Pressure is sometimes in the mind of the beholder, and there was a period early in the college baseball season when Loyola Marymount outfielder Billy Bean was feeling it.
Coming off a junior year in which he hit .403 and a summer in which he led the vaunted Alaska League at .430, Bean was hitting less than .300 and wasn't seeing any good pitches.
Loyola Coach Dave Snow produced the perfect cure: a 45-12 record and a berth in the NCAA Western Regional starting today with an 11 a.m. game against UC Santa Barbara (44-17) at UCLA. Other teams in the regional are UCLA (39-21) and Hawaii (41-22). Winner of the double-elimination tournament advances to the eight-team College World Series in Omaha.
"The winning took the pressure off," Bean said. "This year we've been so much more of a team. I have no qualms about sacrifice bunting or moving the runner along instead of going for a home run. We're going for run production, not stats."
Crash Course in Pitching
Tim Layana came to Loyola as a promising right-hander. He immediately became the Lions' most competitive pitcher but, for two years, remained a promising but unpolished hurler on a bad team.
Snow had the answer for that as well: a crash course in the mental approach to pitching--how to prepare for a game, how to out-think the batter, how to rise to the challenge within a team framework.
"When Coach Snow came here I realized what I had missed," Layana said. "He takes pitching more as a mental game. Hitting is timing. Pitching is screwing up the hitter's timing. Playing under these coaches I feel like I could go out and coach a team now."
Layana has pitched in most of the big games this year, including the must-win final regular season game at Reno and last weekend's playoff victory over Pepperdine for the automatic spot in the NCAA playoffs.
Pressure? "I like it. I get into those pitchers' duels," Layana answered. "When I get a comfortable lead I let up."
The star seniors were the cornerstones of the Loyola program when Snow was hired two years ago. Snow's arrival not only turned the program into a national success story but kept Bean and Layana in Lion uniforms. Both were ready--and planning--to leave.
Bean Soars to .353
Instead they helped lead the Lions to their first-ever No. 1 national ranking in the weekly polls and broke nearly every hitting and pitching record in school history.
Bean, a 6-foot, 185-pound center fielder who bats and throws left-handed, is hitting .353 with 13 doubles, 7 triples, 6 homers, 57 runs batted in and a team record 76 runs scored. He holds school career records for games, at-bats, hits, runs and runs batted in. He was drafted by the Yankees last year but decided to finish school.
Layana, a 6-2, 185-pound right-hander, is 16-2 with 12 complete games, 5 saves and 122 strikeouts in 150 innings. The victories and strikeouts are season records. He holds Loyola career records in victories, strikeouts and innings pitched. He was drafted by the Mets last spring but came back to earn co-pitcher of the year honors in the West Coast Athletic Conference with Pepperdine's 12-game winner, Mike Fetters.
Snow said, "I feel pretty fortunate I walked into a situation with good players in the middle of the diamond. I knew they were good players. I found out very quickly they're great people. Both are in that position where they're identified as quality players. It would've been easy for them to back out as far as practice, working hard. Instead they led by example."
Team Play Emphasized
Asked if the two are different players than when he took over, Snow said, "I think they're different because they're winners. They've always been great competitors. Now they're great competitors who are winners."
Upon taking over a program in which players had stressed their own statistics and upperclassmen had shunned newcomers, Snow convinced them that team play and unity would be better for their college careers--and hence, their pro chances.
"I've always tried to stress 'Concentrate on winning, concentrate on the team,' " Snow said. "All the championship teams I've been on, the other things took care of themselves--the individual honors, the individual statistics."
Bean and Layana took his philosophy to heart, adhering to the small plaque on his desk: "Think Snow." Bean, a Santa Ana native, went to Loyola largely at the urging of his parents and said he would have transferred to Cal State Fullerton after his sophomore year. Instead, Snow, then an assistant coach at Fullerton, was hired.
'Going Out on Top'
Bean said, "There's such a fine line between the teams that win and the teams that don't. You go to any campus and you'll see (good) players. We really haven't thought about the draft. My whole focus and concentration is on the team. Obviously I'm hoping for the best, (but) I'm happy I stayed in school. It made my course so much more easy, going out on top, being able to walk around proud.