Q&A With Triton Baseball Coaching Staff
UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman has a brand-new staff for his eighth season in charge of the Tritons. The two-time reigning American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Diamond Division II West Region Coach of the Year brought back former assistant Jonathan Johnston, and hired Bryson LeBlanc and Matt Harvey from future Big West Conference foes UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara, respectively. Newman also has Michael Ramazzotti aboard, previously across town at the University of San Diego. Harvey is the pitching coach. LeBlanc coaches third base and Ramazzotti is at first. Finally, Newman retained Justin Beck, who was his all-region and all-conference second baseman as a one-year transfer in 2018, and scored the walk-off run that gave UC San Diego a second successive West Region title and return trip to the NCAA Championship.
"This group of coaches brings a considerable amount of experience at the Division I level, recruiting experience at that level, and a lot of success," says Newman. "On the pitching side, we're very fortunate to have Coach Harvey, with his development and his experience over the last seven years at UC Santa Barbara. Overall, I really appreciate the level of experience, the level of professionalism, and how they go about their business every day. It's been really refreshing and really fun to work with. I'm excited about our future."
We visited with all five assistant coaches ahead of this weekend's four-game home series with Sonoma State. Friday's doubleheader will have a 3 p.m. first pitch at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla.
College: U.S. Naval Academy '06
Previous: UNC Asheville (2015-18)
Q: What brought you back to La Jolla and Coach Newman's staff after some time away?
JOHNSTON: Coach and I spoke about the opportunity to come back and be part of the next step for UC San Diego. I was very excited to hear about the transition of our program to Division I, and also eager to work with Coach Newman again in the quest for a Division II national championship. It was tough to leave this place four years ago. I'm very happy to be back and be a part of this staff.
Q: Presumably still following from afar, what was a main takeaway from what you observed out of this program the past couple of years?
JOHNSTON: I watched every regional game and World Series game I could. It was great to see those guys grow and win. The program has continued to improve in every way. Coach Newman has continued to push this program forward, and I feel fortunate that he's trusted us to help take this program to the next level.
Q: How is fatherhood treating you the second time around, since the October birth of your daughter, Sunday?
JOHNSTON: It truly is the most important job I will ever have. Having two makes things interesting, but I can't talk when Coach has five to keep him on his toes. It's great to be on a staff with several kids close in age, and I'm blessed to have a rock star wife/mom in Angela. She makes everything happen. The Triton family has been very supportive during our move and throughout the first few months of Sunday's life.
College: Missouri '06
Previous: UC Riverside (2012-18)
Q: What attracted you to join Coach Newman's staff here at UC San Diego?
LEBLANC: There are a couple of reasons that come to mind. I met Coach Newman for the first time in the fall of 2011 while we were both out recruiting. That day we spoke for about an hour or two. It was one of my first weekends out recruiting as an assistant coach. I remember we hit it off because he had coached at Nebraska and I played at Missouri. Both schools were part of the Big 12 Conference at the time. We traded stories about people we knew and games we had been a part of. From there, we sat next to each other at the Area Code tryouts at Westmont for three years in a row. So through recruiting I was able to see the person Coach is and how he treats those around him, no matter their title. That is a long-winded answer for first of all, Coach Newman himself.
Second, I don't think you can deny the success the program has had over the years. Success is a very attractive thing. Who wouldn't get excited to be a part of a program that is coming off of back-to-back World Series appearances?
Finally, joining the Big West in 2021. In my seven years in the conference, a team went to Omaha four of the seven years. In three of the four years, the team that went to Omaha finished third in the league. The league will test you week in and week out, both on the field and in recruiting. As a recruiter, I can honestly tell you I was worried about what UC San Diego could do in the recruiting world and on the field. They had a great tradition athletically and academically. Plus their facilities seemed to be improving yearly. I felt it was not going to take UC San Diego very long before it made real noise in the conference. So when the opportunity to join Coach Newman and the rest of the staff on this journey presented itself, my family and I felt like we could not pass it up.
Q: You've worked in the Big West Conference already at UC Riverside and closely witnessed the landscape there. Less than two years out from the Tritons beginning Big West play, how do you feel this program rates right now in terms of facilities, resources, recruiting, etc.?
LEBLANC: In terms of facilities, I would say the minute we enter the conference, our facilities will be in the top half of the conference. When I say that, I am talking about the bare bones of the complex. We have a tremendous stadium with a beautiful locker room, team room and playing surface. Combine that with having the coaches' offices at the field, and you have a complex that will rival any in the conference. Now add on to that the Trolley, and the fact that you are in the middle of La Jolla, and you have a very unique and attractive college baseball setting.
However, that is just the baseball side of things. On the other side of campus, in the Spanos Athletic Performance Center, our sport performance team, made up of our strength coaches, sports analysts and nutritionist, are working together collectively to make our programs and student-athletes better. Their work is cutting edge.
With all that said, I believe our resources and facilities are a great asset, will only improve in the years to come, and will continue to attract many of the top student-athletes in the state and beyond.
Q: How's it going so far, raising a young family in America's Finest City?
LEBLANC: It has been great. Obviously, you cannot beat the weather. Nor the fact that at any given moment, we are less than 10 minutes from a beach. My wife, Andria, may have said it best. We live in a place where people come to vacation. It does not get much better than that.
College: Nebraska '11
Previous: UC Santa Barbara (2012-18)
Q: What attracted you to rejoin your former coach here at UC San Diego?
HARVEY: Having been a bullpen catcher for Coach Newman at Nebraska made becoming a Triton really easy. I got to see the way he treated those around him, his coaching style, and his knowledge of the game, especially pitching. Joining his staff here would allow me to continue to learn about developing a pitching staff, after having a good experience under another head coach/pitching coach in Coach (Andrew) Checketts at Santa Barbara.
Q: You've worked in the Big West Conference already at UC Santa Barbara and closely witnessed the landscape there. Less than two years out from the Tritons beginning Big West play, how do you feel this program rates right now in terms of facilities, resources, recruiting, etc.?
HARVEY: UC San Diego will immediately compete at the top of the Big West with the quality of the facilities: Triton Ballpark, the Marye Anne Fox Clubhouse and the Spanos Athletic Performance Center. We are already competing with several Division I schools on the West Coast to recruit the best talent in the area and the state, and are able to do so because of the work put in by the Tritons before us, as well as those on the academic side of campus.
Q: What is a top memory from that incredible College World Series run with the Gauchos in 2016?
HARVEY: The 2016 run at Santa Barbara that ended with a trip to the College World Series was really special for a lot of reasons. My favorite memories are always of the players. Seeing a group of guys who got to that stage together, but through so many different routes, was special. I will never forget looking from the dugout and seeing those faces out on the biggest stage in our game.
College: New Mexico Highlands '05
Previous: University of San Diego (2017-18)
Q: What attracted you to join Coach Newman's staff here at UC San Diego?
RAMAZZOTTI: When I began coaching college baseball in 2016, I knew UC San Diego and Coach Newman's program had a strong reputation. When I played in college, I loved the structure of the successful environments that I played in, and in the small time that I had spent around UC San Diego working summer camps and getting to know fellow members of the coaching staff, I got a sense that there were some similarities to the success of the culture that Coach Newman has developed. When I left University of San Diego, I had a chance to talk to Coach Newman informally at a summer camp, and mentioned that if the opportunity presented itself, I would be very interested in joining the staff. As I got to know Coach Newman over the summer, the more I knew that this was a place I wanted to be. Coach Newman is a great coach, but more importantly, he is a great human being. I knew that if I was given the opportunity to work for Coach Newman at UC San Diego, he was not only going to challenge me to be the best coach possible, but also mentor me into becoming a better man. I feel like I could not be in a better environment than I am here at UC San Diego.
Q: Being in the area the last couple of seasons with the USD Toreros, the same recruiting circles, etc., what were some of your observations of the UC San Diego program as it won back-to-back region titles?
RAMAZZOTTI: Some observations prior to joining the staff was that UC San Diego was the real deal. Their teams always had strong, well-coached players and they played the game the right way. I had gotten to know the members of the staff through camps and clinics, so I knew that Coach Newman surrounded himself with good people. Now that I am around him, I can connect the dots as to why there has been so much success. There is structure. There is a plan. And the staff and players execute that plan to the best of their abilities.
Q: What are some things you like to do away from the diamond?
RAMAZZOTTI: Away from the field I enjoy golf, exercise, going to the beach, snowboarding, spending time with friends and family, traveling with my girlfriend, and watching MLB games. I have a two-year-old niece (Bristol) who I FaceTime with a couple times a week.
College: UC San Diego (Expected June '19)
Q: How incredible was it to finish your college career with such a significant role as the Tritons' starting second baseman in 2018, playing meaningful games, winning trophies and contending for a national title?
BECK: It was definitely an incredible way to finish a career. Being able to be a part of such a winning culture and program, while also having a part in it was something really special for not only myself, but my family. The memories created in just a year will be something that I will always cherish and remember.
Q: What were a couple of top memories for you from last season?
BECK: There were a ton of great memories, all made possible by the great group of guys we had. I think the top moment for myself would be the (Michael) Palos walk-off at (Azusa Pacific) to send us to the World Series. It was pretty cool getting to score from third on that hit and knowing all that had gone into that inning. From (Shay) Whitcomb's leadoff hit-by-pitch to (Nick) Kitzmann's walk before Palos, it was a perfect example of how our offense clicked.
I think another top memory would be winning the conference tournament up in Stockton. It happened to be my first dogpile, so I wasn't too sure what to do, but knew not to tackle (former closer Cameron) Kurz. So I proceeded to push Shay to the bottom of the pile, all in good fun, of course. But it was what we had expected all year, and something I'd wanted for four years, so it was a great experience.
Q: Expecting to complete your UC San Diego degree in communication in June, what are some of your future plans? Is coaching something you are closely considering?
BECK: As for my future, I can't wait to graduate. That's first and foremost. I've loved coaching so far and could definitely see that in my future. It's in my blood and it's pretty cool talking with my mom and dad after games with a little different perspective. But I always like to keep my options open, so we shall see.
Previous 2019 Triton Baseball Q&A Features
About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 36 have earned prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
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For complete coverage and information regarding UC San Diego Athletics, follow the Tritons online at UCSDtritons.com and through social media on Twitter (@UCSDtritons), Instagram (@ucsdtritons) and Facebook (UCSDtritons). For more information on UC San Diego Baseball, follow on Twitter (@UCSDbsb) and Instagram (@ucsd_baseball). Head coach Eric Newman is also on Twitter (@CoachEricNewman).