Jim Blair knows baseball. The 34-year-old has been around the game for most of his life, including eight seasons worth of college coaching experience at the Division II and Division III levels.
Baseball instruction has become somewhat of a routine for Blair. However, teaching the game at the high school level in an unfamiliar area presents a challenge.
In college, coaches recruit, gain familiarity with athletes and have more time to work with them prior to and during the season. At TC, Blair has players with certain skill sets not guaranteed to be in line with his philosophy. With a few weeks to prepare for a shorter, 20-plus-game season, the coach has less time to get across what he knows.
"This is a whole new adjustment for me," said Blair, who coached at Richard Stockton College (New Jersey) for two years, Hampden-Sydney College (Virginia) for three years and St. Andrews Presbyterian College (North Carolina) for three years prior to coming to Alexandria. On a recruiting trip, Blair said, he visited his friend in Alexandria and liked the area, so he applied for the TC head coaching position.
So far, everything seems to be working reasonably well for Blair, whose Titans opened the season 1-1. TC lost to Battlefield, 8-4, on March 4 and defeated Wakefield, 15-3, on March 18.
"I like coach Blair a lot and the guys he brought in," senior catcher Travis Clark said. "Any time you can get a guy with college experience at the high school level, it can’t hurt. You listen to whatever he says because he’s been through this, to where we all want to go. He obviously knows what he’s talking about."
Blair said having coached in college helps the Titan players trust him.
"So far, so good," Blair said. "I haven’t encountered too much resistance. … With the way things have been here, not that they’ve been bad, but I think that the boys want more. I think they value the way we do things — it’s very methodical. It’s, ‘This is why we’re doing it, this is what we’re hoping to gain out of it’ versus saying, ‘OK, let’s just come out and take ground balls and take some swings.’"
On the mound, senior right-hander Steve Weidman will be the Titans’ ace after recovering from a broken foot that sidelined him most of last season.
"We’re hoping he can come out and, [if] anything, just to have that senior leadership on the mound. It puts the team in a different mindset right from the start — first pitch — and it’s a confidence builder for the team."
Sophomore right-hander Alec Grosser, the Titans’ No. 2 starter, has the physical talent to be a standout pitcher, but needs to improve, Blair said.
"Alec has good stuff, he’s just young still," Blair said. "He has to learn how to develop a little bit more mentally as a pitcher, understand his strengths and weaknesses on the mound and learn how to pitch. He’s an exceptional thrower, but he needs to learn how to pitch. That’s going to be his biggest thing to do this season as far as an area to improve. … He has the stuff where he could be an exceptional high school pitcher and possibly move on to the college ranks when it’s all said and done."
Junior left-hander Nate Ribyat will likely be the No. 3 starter.
In the field, junior Jack Delaney is the Titans’ first baseman, senior Doug Murphy and sophomore Cameron Sullivan are competing for time at second base, sophomore Conor Cousins is at shortstop and junior Aaron Tovsky will the team’s third baseman.
Senior Desmond Coursey is in left field, senior Nick Severini is in center and Weidman or Grosser will be in right.
Seniors Tim Trout and Devin Trout should see time in the designated hitter role.
Blair said Weidman and Clark are team leaders.
"I’ve been impressed with them so far and the way they handle the team," Blair said, "and the way they work with me to handle the team."
Weidman said he feels good after missing most of last season.
"It feels good," he said, "to be back on the mound again."
TC will open Patriot District play against Woodson at 6:30 p.m. on March 25. The Titans next home game is on March 29 against Lee.