With a week between games, Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano hopped on a plane last Monday and flew to Miami, where he spent the next couple of days recruiting. The majority of Pitt's roster is composed of players from the northeast, but Jordano is trying to capitalize on the perfect storm of on- and off-field successes in the program.
Pitt baseball has never enjoyed a higher profile. The Panthers are 32-10 (12-3 and in second place in the Big East Conference) and zeroing in on their first NCAA tournament appearance in almost two decades. They play in a sparkling new on-campus facility and next season will be in the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the top baseball conferences in the country.
There has never been a better time for the program to take a big step forward.
"With the move to the ACC, our recruiting footprint dramatically increased," Jordano said. "Our core will always be Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, but I don't think it would be wise if we didn't go to places where we have contacts and try to get the best players we can get."
For years, Jordano faced serious recruiting limitations. Until 2011, Pitt played its home games at dilapidated Trees Field, which had an Astroturf infield and a natural grass outfield, 280-foot dimensions to left field and seating that consisted of one set of recycled bleacher seats from Three Rivers Stadium.
"Having a Florida State or a Miami come to Trees Field might have been considered cruel and unusual punishment," Jordano said.
Charles L. Cost Field inside the Petersen Sports Complex is on Pitt's upper campus across from Trees Hall and includes amenities such as synthetic grass, a press box and 900 seats. After many roadblocks and delays, the complex, which also houses a soccer stadium, opened in the spring of 2011.
"The new facility has had a significant impact on our recruiting," Jordano said. "There were times when we'd have recruits on campus and we'd never take them to Trees Field. Think about that."
Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson is a firm believer the new facility can spring the baseball program to a new level much in the same way Petersen Events Center helped Pitt become an elite Big East basketball program.
The men's basketball team was among the worst in the Big East before Petersen Events Center was erected. Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon used the new building, as well as the opportunity to compete in one of the best conferences in the country, to attract better recruits.
"The timing is perfect for our baseball program," Pederson said. "We're moving into the best baseball conference in the country. The best players want to play in the best conference."
Pitt's move to the ACC was football-driven, but the university had to build better facilities for its other sports teams to become a viable target for the league. The ACC is a highly competitive baseball league, considered by some the top baseball conference in the country. Currently, six teams are ranked in the top 30, including No. 1 North Carolina, No. 5 Virginia and No. 9 Florida State.
Pitt will try to avoid the pitfalls of the most recent additions to the ACC. Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East in 2004 and Boston College followed in 2005. Of the three, Miami is the only team that has been competitive.
Boston College is 2-21 in the ACC this season and has never finished with a winning record in the league. Virginia Tech has enjoyed one winning season.
Jordano is undaunted by the failures of those schools.
"Every situation is unique," he said. "I'm very confident that what we do on the field works. The style of baseball we play works. When you get to the highest level, you can't make mistakes. We'll have to tweak a few things. But overall, I don't think you'll see major changes from us."
The final piece of the puzzle is perhaps most important for Jordano. He will operate with the full allotment of NCAA scholarships for the first time next season. He is playing this season with 9.3 of a possible 11.7 scholarships.
Two and a half scholarships might not sound like a lot, but it's huge in college baseball. Jordano is now capable of bringing in two more top-of-the-rotation pitchers who will add depth and quality arms, or two big bats to place in the middle of his order. Or a combination of both.
"It's going to give us depth," Jordano said. "We haven't had the ability to be two-deep at every position ever in my time here. It allows us to be a deeper team. If you have late-game situations and you want to use a pinch-hitter, it gives you some flexibility that we haven't had.
"Plus, the grind of 56 games has been hard on us. It gives us the ability to give guys a day off here and there. When you look at the way we've had to do things, we've had to ride our main guys hard. We've had to play our guys major innings to cross the finish line and hopefully get to the [Big East] playoffs. Now, we not only want to cross the finish line, but we want to start a new race once we get there."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.