eligibility.
MARBUT HAD HIGH hopes as the season began, indicating he expected nothing short of a return trip to the postseason in 2012. But youth can often be a formidable hurdle, especially out on the mound.
“My expectations (were) probably a little unrealistic with a freshman, freshman, sophomore rotation,” he said in a brief interview Thursday before taking the podium at WSU’s Night With Cougar Baseball at the Seattle Waterfront Marriott. “I think this team is a game or two away from where we probably should be.”
Despite dropping their last four conference series, Marbut seemed pleased overall with the way his squad transformed a challenging clubhouse environment in 2011.
“Our 2011 team lost our way with how we do things,” he said. “With Derek Jones, Tommy Richards and Patrick Claussen in this senior class… this 2012 team does things the right way. We’ve just got to win more games.”
IN HIS OPENING comments to the crowd, Marbut had no trouble pointing out to KJR 950’s Ian Furness the positive characteristics of his senior class. He singled out WSU All-Time Home Run Leader Derek Jones and second basemen Tommy Richards among those who possess the attributed of what he looks for in a recruit.
Marbut said this Cougar team proved that his staff reached their goal of signing the most unselfish and competitive players they could find both on the field and in the classroom. With a team GPA around 3.2, the ninth-year head man said his club has far exceeded expectations, at one point noting he couldn’t be happier with players who’ve met his every expectation.
So does he anticipate his players taking another step in 2013 and returning to postseason play for the first time since 2010?
“We’ll be more athletic than we are this year and we’ll have more competition amongst positions,” he said. “I will predict this - I bet you we hit more home runs as a team next year.”
INSIDE THE MARRIOTT, Scott Hatteberg and Tom Niedenfuer were both on hand for the event. Niedenfuer, the former MLB closer who played under Bobo Brayton before winning a World Series in 1981 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, has come back into the crimson fold recently after years away from the program.
“It’s definitely headed in the right direction but right the now the Pac-12 is a helluva conference,” he said. “They play a very tough schedule and they’ve done a good job. They just need to get a little more over the hump to get more on the national scene then they are.”
WSU currently sits eighth in the Pac-12 standings but can overtake seventh with a series win over the Huskies. Entering Friday night’s opener, the Cougars 74th-ranked RPI gives them almost no chance of making the tournament.
Hatteberg, a former first baseman and catcher during his 14 years in the majors known for his high on-base percentage, said he too was thrilled to reconnect with Cougar Nation – but a series sweep over the Huskies to slip into the postseason would make things even sweeter.
“Having been away it’s good to come back and see how the program’s grown and to meet all the new guys,” he said. “I was under a different regime obviously. It’s an exciting night on the West side… I get sick of the purple and gold.”
Since retiring, Hatteberg has worked as a scout and special assistant to Athletics’ GM Billy Beane. With his 2003 season featured prominently in the Oscar-nominated big screen adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book, “Moneyball,” Hatteberg received the red carpet treatment on set, spending time on set with Brad Pitt and the film’s other stars. “I’m glad it didn’t stink because it would have stuck with me,” he quipped.
In addition to Niedenfuer and Hatteberg, former WSU baseball players in attendance included Joe McIntosh, Brady Crook and Marc Wiese among others.