To get a feel for how things are going for Andy Lopez and the Arizona Wildcats these days, all you had to do was hear him talk about the end of practice Tuesday afternoon.
“I took a bat and swung it three times against a metal pole,” Lopez said. “After each swing, I said ‘have some fight, you guys.’ It got louder and louder each time.
“That’s where we’re at right now.”
Fight was the word of the week for Arizona.
At 12-18 on the season, 2-7 in Pac-12 play, and losers of nine of their last 10, the Wildcats will try to show a little fight this weekend in a three-game series at Utah. The first game is scheduled for today at 11 a.m.
“I’ve spent all week telling them ‘come on, we have to get back in the
fight,’ ” Lopez said. “That’s the term I’m using. You can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Sympathy will kill you. They hear that from me all the time.”
Lopez would rather not be swinging a bat into a pole and getting agitated with his team. But he’s not real sure what else to do.
Five months removed from open-heart surgery and in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career, Lopez is in the middle of one of the most challenging times of his career.
“I’ve never been in a situation like this,” Lopez said. “If you do it long enough, you have to go through everything, I guess. I’ve been told to manage my stress. I’m trying really, really hard to do that. I think I’m doing a decent job for the most part.
“But for a guy who has done it a certain way for 37 years, it’s tough.”
Lopez has watched as his closer from the past two years, Mat Troupe, underwent Tommy John surgery in February, his projected Sunday starter, Tyler Crawford, battle an intestinal issue and put up a 10.62 ERA and his junior catcher Riley Moore struggle to the tune of a .197 batting average.
But because of his orders to manage his stress and be calmer following his heart surgery, Lopez hasn’t been able to be as intense as usual.
“He doesn’t yell as much; if he could, he would,” sophomore shortstop Kevin Newman said. “It’s hard on him with his body. He’s been a lot more tolerant toward our lack of success this year. But we understand being head coach of Arizona, that’s his livelihood. It’s hard on him. The situation we put ourselves in is pretty difficult.”
The Star chatted with Lopez about the challenges of the season, how he’s dealing with it and what’s ahead.
On his recent stretch: “I’ve had a nine-month strand that’s pretty special. I kissed my mom on her cheek and pulled the sheet over her face on June 30 when she passed away. Three months later, I had open-heart surgery and three months after, I’m in the midst of an all-timer for me. It’s been an interesting nine months. My faith is the cornerstone of my life and that is what is getting me through this.”
On how the season is shaking out: “I always go with those 10-game increments. I’ve never had the last 10 games not mean something. I’ve never had that before. I don’t like thinking about that. I still have a lot of fight left and I think the team does, too. But this is definitely new and something I haven’t dealt with before.”
On the frustrations of this team: “The one thing that is alarming to me, and it happened again this weekend, is our inability to put together a series of games. I’m not saying sweep. I’m saying play two out of three that I can go home and say ‘yeah, we looked pretty good.’ The thing that is puzzling to me is what happened Saturday night against Oregon State. We win 11-2 and then 24 hours later, we lose 11-0. Are you kidding me? And that’s happened before during this season, too. We beat a good Mississippi State team on a Friday night. A good Santa Barbara team on Saturday and then get swept in a doubleheader the very next day by both of them.”
On missing the fall after surgery: “I had Mark Melancon and another player from that time call me recently. One thing they said to me that I really appreciated was that ‘you put your will and your passion in us and we always felt we were going to do better because you were driving us. For you not to be there all fall, that’s a lot to miss. That’s probably hard for those guys.’ Sure there are guys that aren’t doing what we thought they’d be doing, but missing the fall was really big. But I’m here again today to try to fix it and try to win three games this weekend and get back on track. We’re Arizona. We’re supposed to be good. I apologize that we’re not right now.”