I don’t particularly like the overall record too much right now —Bill Kinneberg
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg is no rookie. The veteran skipper picked up his 500th career victory in a non-conference win over Nevada on Friday.
Kinneberg downplays the milestone, noting that it just means he’s coached a lot of games. Even so, Kinneberg acknowledges being fortunate to be around the sport for such a long time.
With head coaching stints at UTEP, Wyoming and Utah, Kinneberg has led each program to school records in terms of wins in a season.
Some guys, though, are never satisfied.
“I don’t particularly like the overall record too much right now,” said Kinneberg, whose career mark is 500-506 — impressive considering his stops have been at schools far less baseball-oriented than assistant coaching stints he made at alma mater Arizona and Arizona State.
“I guess none of the places I’ve been at have been easy. But it’s still a game that you compete and you try to win,” Kinneberg said. “At the end of the day, you win or lose. It’s not like a lot of other things that we do. It’s a win or a loss and so I’ve been through a lot of wins and I’ve been through a lot of losses.”
It’s the latter, particularly those this season, that weigh most heavily at this point.
Utah enters this weekend’s home series with Washington at 13-25 overall and 3-15 in Pac-12 play.
“It’s been a really hard year to this point. It can always change and we can always end up on a positive note, but we had high aspirations going into this spring,” Kinneberg said. “At the end of fall and the beginning of February, I really thought we were ready to make a real move in the Pac-12 because of our pitching staff and the nucleus of the guys coming back — and most of all, and this hasn’t changed, is the attitude of our players.
“This is as good of a group as I’ve ever had as far as being dedicated to the game, wanting to do well,” he added. “This group has worked their tails off to be in a positive situation this year.”
Early injuries took a toll, though, leaving the Utes shorthanded.
It started in the first game of the season when sophomore Dallas Carroll, who made 28 starts at third base and hit .282 in 2013, broke his collarbone.
And there’s more, much more.
Knee injuries have adversely impacted senior outfielders Tyler Yagi and Braden Anderson. Yagi, who has a .313 batting average, has played in just eight games. Anderson, meanwhile, hasn’t attempted a single stolen base this season after ranking third in the conference last season with 16 thefts. Kinneberg said the former Bingham High star is playing at about 80 percent because of injury.
Sophomore catcher A.J. Young has also had a tough time. He’s played in just 18 games because of a concussion. Then there’s senior pitcher Brock Duke, who has been sidelined after Tommy John surgery.
Although Kinneberg notes that you never know if things would be different if everybody had stayed healthy, he does acknowledge that the injuries have had an impact.
“It’s taken something out of us,” Kinneberg said. “But those are kind of excuses and you’ve got to overcome those.”
Despite their record, the Utes have been relatively competitive in Pac-12 contests. They’ve lost four games by one run and three by two scores.
Kinneberg, however, takes no solace in the close setbacks.
“It’s a win or a loss and whether you lose by one or lose by 15 it really doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that at the end of the day it’s either a “W” or it’s not.
The infrequent success, Kinneberg explained, makes you evaluate everything that you’re doing.
“So we have to get better if we’re going to make that change,” he said.
Kinneberg expects the Utes to play well over the final 12 conference games of the season. It’s a fine line, though, in the powerful Pac-12.
“This is an unbelievable league. In baseball, it’s as good as it gets, and you have to measure up against the best,” Kinneberg said. “Everybody says it takes time but we’re living it on a daily basis and it’s frustrating.”
Utah is 16-61 in Pac-12 games since joining the conference for the 2012 season.
“I don’t think any coach up at the university doesn’t think that this isn’t hard,” Kinneberg said of adjusting to Pac-12 competition.
In baseball, Kinneberg noted the importance of recruiting and the impact of the pro draft each year. Then there’s the injury thing, especially critical with teams being limited to just 11.7 scholarships. Kinneberg pointed out that defending national champion UCLA is hampered by four or five injuries this season after staying healthy in 2013.
Utah’s adjustment to the conference began with a 6-23 mark the first season and a 7-23 record last year. The Utes dropped 10 one-run contests and six two-run games over their first two Pac-12 campaigns.
“We knew this was going to be tough. I knew when Dr. (Chris) Hill told me we were moving into the Pac-12 that it was going to be hard,” Kinneberg said. “It was going to be challenging. It’s going to make every bone in your body hurt for a while.”
Circumstances are much different than 2009 when Kinneberg led Utah to the Mountain West Conference championship and the Utes’ first NCAA tournament appearance since 1960.
Life in the Pac-12 is much different.
“No doubt. The team that makes a mistake is going to get hurt somewhere along the line. In the Mountain West or the WAC, that we were previously in, you could make a mistake and overcome it,” Kinneberg said. “In this league, you make a mistake and you’re going to pay for it in some manner.”
The Utes are closing the gap, although Kinneberg notes they need to put more runs on the board.
As far as the big picture is concerned, Pac-12 membership has improved recruiting and the outlook is bright.
“I think we have opportunities now with better players,” Kinneberg said. “It’s now showing up on wins and losses right now, and that’s what is maybe bothering me the most — we’ve played well most of this year, we’ve had a couple of hiccups during the year, but those are going to happen in baseball.”
While disappointed with how this season has gone, Kinneberg is optimistic about the future. He said the Utes have a good nucleus coming back, including some of this season’s injured guys. There’s also 11 new players joining the program.
Kinneberg said that the Utes are going to continually get better.
“Each year is another chance to build your depth and hopefully develop these players into good players and develop that team into a good team,” he said. “Each year you get a chance to start over in August and work your way through the year and see how it comes out.”