Feb. 9, 2011
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -
With the 2011 season set to get underway next week, NavySports.com caught up with senior catcher Jeff Bland. Bland is one of six seniors on this year's team that is made up largely of underclassmen, and as the team captain, he certainly knows the importance of leadership both on and off the field. The Basking Ridge, N.J., native talks about the roles of senior class and their drive and determination to have a successful 2011.
First off, how excited are you for the season to begin?
"I'm pumped, mostly because it's my last season. But, we ended last year with a pretty bad taste in our mouths. After the season, I sat down with coach Kosty to talk about the year, what we did wrong and what we need to improve. From that point on, I focused everything on what we can do better as a team, and individually, to have a better season this year. Now that the season is all actually starting, everything is starting to come into place."
You have a young team this year with a total of 25 freshmen or sophomores. Talk about blending the enthusiasm of the young players with the desire and hunger of the older players to be a better team this season.
"We make sure the freshmen know the mistakes we made last year and that we can't do the same thing this year. With them being new to the program, we need them to not make the same mistakes we did last year because we all want to be successful.
"The freshman class has a lot of talent and there are going to be a lot of guys that are going to be impact players this year. We started talk to them in the fall, and now you can actually see how much they've matured. The freshmen have been impressive - there are some really hard-working kids in that class."
Is it hard to believe you are already a senior?
"Definitely. It feels like just yesterday I showed up for I-day. When I look in the mirror and see the pins on my lapel, it's hard to believe."
Describe what it means to you to be captain of this team?
"It's special to me because there have been so many great captains that have been successful leaders that people looked up to. Just to say you're the team captain, you give yourself more respect and you get more respect from others. I have higher standards from myself now."
Does being a catcher make you a better captain?
"I'm involved in every play and get a lot of feedback from the coaches on pitching and certain defensive plays that we run. I guess being in that role behind the plate and talking to pitchers did help me into this role. Last year, we also had a catcher as captain in Steve Soares."
With such a young team, describe the importance your role, on and off the field, as well as that of all the seniors.
"I would say the stuff on the field is really taken control of by everyone. For example, if a guy is having a bad practice, everyone will try and pick him up. As far as off the field, I never realized how much a captain does, until this year. If there is anything that comes up in Bancroft Hall, or any school-related or personal situations, I am the first person they go to.
"It's not just me that gets the younger guys going - we've got a strong senior class. All six guys are strong leaders on and off the field. I think what has helped the freshmen develop so quickly is the fact that they can go to any of the older guys. Any of the six seniors could be captain."
Talk about the goals for this team heading into the 2011 season.
"Certainly we want to beat Army and get to the Patriot League playoffs to give ourselves a chance to win the conference championship. But, the way we look at it as a team is focusing on every day, one at a time. If we show up to the field everyday, work hard, execute and perform to our full potential, then everything else will fall into place. It comes down to putting in our full effort and getting better every day."
What has been the best part about your time here at the Naval Academy?
"Being at the Naval Academy is awesome because you are surrounded by good people. That is, by far, my favorite thing about this place and the thing I will miss most. On any given day I can wake up and walk three-doors down the hallway and ask anyone for help or a favor."
What has been the best part of playing baseball at the Navy Academy?
"The whole athletic atmosphere is great. There is such a strong support group with the Naval Academy, NAAA, the Mids and, not to mention, all the program support from our parents and people that live in the area. It's great having people at the games that are so proud of you because you are a Navy Midshipman, but at the same time they are here to watch you play baseball. It's an awesome atmosphere because there is so much support."
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
"Ideally, after five years in the Navy, I could see myself either getting out or going into the reserves. After that, it would be great to just take some time and travel the world. Getting a chance to see the world and experience the things I've never seen before would be great."