Utah Baseball: Utes face daunting early schedule
University of Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg isn't fooling around this year. His Utes waste little time before jumping into the fire, opening the season Friday with a three-game series against what could be a highly motivated California Bears team.
This is most likely Cal's final season of baseball, a program that was cut after 104 years.
Utah follows Cal one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 with three more games at No. 24 Arkansas before heading to the Houston Classic with meetings against No. 13 Texas A&M, Baylor and Kentucky.
"This is by design," Kinneberg said. "Our first three weeks are as tough a weeks the program has ever been through. We've got to toughen up."
Anyway, this is exactly what the Utes should expect every year starting 2012 when they enter the Pac-12.
"The team's excited about the schedule," Kinneberg said.
While Kinneberg hesitated to call 2011 a rebuilding season, there have been some losses and additions from the team that finished 23-28, 10-13 in the Mountain West Conference.
The key return is junior C.J. Cron, already named as a pre-season All-American. College Baseball Daily ranked the catcher/first baseman No. 23 among the top 100 collegiate baseball players.
"It's a good measurement," said Cron of the Utes' schedule. "It's challenging. They're all just throwing a white baseball."
Cron, an expected high draft pick, raked in 2010, hitting .431 with 20 home runs and 81 RBIs in 49 games.
"Expectations on him are huge," Kinneberg said. "[But] he's been around the game. He's more interested in winning baseball games."
Kinneberg is pleased about his talented newcomers, including junior college shortstop James Brooks, who will move three-year starter Michael Beltran to second.
"We do have a lot of turnover," Kinneberg said. "But the returning guys have shown great leadership. The team's excited about the schedule."