TAMPA – Mark Kingston, new baseball coach at the University of South Florida, said he was “an overachiever.’’ His playing talent was “average,’’ but he concentrated on becoming the hardest worker and getting the most from his skills.
Those qualities sustained him through a four-year playing career at North Carolina, an appearance in the College World Series, twice being drafted by professional baseball teams and five seasons in the minor leagues.
“I always tried to play the game the right way,’’ he said.
Those could be just the type of old-school ingredients needed to lift USF’s program from its status as a perennial underachiever.
Kingston, twice the Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year during his five-season stint at Illinois State, laid out an ambitious plan for the Bulls on Thursday afternoon when he was formally introduced at the USF Baseball Stadium.
“We can, we should and we will be an elite program,’’ said Kingston, 44, who was described as a “compelling leader’’ by USF athletic director Mark Harlan. “We will. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen brick by brick.
“Players (should) be ready to work. Winning big is not easy. It takes a lot of work. You’ve got to outwork people in the weight room, at practice, in the video room, in every aspect. The foundation of our program is we will work harder and smarter than anybody we face. If you want to become the best player you can be, if you want to work, this is the place for you.’’
The Bulls were 27-31 in the eighth season of Lelo Prado, who was reassigned to an administrative position. Kingston said his eventual goal is taking USF baseball to Omaha, site of the College World Series, but he also realizes the program hasn’t made the NCAA regionals since 2002.
Kingston will emphasize the future — not ancient history.
“I don’t consider (12 consecutive seasons without a regional) an issue,’’ Kingston said. “These (recruits) care about how is (their) future going to be affected if they come to your school. Whether or not we went to a regional in 2003 has nothing to do with a kid making a decision once he graduates from high school in 2015 or 2016.
“They want to know about the situation today, what it will be moving forward. That’s how they decide where they’re going to school. “This will be a great place to develop as a player, as a student-athlete. We want them to say when they leave here three or four years from now, they became the best players they could be. That’s the reputation we’re going to develop.’’
Kingston, who worshipped Don Mattingly’s left-handed swing to the point where he transformed himself into a switch-hitter, said he believes he’s inheriting a team with effective pitching and defense. He will emphasize the recruiting of players with speed and power.
Most of all, though, he wants all players to deliver maximum effort. From the beginning, Kingston and his staff will teach playing hard, even instructing the art of hustling on and off the field.
“We’ll be the type of team where you’ll tell your kid, ‘That’s how you want to play,’ ” Kingston said. “Everybody talks about playing hard, then they hit a pop-up and they jog to first. Everybody hustles on a double. But do you hustle on a ground ball to shortstop?
“When our team is coming off the field for defense, I want it to look like they can’t wait to hit. When they’re coming out from the dugout, I want it to look like they can’t wait to pitch and play defense. … That’s what separates the good teams from the great teams.’’