University of North Carolina starting pitcher Daniel Bard recently took time to answer a few questions from SCS.com. Bard is one of the top pitchers in the Atlantic Coast Conference and is a returning sophomore in Chapel Hill. After finishing 2004 with ACC Freshman of the Year honors, he was recently named to both the Louisville Slugger and NCBWA Preseason Third Team All-America squads.
The Tar Heels have started off the season with five consecutive victories. Bard has started one game, picking up the victory after throwing four innings and giving up just two hits and no runs and striking out eight.
DANIEL BARD, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH
SCS.com: Coming out high school at Charlotte Christian, you were named the 2003 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year. The New York Yankees, perhaps the most storied franchise in all of baseball, were impressed enough to select you in the 20th round of the 2003 MLB Draft. What were a few of the deciding factors that made you choose attending college over starting your pro career right out of high school?
Bard: "I set a price for the teams to meet and made it known to them. I set the number a little high so that the decision would be easy. If a team was willing to meet that dollar amount, then I would sign. If not, which is what happened, I would go to college. Most people that were advising me said that three years of college would be good for me, so in my opinion, as long as I can avoid injury, I think my decision to go to college will prove to be a good one."
SCS.com: Once you did decide to attend college, what other schools did you consider, and why did you ultimately opt to play for North Carolina?
Bard: "The other schools I seriously considered attending were Wake Forest, Clemson, and Notre Dame primarily. I took visits to all these schools, and Carolina just felt like the place I wanted to be. The coaches and the players were very welcoming, and it was just a fun place to be."
SCS.com: In 2003, you had the privilege of playing on the United States Junior National Team. That squad played in Willemstad, Curacco (the hometown of Andruw Jones) and came away with the silver medal. Describe the experience of not only playing in a foreign land but also representing your home country in front of a large, foreign audience.
Bard: "That was a great group of guys to play with that summer and obviously a very talented core of players, with I think four first rounders already off of the team. I got the opportunity to start the gold medal game against Cuba, but unfortunately we couldn't come out on top. But it was still a great experience for me as a baseball player."
SCS.com: Though you were only a true freshman last spring, that didn't keep you from making a huge contribution to the UNC baseball team. You pitched a team-high 95 innings on your way to an 8-4 record and 3.88 ERA. The eight victories tied the all-time UNC record for wins by a freshman. You didn't just beat opponents; you shut them out the ACC's second-most number of times. Following the season, you were named ACC Freshman of the Year and first team all-conference. What is the key to being as successful as you were even though you were just a true freshman?
Bard: "I think that the reason I was able to contribute so much is because of the rare opportunity that I was given by the coaches. I was also throwing to an All-American veteran catcher in Chris Iannetta, which helped more than you can imagine. I was lucky enough for these people to have a lot of faith in me despite my lack of experience at that level. When I saw that the coaches had confidence in me, it allowed me to go out there and play without fear. I always set high expectations for myself, and I would have been dissappointed if I had not performed the way I did last year. I have to look at what I did last year and set my goals for this coming year even higher. Now that I've proven myself to some extent, I just can't allow myself to get complacent with my ability or accomplishments. I still have a long way to go."
SCS.com: Following the season a year ago, you were recognized on a national level. Collegiate Baseball named you to its Freshman All-America Team, while Baseball America named you to its Second Team Freshman All-America squad. How honored are you by those awards, and how does it feel to be compared to some of the top college pitchers from all across the United States?
Bard: "It was unbelievable to recieve all those honors at the end of the season. I was very dissappointed with the way I finished out last season with two or three bad starts, but fortunately a good start made up for it. Being compared to the best pitchers in the nation is quite an honor. Now that I know that I'm up there with the best, I have something to shoot for and some guys across the country to compete with."
SCS.com: The national recognition has kept on coming. Just recently, you were named to Louisville Slugger's Preseason All-America Third Team. The National College Baseball Writers Association also named you Preseason Third-Team All-America. What does this national exposure mean not only to you but to your team and your school?
Bard: "I try not to take any preseason rankings too seriously. It's nice to know that somebody somewhere thinks enough of you to place you on one of these teams, but when June rolls around, nobody's going to care who was a preseason this or that...all that matters is who is an All-American at the end of the season."
SCS.com: Last spring, you and the Tar Heels went 43-21 and finished tied for fourth in the ACC. UNC was seeded second in the Columbia Regional, marking the fifth time in six years that the Heels have played in the NCAA Tournament. The team made the regional final for the third straight season but came up short against South Carolina. Talk about the experience of playing postseason baseball and also about coming up just one run short against USC. How will that loss motivate you and the team this coming season?
Bard: "Playing in an NCAA regional, more importantly a regional in Columbia, was an experience I won't soon forget. The level of intensity in the players and the fans is elevated so much. When the Tournament rolls around at the end of this spring, I don't think any of the returning players on our team will forget the feeling of losing to the Gamecocks. I think things will be different this year."
SCS.com: Just because the Tar Heels' season was over didn't mean you were through with baseball for the summer. You were selected as a member of Team USA. That club had the opportunity to play in the FISU World University Baseball Championships in Taiwan. This was the second time you had played on a national team, and this time you came away with a gold medal. Talk about the experience of again representing your country in a foreign land and this time coming away with the championship.
Bard: "Well I was signed to play in the Cape last summer, but after the opportunity to play for Team USA was presented to me, it was too much to turn down. Winning a gold medal was an unbelievable experience, especially after knowing what a silver medal felt like with the Junior National Team. The guys on the team with me this summer were by far the most talented group of players I've ever played with. Day in and day out, batting practice was a treat to watch, and the plays some of these guys made in the field were simply unbeliebable. I was able to learn a great deal from the older, more experienced pitchers on the team, and while I didn't get as many innings as I may have liked, the knowledge that I came away with from the other players and the coaching staff made it a great experience."
SCS.com: Playing in the ACC is becoming more exciting these days with the recent additions of Virginia Tech and Miami. Last season as a freshman, you had the chance to play road games at places like Rice, Georgia Tech, and Miami. Where is your favorite place to visit on the road, and in general, how do you usually find the atmosphere to be at opposing teams' ballparks?
Bard: "The best places to play last year were probably Georgia Tech, Miami, and South Carolina. Rice also had an unbelievable stadium. I look forward to playing at Clemson, East Carolina, and our rival NC State this coming year. Those should all be fun weekends."
SCS.com: Though you won't be eligible for the MLB Draft again until after your junior season, pro baseball is not unfamiliar to your family. Your father, Paul Bard, played five years of minor league baseball in the Dodgers and Orioles organizations. Has your dad given you any advice for the future concerning pro baseball, and in what ways did he influence your decision to attend college coming out of high school?
Bard: "He gave me some words of advice coming out of high school, but he said the decision to go pro immediately or to go to college was completely up to me and that he would support me if I went either direction. Having been a catcher, he has been able to teach me as much about the game, including the pitching aspect, as anyone I've met. I've been blessed to have someone with such a great knowledge of the game as my dad."
SCS.com: Your head coach, Mike Fox, is a graduate of UNC and is in his seventh year in Chapel Hill. He reached 100 and 200 wins faster than any coach in school history and will earn his 800th career win sometime in 2005. More than two dozen of Fox's players have been drafted by Major League Baseball over the last six years, four of them in the first round. What makes Coach Fox such a success, and how is he able to continually bring the top recruits into Chapel Hill?
Bard: "I think that the reason Coach Fox has achieved such success comes from him expecting a lot out of every one of his players. He doesn't look to a couple of 'stars' to carry the team, but rather develops each and every one of his 30-35 players so that the entire team is able to achieve more. He is a very organized person who is very devoted to his job and to the people around him. I think that players come and see the campus, the baseball program, and his sincere passion for the game, and that is what draws in so many good recruits to Chapel Hill."
SCS.com: Your bio on tarheelblue.com mentions that your favorite book is the Bible. How important is religion in your daily life, and how does it affect the way you treat baseball?
Bard: "I think anyone that is close to me could tell you that my relationship with God is a big part of my life. I do what I can to put this first in my life. I don't think that other aspects of my life, like school, social life, and baseball, will fall into place until this happens."
SCS.com: What is your favorite memory from your baseball career, whether it be little league, high school, or college?
Bard: "The first thing that stands out in my mind is winning back-to-back state championships my junior and senior years in high school. Hopefully I can add an ACC Championship or a trip to Omaha to this list next year."
SCS.com: What are a few things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Bard: "Going fishing, playstation, and hanging out with my boys."
SCS.com: If a young baseball player was reading this and aspired to become successful in the sport, what advice would you give him?
Bard: "First of all, make sure you're always having fun. Then I'd say to find your weaknesses and work hard to improve on them as much as possible. But most of all, have fun with it. Baseball is only worth playing if you can enjoy the competition, being a teammate, and going out there with intensity every day."
SCS.com would again like to thank North Carolina's Daniel Bard for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Tar Heels the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.
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