Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg’s return has been relatively seamless. He spent a recent practice session bouncing around the Utes’ practice field on Guardsman Way overseeing drills in the outfield, watching his pitchers throw bullpen sessions, having conversation with players and staff.
Kinneberg wasn’t interested in getting overly introspective about the time he spent away from the team during a university-imposed 14-game suspension, nor was he interested in making excuses for Utah’s underwhelming start to the season (2-17 overall, 1-2 Pac-12). His primary interest is seeing his team make immediate strides.
“It’s definitely nice to have coach K back,” junior outfielder DaShawn Keirsey Jr. said. “He’s a good locker room guy, a good team coach. I personally really enjoy having him on the field.”
Kinneberg served a suspension for an NCAA rules violation involving a former staff member who engaged in impermissible practice and coaching activities. As the coach, Kinneberg was culpable and wasn’t allowed to participate in practices and games once the suspension started.
“For me it was a tough month, but we’re back and it’s past us — at least that part of it is,” Kinneberg said. “We’ll move on from it. It’s unfortunate that I was away and not with them. Whether that would’ve changed anything, who knows? I’m back, so that’s what’s important now.”
Kinneberg said being away hasn’t hindered him from having a feel for his team. He had fall ball and preseason to work with the players. As far as how tough it was personally for Kinneberg, now in his 15th season and having led the program from the bottom of the Pac-12 to a conference title two years ago, he wouldn’t go down that path.
“We won’t get into that,” Kinneberg said after a slight chuckle and a pause.
The Utes have lost six one-run games so far this season, including Tuesday night’s extra-inning rivalry game against BYU in Provo. The Utes have lost another five games by two runs.
Inexperience has been glaring for the Utes this season. They came into the season with 14 newcomers. Catcher Zack Moeller, the team’s top returning home run hitter, had Tommy John surgery and will miss the season. The starting pitching rotation for this weekend features three pitchers — junior left-hander Joshua Tedeschi, senior right-hander Tanner Thomas and freshman right-hander Brett Brocoff — with just three career starts before this season.
Kinneberg, for the most part, has brushed aside talk of injuries and youth as simply the cards that have been dealt. He’s more concerned about getting this group to come up with one more crucial hit or defensive play to make the difference in tight games. He expressed confidence the team will turn it around.
“As time goes on this year, I want to see that improvement and not wait until next year to see it,” Kinneberg said. “And that team that won the [Pac-12] championship went through a lot of this same thing. They were all freshmen. They were all playing. We were getting our butts kicked, and it was hard and they learned.
“I’m just hoping that this group of young guys are learning throughout the process and understanding what it takes and how to go about things and how to deal with the difficulties and flush those things and get back to the next pitch or the next game. That’s what that club learned. So we’re going through a little bit of that, and we’ll see how tough our club is.”