“Get it working. I don’t care if you have to wire it through your nose,” Cruz said with a smile to one of the equipment managers.
Cruz wanted to hear Laid Back’s 1983 song “White Horse” blaring as a tribute to Traveler, who stopped by Dedeaux Field to visit the team Saturday morning.
When the funkadelic tune finally came through the speakers, the team erupted into cheers and Cruz broke away from an interview to get in a final celebration with his team.
Cruz and his coaching staff have tried to keep a loose clubhouse this season — a drastic change from the strictly professional atmosphere harbored by former coach Chad Kreuter.
“We want these guys to feel invested. If they are feeling invested, they are going to give you more,” Cruz said. “If it’s what they like, we let them do it.”
But the staff also requires hard work. Cruz said he gives them three options at practice: “go soft and pay dearly, because I’m not going to like that,” “go hard and get a lot of achievement out of it” or “go home and not bother anyone.”
All season, mental and physical consistency has been preached to the players.
“The last couple and a half weeks, we’ve done a pretty good job of putting it together and I think definitely they’re getting more consistent,” Cruz said.
Though USC is still not the national powerhouse it once was, Cruz has the team playing solid baseball. The Trojans won five of their last seven games and have committed just four errors in the last two weeks.
“We’re just trying to stay with the process,” said junior outfielder Alex Sherrod. “The last couple of weekends we’ve put ourselves in a position to win the series and it felt good to [win] back-to-back Pac-10 series.”
But Cruz knows the next step in the development of his ball club is for it to be just as consistent away from Dedeaux Field.
The Trojans are only 2-9 on the road this year. Today, they open up an eight-game stretch during which they will play only one game at home.
USC will not have to go far today, however, when it travels 10 miles to George C. Page Stadium to take on Loyola Marymount.
Cruz will try to beat the school he led for 12 seasons for the second time in as many tries as the Trojans’ head man.
USC defeated the Lions 10-3 two weeks ago by jumping on Loyola Marymount early and often, scoring in six of its eight at bats.
Loyola Marymount, however, enters today’s contest with a 20-14 record and a better team batting average and ERA than USC.
The Trojans will face right-hander Jacob Smigelski, who gave up three runs in an inning of relief during the first matchup against USC. The 6-foot-3 freshman had a rough outing in his first career start last week against Cal State Fullerton, allowing five runs in two innings of work.
USC will also likely have a freshman on the mound, as southpaw Kyle Richter is expected to make his second career start.
Cruz said, however, he expects to use a combination of sophomore Matt Munson, senior Chris Mezger and juniors Brandon Garcia and Ben Mount, as well. He wants to limit each pitcher’s innings and have them all available for the weekend conference series against Washington, which will begin Thursday.
The combination of pitchers will have to shut down a Lions offense that has four hitters batting better than .300. Sophomore Matt Lowenstein leads the way with a .378 average and .464 on base percentage.
USC also has four batters hitting above .300, with junior Ricky Oropesa’s .348 average leading the way. If Oropesa and junior outfielder Garret Houts, who has hit .414 in his last 10 games, can provide enough offense, don’t be surprised to hear “White Horse” whooping from the team bus when it rolls onto campus tonight.