Even though Arizona Wildcats head coach Jay Johnson is coaching in his first College World Series this year, he's surrounded by people that have done this plenty of times before, both as players and coaches.
Both pitching coach Dave Lawn and assistant coach Sergio Brown have twice coached teams that have reached Omaha. Brown also went as a player on the 1995 National Championship team at Cal State Fullerton.
With Tyler Crawford being the lone player from the 2012 team remaining, both Lawn and Brown’s experiences will be huge for the Wildcats heading into the CWS.
"It’s great having Coach Brown and Coach Lawn having both been there multiple times," Johnson said on Monday. "I think the thing that comes to the forefront is focusing on the play, and that’s our strength. You have a few other things going on that are our responsibilities when we get out there: when we leave, the amount of time we have setup, where we practice, how far from the hotel, understanding the crowd."
"He’s leaned on me for some advice just in terms of what the players should expect with the environment and the distractions," Coach Brown said of what he's told Johnson. "My experience as a player I remember our coaches doing everything they could to minimize distractions."
"There’s gonna be distractions," Brown continued. "You've got family in town. People are calling you. There’s girls around. There’s things to do. You’re in downtown. You’ve got stuff to divert your attention, so I remember our coaches keeping a schedule to allow us to stay focused on games but enjoy the experience."
"And as a coach, that’s what we’re trying to do to, but one thing about this group is they’re so darn mature I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about distractions as much."
The crowd will certainly be a big change from what Arizona has seen in the postseason so far.
"We came from two of the most non-neutral environments that you can possibly go into in Lafayette and Starkville," Johnson continued through a smile.
"The hectic crowds, the cowbells in Mississippi, all the chants they do in Lafayette," Nathan Bannister said of the last two weeks. "We sat in the dugout as a team and took it all in and enjoyed the moment."
"But like (Monday) I talked to the group about is the feel of having 30,000 people and as crazy as it sounds, those 30,000 people don’t really energize you," Brown explained. "There’s a self-discipline you have to have to get yourself going in this environment because it’s a neutral site. Other than your fans that are there, and the other teams’ fans — LSU’s not there and Mississippi State’s not there — so the big followings aren’t there. It’s a stadium full of neutral people that just want to see good baseball."
The schedule is also a big change. Arizona played four games in just over 30 hours in Lafayette, but in Omaha, they will have days of rest in between each game.
"You’re trying to win a four-game Regional in five days," Brown explained. "So you can do some things with your pitching that really sets you up to have your best guys out there all the time. If you start putting up big leads, you can really stretch out that bullpen a little bit, so there’s a lot of strategy on that side."
The schedule also changes practice routines, and even pregame routines.
"Coming up with a plan of where to practice and when to practice," Johnson said of some of the decisions the staff has to make. "Then what’s the contingency for win or loss on Sunday. I’m actually relieved that the bracket’s set up the way it is. We’ll put a lot of work into scouting with our whole staff, and that’ll probably help us when we’re out there."
"BP is early, infield/outfield is early, so you end up sitting around for about 40 minutes before first pitch," Brown tacked on about the scheduling differences. "So there’s a tendency to maybe get caught on your heels a little bit."
Even though a lot of talk will be around Johnson coaching in his first CWS, he has plenty of experience around him to make Arizona look like the Omaha regulars when they show up later this week.