As Tyler Bray’s football pads collect dust and UT basketball teams’ seasons wind down, America’s pastime is poised to take center stage. Warmer weather, leather gloves, hot dogs, children cheering and the scent of freshly cut outfield grass can only mean one thing: Tennessee baseball is here.
    
And despite ill-advised notions that the Vols’ revamped roster won’t be able to get much accomplished during the 2012 season, (UT was picked to finish last in the SEC preseason coaches’ poll) students are staying positive.
    
“I think students are optimistic about the start of this baseball season because we have a new coach in Dave Serrano from Cal State Fullerton,” Brad Putch, senior in journalism and electronic media, said.
    
Serrano will take over for Todd Raleigh, who coached the Vols for four seasons but was fired in May.
    
“Serrano built a strong program at Fullerton, and here at Tennessee, he’ll have more resources to improve the state of our baseball program,” said Putch.
    
But regardless of Tennessee’s new manager and updated roster, are students truly under the impression this team is ready to contend with the likes of SEC juggernauts No. 1 Florida and No. 3 South Carolina in the Baseball America Preseason Top 25 poll?
    
“I think it puts the same pressure on the team that past seasons have,” Brian Paneral, a senior in journalism and electronic media, said. “UT’s baseball program hasn’t really been relevant for a long time. I think they’re probably hungry to knock off the tough teams.”
   
 Those “tough” teams are currently inhabiting Tennessee’s 2012 schedule: including games against Florida, Texas, Rice, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
    
So why are there so many expectations for a team that continuously under-performs on the diamond when other rival schools excel? It’s the prospect of seeing these potential professional ball players that sparks many students’ interest.
   
 “They’re fun to attend because a great number of these guys have a chance to turn pro in a couple of years, so it’s cool to see them in action before they reach the next level,” Putch said. “College baseball is pretty different from Major League Baseball. Obviously the biggest difference is that players use a metal bat. As a pro baseball fan, that aspect turned me off at first, but I got used to it and enjoy going to the games.”
    
With that said, other students have different views on why they attend UT baseball games and what they’re looking forward to this season.
    
“I like going because they’re free, but also because I’m a baseball fan,” Paneral said. “Even though in past years I’ve gone simply to see Vandy and USC, I think we have potential with the new coaching staff and players.”
    
During a time in the sports season when many UT students are turned away from watching baseball, due in part to their abundant love for Tennessee football, fans who actually go to the game leave more than satisfied. But what are students hoping for in 2012?
    
“A pitching duel is what I always hope for when attending a UT baseball game,” Putch said. “Sure a slugfest is enjoyable, but give me a battle between the starting pitchers any day. The crowd is more into it and hangs on every pitch as the game reaches the later innings.”
    
Putch is not the only one who prefers to cheer on pitchers rather than battle the sun in order to track down home runs and doubles.
    
“I hate football-scoring baseball games,” Paneral said. “I’d prefer a close pitching duel with some nice plays in the infield over just constant (home run) bombs.”
    
It’s no secret that Tennessee baseball doesn’t stack up in popularity to that of football and basketball, but that doesn’t mean students aren’t getting excited for the 2012 season. With new faces in the dugout and on the field, alongside free games and a warm spring breeze, how can you go wrong?
    
“I think we play in a competitive conference, and despite our recent struggles, we still have potential to be successful as an SEC school,” Paneral said.