For the second straight year, University of Pittsburgh second baseman Jim Negrych was kind enough to take time for a SCS.com exclusive interview leading up to the start of the season. The junior had two great seasons to get his Panther career started and was named Big East Rookie of the Year after his freshman campaign. His 16 homeruns led the Big East in 2005, and following that season, Baseball America named Negrych a First Team All-American. After leading his squad to the Big East Tournament title game last spring, the New York native is hoping to lead the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament in 2006. Pitt opens the season against George Mason on February 17. (photo courtesy pittsburghpanthers.com)
JIM NEGRYCH, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH
SCS.com: It's been a year since we last talked, so tell us about a few of the highlights from last season. The Panthers went 33-22 and advanced all the way to the championship game in the Big East Tournament. Just briefly recap last season for the Panthers as a whole.
Negrych: "Last season for us was an up and down season. We came on strong at the end and started to learn how to win as a team, and making it to the Big East Championship was great. We just hope we can build on that for this coming year."
SCS.com: For you personally, it was another oustanding season. You hit .349 with a Big East-leading 16 homeruns. In fact, you hit seven homeruns in the team's final eight games of the season, so you have to feel good about ending the season on a positive note. Talk about last season for you personally. Were you pleased with your performance, and what have you worked on the most in the offseason to get ready for this season?
Negrych: "I always think that I can do better. I'm never really pleased with how I play, but in order to get ready for this season, I just want to be more consisent and start the year off better and end it better as well."
SCS.com: The team had an impressive run in the Big East Tournament last spring, knocking off regular season Big East champ St. John's in the first round and then capturing a thrilling 12-inning victory over Boston College to advance to the title game. In that game against BC, you slammed a homer early to put a run on the board, and then smashed a two-out, two-run bomb over the center field wall to give the Panthers a 3-2 victory and a place in the championship game. You mentioned last year that your favorite baseball memory was a game-winning homerun on the road at New Orleans in your first ever college game. Talk about the homerun against BC this past year; would that top the homer at UNO in your mind?
Negrych: "I remember just telling myself not to strike out and lose the game for my teammates against BC. That was probably the most memorible experience for me as a baseball player. I think that would top the UNO homerun."
SCS.com: You guys were unable to carry the momentum over to the next day though, and lost to Notre Dame in the championship game. That loss also meant you guys came up just one win short of a NCAA Tournament berth, the second year in a row the Panthers had missed out on the Tournament by the slimmest of margins. Talk about the disappointment of last season's ending but also your feelings on this year's team and its chances to finally break through and earn a postseason berth.
Negrych: "Last year we knew we were going to have to win the tourament in order to make a regional, but it keeps you hungry for the next season. The year should be an exciting year for our team, and the desire to make it to a regional is as high as its been since I've been at Pitt."
SCS.com: Just as it did after your freshman season, a load of national recognition poured in after the completion of the 2005 season. Baseball America, one of the most prestigious publications in the business, named you a First Team All-American, one of the top players in all of the United States. Talk about what that honor means to you personally and also what the national recognition means to your team and your school.
Negrych: "Anytime you get picked as an All-American, it is an honor. There are so many players out there to pick from, and to be named one of the top players for that year is unbelievable. Hopefully the recognition can help us take our program to the next level and give us confidence as a team that we can compete with anyone."
SCS.com: Leading up to the start of the 2006 season, you have also been chosen as one of only about 120 players in the country to be named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List as a candidate for national player of the year honors. Talk about your goals for this coming season, both for yourself and for the Panthers as a team.
Negrych: "My goal this year is to do anything I can to make it to a regional, and that is the goal for our team as well. As long as we make it to a regional, all of my goals will be accomplished."
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?
Negrych: "In a sense, most college athletes are being paid to play their sport. Since scholarships take up money, we get paid, sort of, to play our sport in college."
SCS.com: One of the toughest parts of being a student-athlete has to be juggling the time it takes to do both sports and school. How difficult is it to sometimes get all the things done that you need to in one day, especially once the season rolls around?
Negrych: "It's very tough, and I don't think people realize how tough it is. But once you get older and learn how to mange your time, it gets a little easier, but it's still difficult."
SCS.com would again like to thank Pittsburgh's Jim Negrych for taking time to answer our questions. We would like to wish he and the Panthers the best of luck throughout the upcoming season.