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Friday, September 18, 2020

Baseball

New Player Development Center, brainchild of Todd Whitting, ‘covers all the bases’


The privately-funded Player Development Center was the last piece of Todd Whitting's "master plan" that head coach has had for Houston since his hiring in 2010. | Courtesy of UH athletics

The privately-funded Player Development Center was the last piece of Todd Whitting’s “master plan” that head coach has had for Houston since his hiring in 2010. | Courtesy of UH athletics

When Todd Whitting was hired in 2010 to return to his alma mater and become Houston’s eighth-ever head baseball coach, he arrived with an ambitious list of long-term goals to help elevate UH into prominence.

Since then, many of Whitting’s goals for the program have been crossed off that list.

Introducing an artificial turf field at Schroeder Park? Check. Installing one of the largest video boards in college baseball? Check. Renovating batting cages, building new bullpens and padding outfield walls, among other things? Check, check and check.

Ten years and $10 million later, his “master plan,” as it came to be known by him and those around the team, is complete with the advent of Houston’s Player Development Center, essentially UH’s baseball HQ.

Inspired by Whitting’s travels to other facilities around the country and specially designed by he and operations director Traci Cauley “down to where every electrical outlet is,” the PDC is now fully operational.

“Nothing but player development”

One of the biggest advantages of the PDC, Whitting said, is having all baseball operations, including his office, weight rooms and athletic trainers, in one building.

“It allows us to bring our entire operation in-house,” he said. “Now, our weight room is upstairs. We’re able to have our own space to be more thorough with our strength and conditioning workouts.”

As for the pitching staff, UH can now incorporate more analytics into its development. Screens inside the PDC display important stats like spin rate, crucial to pitch trajectory.

“We’ve got a building that covers all the bases,” said associate head coach Terry Rooney. “It covers the bases both from a physical development standpoint and an analytical standpoint… When you look at all the areas, it’s going to allow you to perform at your highest level.”

Rooney has already familiarized his hurlers with the facility, including the privately-funded PDC’s “pitching lab” fitted with artificial turf and mounds.

“One of the things that we pride ourselves in this program is development,” he said, citing former players going pro in recent years. “That building is going to do nothing but continue to enhance that product.”

Whitting agrees.

“It’s 20,000 square feet of nothing but player development,” Whitting said, admiring his brainchild. “Everything a kid needs to come here, he can’t go to any other school in the country and have any more than you have now at the University of Houston.”

Eye-catcher

Naturally, the PDC has helped attract the lifeblood of collegiate programs across the nation — recruits.

“Kids want two big things,” Rooney, also Houston’s recruiting coordinator, said. “One, they want to go somewhere they’re going to win and have a chance to go to Omaha. Two, they want to go somewhere they’re going to develop and hopefully put themselves in a position to play professional baseball.

“We’ve done both of those things at the University of Houston. This building is going to help us build on that.”

Over the last few cycles, the PDC has worked as a strong recruiting tool for Whitting and the Cougars.

Just in the 2020 recruiting class, UH landed big-name recruits like pitcher Rome Shubert, 2019’s Galveston County Player of the Year, out of Santa Fe High School.

The incoming talent hasn’t just been from high school.

The Cougars’ JUCO recruiting classes in recent years have ranked among the best in the country, even reaching No. 1 for the 2019 class.

“We’ve already seen the repercussions of this building over the last two or three classes as construction was going on,” Whitting said. “Now that you can actually take them into a live building, one that’s up and running, it’s even going to help more.”

Major upgrades

For the Cougars, the PDC’s new clubhouse is a sight for sore eyes after dealing with outdated facilities for years.

“This is a game changer for us,” Whitting, who fundraised all the money to build the PDC along with Cauley, said. “We went from a very small, cramped, dilapidated, leaking clubhouse to one of the best in the country.”

The new clubhouse, spacious unlike its predecessor, is tricked out with flat-screen TVs, gaming consoles, a pingpong table and a golf simulator.

And players have begun to take advantage; the player lounge is no stranger to Fortnite or NHL 20 being played on its Xbox Ones or Playstation 4s.

“The guys are always around,” Rooney said of the clubhouse. “They’re here all the time, 24/7. I think it helps the bigger picture.”

Although the Player Development Center has opened only recently, Rooney has quickly seen the impact it has had on the Cougars.

“It’s a place that our players call home now,” Rooney said. “It’s not just a place that you’re going to come here and practice and play. Now, it’s a place where you’re going to be around each other.”

For Whitting, the PDC is serving its purpose.

“I have a hard time getting them to leave,” he said, chuckling. “They have everything here they need.”

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