TAMPA — Lelo Prado and Ken Eriksen are downright giddy at the mention of their new stadiums opening next month.
USF's baseball and softball programs get much-needed new homes this spring with ballparks next to each other just east of the Sun Dome, which will soon get its own makeover. Softball, which begins practice Monday, gets to use its park first, opening Feb. 10 against N.C. State. Baseball begins practice Jan. 27 and opens its new home Feb. 25 against Elon.
"It's unbelievable. Amazing. Nobody in the state of Florida has what we'll have here," said Eriksen, who has been waiting for such a stadium since becoming coach in 1997.
Eriksen moved the fences back 10 feet to 230 in center and made the fences in the corners 10 feet instead of 6, something he hopes will bring more triples in play. Despite the tougher dimensions, Eriksen thinks his new park is more hitter-friendly, just because the wind was consistently blowing in at the old stadium, hanging up potential home runs, and that shouldn't be the case now.
Prado, whose team might have to practice elsewhere in February as the construction is finalized, is thrilled to have back senior Randy Fontanez and Andrew Barbosa, two of the Big East's most dominant pitchers. Both were drafted last summer but opted to return.
The No. 3 starter spot is open, but Prado's focus this fall was getting players adjusted to his new assistants, former Bulls star and major-leaguer Chris Heintz with the hitters and former Rays pitching coach Chuck Hernandez with the pitchers.
Eriksen, too, thinks pitching will be his team's strength — sophomore Lindsey Richardson led the team in wins (12) and ERA (1.83) as a freshman, and freshman Sara Nevins, a lefty from Pinellas Park, is the team's hardest thrower entering the season. Eriksen hopes veterans Brittany Bowles and Capri Catalano can return from injuries and contribute at high levels as well.
He'll likely have three newcomers in the top half of his lineup — freshman SS Kourtney Salvarola, a top recruit from Maryland, will likely bat second, and another freshman, Chamberlain's Stephanie Medina (whose sister Jo-Jo just graduated), might be the cleanup hitter. He has a senior transfer in INF Erin Bly, who was Drake's top hitter each of the past two seasons, with 10 home runs in those two years.
This and that: Football coach Skip Holtz has made two position changes among his talented freshmen, with Notre Dame transfer Spencer Boyd moving from receiver to cornerback (where he worked last spring in South Bend) and S Reshard Cliett adding weight to play at weakside linebacker. … Among those attending Friday's bowl win in Charlotte, N.C., was Isaac Bristol, an offensive tackle on USF's first teams in 1997 and '98. Bristol, now a high school football and basketball coach in Apex, N.C., is proud to point out that the Bulls have won three straight in North Carolina, with wins at North Carolina (2006) and N.C. State (2008). … USF is one of just four programs with bowl wins in each of the past three years, joining Iowa, Florida and Florida State. None of the remaining bowl winners will carry such a streak.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls.