University of Tennessee catcher J.P. Arencibia was kind enough to take time for a SCS.com exclusive interview a short time ago. The sophomore was a star in high school, tying Alex Rodriguez's career homerun mark at Westminster Christian in Miami. He was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the 17th round of the 2004 MLB Draft but opted to attend UT, where he became an immediate star. Arencibia slammed 14 homeruns in 2005, and his RBI total of 71 was third-best in the entire SEC. At season's end, he was named the SEC's Freshman of the Year and chosen to multiple Freshman All-America squads. He hopes to lead the Vols, who open the season on the road at Florida Atlantic on February 3, back to Omaha for a second straight year. (photo courtesy utsports.com)
J.P. ARENCIBIA, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
SCS.com: You were a star at Westminster Christian High School in Miami, the same school where MLB star Alex Rodriguez played. In fact, you tied Rodriguez's school record of 17 homeruns over your final two seasons. You were an all-state selection twice, and you were also named the number one catcher at the East Coast Baseball Showcase in Wilmington, NC in 2003. When it came time to decide on a college, what other schools did you consider, and why did you ultimately opt to attend Tennessee?
Arencibia: "I remember watching the 2001 College World Series and hearing them go on about the (former UT) catcher Javi Hererra. It was real cool to me because he was a Miami native, and along with Javi, they had some other Miami guys. That sparked an interest, but then I met Coach Delmonico and I knew where my future was. He came into my house and told me he believed I could be an All-American and step in right away as a freshman in the lineup. More than anything, I wanted to start as a freshman, and he had a reputation of being a straight shooter so I believed he wasn't just giving me the recruiting talk. The rest is history."
SCS.com: Just when it seemed you had the next few years of your life figured out, the Seattle Mariners drafted you in the 17th round in 2004. Now you had another decision to make: NCAA or MLB baseball. Talk about the pros and cons of each that you considered, and explain why you decided to attend UT in the end.
Arencibia: "It was an easy decision for me. For sometime I really wanted to sign pro just because I wanted to say I was a pro, but when I stepped back and realized I had a lot left to develop as a player and person, I thought college was the best route for me. Pro is nice out of high school if you go in the first two rounds, but other than that, I think it's crazy not to attend college."
SCS.com: You came in and made a huge contribution as a true freshman last spring, hitting .322 with 14 homers. Your RBI total of 71 was third best in the entire SEC. Talk about the adjustment between high school and college, both on and off the field, and also talk about how you were able to make such a huge impact in your first season on campus.
Arencibia: "Off the field, it was a real big adjustment in the classroom for me. High school was not a real challenge; you were able to get away with not studying for a test. College quickly taught me that I needed to read and get after my studies or I would not be able to play. It was nice to have my own rules though and to be able to make my own decisions. I'm not a big party guy so that wasn't a problem for me. On the field, I have played competitive baseball my entire life in Miami; it's almost cut-throat. During the summer with the (Florida) Bombers, we played the top talent in the country, and excelling in that really gave me confidence in my abilities. So the adjustment wasn't huge, but when it comes down to it, it's just a game."
SCS.com: Your impressive numbers did not go unnoticed in 2005. Among other honors, you were a Freshman All-America selection by both Baseball America and Louisville Slugger; you were named SEC Freshman of the Year; you were selected to the SEC Baseball All-Tournament Team; and you were chosen to the NCAA Knoxville Regional All-Tournament Team. Talk about what all of this national attention means not only to you, but also to your team and your school.
Arencibia: "It's a great honor, but I try to stay humble and not allow it to get to my head. Recieving these honors actually makes me work harder. It feels great to know a lot of hard work pays off. None of it would be possible without my team though, so more than anything, I thank them all the time."
SCS.com: A new season is approaching, and the honors are still rolling in. You were one of only about 120 players nationwide named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List. That award will be handed out at season's end to the nation's number one college baseball player. You have also been chosen by the National College Baseball Writers Association as a Preseason Third Team All-American. With this recognition, though, comes high expectations. Talk about a few things you have worked to improve on in the offseason, and tell us if you feel any added pressure this year now that so much is expected from you.
Arencibia: "I've always been a hard worker, and that's the way I was raised. Like I said before, all those honors are amazing, but I try not to get caught up in it. I really don't feel any added pressure; it's a game, a game for kids, so I go out there and enjoy myself. That's when good things happen. This offseason I tried to get as strong as I possibly could in the short amount of time. I also am learning to become a more patient hitter, waiting for my pitch and not trying to hit the pitcher's pitch. This year I will be pitched to differently, and I need to understand a walk is as good as a hit."
SCS.com: In a season highlighted by a trip to Omaha and the College World Series, you helped lead the Vols to a 46-21 overall record in 2005. After winning the Knoxville Regional and the Atlanta Super Regional in the minimum number of games, UT marched into Omaha but was eliminated in just two games. Talk about the postseason as a whole last year. It had to be a great experience winning the Regional and Super Regional and then getting the opportunity to play in Omaha.
Arencibia: "Words cannot express my feelings towards the opportunity to be on 'the road to Omaha.' Regionals was a great atmosphere, and Super Regionals were awesome. My most exciting moment in baseball to date was when Rob Fitzgerald hit a homerun in the 9th to put us ahead (of Georgia Tech in the opening game of the 2005 Super Regional) and we went on to win it. Omaha is in a class of its own. Every part about it is surreal. I still can't believe I was there. When I look at pictures, it hits me that I actually played in Omaha."
SCS.com: With yourself and other top players like Julio Borbon, Michael Rivera, and Kelly Edmundson all returning, big things are expected from the Tennessee baseball team this spring. Talk about the goals you have for 2006, both for yourself and the team as a whole.
Arencibia: "Coach stressed how last year we were content with making it, and this year we need to aim for a national championship. We have an extremely talented incoming class, and I think we are going to be just as good or better than last year. It's a steep outlook, but I strongly think this team has the pitching, defense, and offense to make a run for the title."
SCS.com: You have had a great squad of teammates around you, but I want to ask about two guys in particular. The first is pitcher Luke Hochevar, who won the Roger Clemens Award as the top pitcher in America last year. He has moved on to pro baseball now, but talk about the opportunity to catch him on a weekly basis, and talk about what made him such a special pitcher. Secondly, I want to ask about current teammate Kelly Edmundson. He is a senior and also a catcher. He started out last season behind the plate, but by season's end, you normally started at catcher, while he was the DH. Talk about the relationship between you and Kelly. Do you guys, since you play the same position, make it a point to talk to each other and try to make each other better?
Arencibia: "Playing with him (Hochevar) made me better in every aspect. As a person, I saw how humble he was and how hard he worked for everything he got. As a player I learned how to lead by example, how to set a bar and make others around you better. I think I'm lucky I was able to catch him because I have no doubt we'll be talking about him thirty years from now, talking about his entrance into Cooperstown. Kelly is a great guy and a great player. He accepted his role as a backup catcher, and his job was to be a hitter. That's a hard thing to do, and that's why I respect him so much."
SCS.com: Last summer, you had the great honor of playing for the USA National Baseball Team, one of only 22 players to represent the United States on that squad in places like Japan, Taiwan, and here in the states. That team ended the season on an 11-game winning streak, and you led the way with the best batting average of .404. You slammed a pair of homeruns and also tied for the team lead with a dozen RBI over the summer. Talk about that experience as a whole and some of the top memories you have of representing the USA on the field in 2005.
Arencibia: "It's always an honor to represent your country. I was just in awe with all those guys I got to play with. I look up to all those guys, and they are all great players. It was funny at times: I would think to myself, 'I'm playing with Ian Kennedy (Southern Cal), Shane Robinson (Florida State), Matt Laporta (Florida)....' To me I was like a little kid playing with big leaguers, at least that's how I felt. The coaching staff was also great. I learned a lot from them, and it will help me along as I play. Japan and Taiwan were nice, but it reminded me how lucky we are here in the United States."
SCS.com: Your head coach Rod Delmonico ranks fifth on the all-time wins list in the SEC and recently won his 600th career game. He is the winningest coach in UT baseball history and has led the Vols to a half-dozen 30-win seasons in the last eight years. Talk about what makes Coach Delmonico so successful, both on the field and on the recruiting trail?
Arencibia: "Coach D expects perfection, and nothing less. He is constantly thinking about things to do to make our team better. He is also a guy that will push his players, get on them a bit, but that's because he expects so much from us. Coach D also is a hit or miss kind of guy. By that I mean if he has something on his mind, he will let you know; he doesn't beat around the bush. I respect that kind of stuff because you know what he's thinking, and it's the dead truth. Off the field, he's a great guy too. He plays around and jokes with us all the time. He's an all around great person and coach. If it was not for him, I would not be wearing a Tennessee jersey."
SCS.com: In recent years, the topic of paying college athletes has come up more and more. Some people say that since the players make so much money for their school, their conference, and the NCAA, they should be paid. Others disagree, saying that paying college players is not right because that is what professional sports is for. What is your opinion on this subject?
Arencibia: "I don't think we should get paid. We get our school paid for, and that's enough."
SCS.com: If a young player was reading this and aspired to become a successful baseball player, what advice would you give him?
Arencibia: "Hard work pays off, and never allow anyone to stray you from your dream. Believe that if you want it bad enough, you can reach it. Throughout my career, people have always said I wasn't good enough. I use it as fuel to make me want it more. Trust yourself; if you strongly believe it, you can do it."
SCS.com would again like to thank Tennessee's J.P. Arencibia for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Volunteers the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.