By Tom Hurley | @TomHurleyKernel
Playing baseball on the diamonds of Louisville in his childhood, UK junior pitcher Corey Littrell had one dream.
It wasn’t to one day round the bases wearing red and black with a Cardinal emblazoned on his chest. Littrell had one team, one school, he longed to play for.
“I’ve been a Kentucky fan my whole life,” Littrell said at UK baseball media day Feb. 4.
After being selected in the 2010 MLB Draft, it was possible that the left-hander would sign a pro contract and turn down the scholarship offer he’d been longing for since childhood.
But, rejecting the chance to go pro out of high school and heading to Lexington is not a decision he regrets.
“I’m so glad I came to college and came here,” Littrell said. “Being from Kentucky, even though I’m from Louisville, putting the blue and white on is a huge honor. This is what I’ve always dreamed of.”
UK enters the 2013 season on Friday tabbed as high as No. 8 in the preseason rankings, following a record-breaking season in which the Cats came perilously close to a deep postseason run.
Any chances of playoff success in 2012 were thwarted by Kent State, with the help of a controversial home-run call, in the NCAA Regional.
That game is now buried in the back of Littrell’s mind, and Baseball America’s pick as the 10th best SEC prospect for the 2013 MLB Draft is ready to move on.
“It’s a long season and we can’t reflect on the past,” he said. “The past is the past and we have to move forward. We have a new team, new members, a new year and one goal.”
That element of confidence, which Littrell says gives the team “an edge,” has created a belief among the players that the Cats can produce another record-breaking season in 2013.
“We think we’re the best team in the country — we know we’re the best team in the country,” he said. “I think that having that mentality going in, we’re not trying to be cocky and arrogant but it’s just that way you have to go about your business. You have to be confident, because if you’re not confident you’re not going to succeed in this game.”
With a much-hyped freshman class and many celebrated players returning to the roster, a trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series is not out of the question for the Cats.
“The sky’s the limit with this team. We’re (as) talented as any team in the country,” Littrell said. “We can go as far as we want to. … It’s all on us.”
Having talent is one thing, but as the failed Miami Marlins project proved last season, talent doesn’t guarantee wins.
It’s a fact Littrell is fully aware of on the eve of the Cats’ first game of the season with UNC Asheville on Friday.
“We just have to go play one pitch at a time, one game at a time and play to the best that we can,” he said. “If we do that, then we’re going to set records, we’re going to be that good, we’re going to be better than we were last year.”
If Littrell reproduces the form of a year ago, when he went 9-2 with a 2.74 ERA, he’ll be giving himself and his Cats the chance to break those records, be that good and finish the season with a trip to Omaha.