The Chomp: Head baseball coach Tony Schifano on upcoming SFSU baseball season

The Chomp: Head baseball coach Tony Schifano on upcoming SFSU baseball season

Welcome to the Xpress podcast, a podcast that brings city and statewide perspectives to SF State news. In the latest episode of the Chomp podcast, staff reporter Luis Cortes and co-managing editor Steven Rissotto chat with San Francisco State University head baseball coach Tony Schifano on MLB free agency, the upcoming Gatorsj baseball season, continually building the program and more!


Luis: Welcome back to the chomp podcast. My name is Luis Cortes and I’m a writer on the staff.

Steven: And I’m Steven Rissotto, the Managing editor on staff.

Preview of the Show

Luis: Today we’ll talk to SF State Head Baseball Coach Tony Schifano, get into our local teams and discuss the upcoming free agency window, which started last week. Will the Giants finally land that star the organization has been dying for? And what does the unanimous move to Las Vegas mean to the diehard fans rooted in Oakland? Coach Schifano will talk to us about the state of the team from last year and what is upcoming next season.

News Brief 

Luis: So today, we had some breaking news, it was a unanimous decision by all 30 MLB team owners to move the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas. Yeah, it’s a sad day for Oakland, and their diehard fans. It’s another reason why John Fisher is pretty hated around this area. For a lot of reasons, you know, you can start off by him owning the team since 2005, they had maybe, the bottom 10 payroll at the end of the year, throughout his ownership, the biggest contract they’ve given out is a three year $30 million deal to Billy Butler in 2014. And he didn’t even finish that contract. They released him after 236 games in 2016 and still, he doesn’t show his face.

Steven: First of all, it is a sad, sad day for Oakland. I do want to say that like if you’re owning a Major League Baseball Team, you have to be all in, like for a lot of these people that own the team. It’s kind of like their second or third endeavor. They got a business on the side, they’re investing in something else big on the other side. And they’re very little involved, they have very little involvement in the actual team. And in John Fisher’s sake, there’s people around the A’s that say he has not been there in years. So what does that message say to the players, right, and Vegas is going to become the smallest market in the game. So I don’t understand how it’s, if anything in Vegas, where to get a team that should be an expansion team. I don’t think the people of Vegas should pick up the A’s loose bits, if that makes sense. They deserve their own team. Like they deserve their own hockey expansion team, which they got and they’ve been successful, but it is sad. I think there’s a fan base in Oakland that’s been kind of disrespected for a while here, because it is sad and it does suck and I think the first thing that came to my mind was like now Northern California, which is big enough for two markets should be number one in line for an expansion team. I feel like it’s not fair.

Tony: I agree on all fronts and it is a sad day. I listen to Bob Melvin this morning on KNBR and you can hear in his voice because you know part of him too was with the Oakland A’s for a long time, but I thought Nashville was where they should have ended up personally and I agree with you that it Vegas should be an expansion team down the road. But the Bay Area is big enough for two teams. Maybe, you know, down the road, we’ll get another team, but A’s fans are going to be in mourning for a little bit. They are very passionate. I think back to those 70s teams with Reggie Jackson, Gene Tenace and those guys and Rollie Fingers.I think back to the Mark McGwire, Conseco, the earthquake in the World Series and Dave Stewart and whatnot. You know, they have some, they have some great history, something they can lean back on. I think once an A’s fan, you’re always an A’s fan, I don’t think it’ll go away. The times we live in right now. It’s gotta move forward.

Luis: Yeah, that goes to their next point, the Angels and the Giants. The biggest fish in the market right now is Shohei Ohtani, a player we’ve never seen in our lifetime, a two way player. Unfortunately, he’s only going to hit this year since he had Tommy John surgery. A lot of reports are saying the Dodgers are the number one front runner for Shohei Ohtani. Do you guys feel like there’s a chance that Giants could sway him?

Tony: I personally do think there is especially with Bob Melvin coming here. He’s coached some phenomenal Japanese players that I know that Shohei looks up to like Ichiro and Yu Darvish, and I think fanbase is a place that he would feel comfortable in think it’s a great fit for him. They need a star, it’s been years. The only thing that worries me is offensive players don’t really think about playing the Giants. You know, because the stadium, it is part of the deal. I heard the other day like somebody said, ‘Hey, name a Giant that put up huge numbers offensively since Bonds’ and it’s hard to find somebody, it’s just a ballpark doesn’t play to it, but hopefully Shohei wants to get after it with some splash hits.

Steven: They have not had a 30 homerun guys since Bonds.That tells you everything you need to know. I think they’ll definitely be in play if they want to, you know break out the checkbook. Because, that’s where the players go, right. They look at, you know, opportunity for themselves and then they look at the money. Right, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien signed a deal with the Rangers when the Rangers weren’t good, but they were going to pay them a half a billion dollars combined. So that’s where the money was, and that’s where they went and ended up working out.

Tony: I agree with that, but I also think players can be swayed by GMs that can paint a picture of what the next three to five years looks like with regards to the farm system. I have seen some interviews with with Seager and he said that he felt that the Rangers farm system was sold to him and they were going to be good in a couple of years and you listen to Bryce Harper. The reason he picked Philadelphia was he thought it was a healthier team, a younger team that was going to develop, with the young guys that they had, as opposed to the Giants actually, he made that comment. Definitely, you want to take care of your family and generations after if you have the opportunity, but I think you can be swayed a little bit to about the future of the organization.

Luis: I wanted to pivot to other free agents that possibly have a chance to sign with the Giants. I think a big one is Matt Chapman, third baseman. How do you guys feel about him? I know he’s streaky at times, but the glow has always been way above average.

Tony: I agree with the glove, I actually coached against Matt in college when he was at Cal State Fullerton and they had Christian Colón at shortstop and I remember the debate was, Which one do you take in the draft? Back in the day for me it was clearly Matt Chapman the glove was special and even the in the arms even more special. The bat has been streaky over the years. I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t think he should be a priority. He’s a great player, but I feel like J.D. Davis did a fantastic job this year and was knocking on the door of a Gold Glove at times and hit as well as you can in that ballpark, numbers wise. I would lock in more pitching. If you had Blake Snell out there, Josh Hader, Aaron Nola. That ballpark plays to pitching and you team up somebody with Webb and some of those young guys like Harrison, you have a chance to win. Where they .500 this year?

Luis: Under

Tony: Under a game or two under .500. You win 10 more games, now you’re in the wildcard and who knows what can happen from there.

Luis: I think they’re gonna go hard on Yoshinobu Yamamoto. I heard yesterday, John Heyman says he has a preference to the West Coast rather than the East Coast. That takes a lot of teams off the market. I think they’re gonna go really hard on him because Farhan already seen him in person and had interview saying he’s the number one pitcher in the planet.

Steven: I would agree though on Chapman, I don’t think that he should be a priority and I think on a better free agent market. He’s not a top five guy out there, it’s no knock on him, he’s a good player, good glove hits for power, chases a little too much. That’s one thing, good name drop by the way on Christian Colón because former Royal right?

Tony: World series champion

Steven: World series champion Christian Colón. If you have a guy like Nola, who you know if you look at Nolan’s innings, he’s one of the guys that could get to 200 innings every year. Snell who you know, he’s unhittable but he walks guys, that’s the only thing

Steven: They don’t score with the four innings on 95 pitches, and it got a Cy Young, so who’s us to talk about that. I just think like they should go back to the old Giants, with pitching and then see what you get offensively, let some of the younger guys play with Luciano and Schmitt, see what they could give you and just stay competitive on the pitching side of it and see what happens.

Luis: They don’t score.


Luis: Can you talk about some key strategies or changes you made during the season that has significant impact on the success this season?

Tony: Yeah, absolutely. You know, we took a deep dive into our pitching staff last year and I felt like we kind of maybe wore some starters out early in the year, the previous year and then when we got to the halfway point the season, guys are worn out, especially freshmen. They’re not used to big 50 game season. In a college season, they’ve already played a High School season. We kind of really dove into using the bullpen a little bit more we started openers last year, Mickey Radanovich, Gabrial Lopez, and it just gives them the confidence to they can start a game and all we were asking those give us one to two innings that we can get to a Shinn or something. That was definitely something that we looked at and then I felt like, throughout my entire career, we’ve always been really aggressive on the bases, but I felt like in ’22, we didn’t run, we didn’t put the pressure, even if you get thrown out, at least you’re creating pressure. That guy in the dugout is calling pitches on the other team or the catcher, they got to think about you at first base or second base. We started running more, I took away any red lights. Everybody had the green light, there’s certain situations, were down five in the 9th but you know, I gotta make sure we don’t get thrown out here but they had free rein to run. We continue that into the fall. I think we’re going to steal some more bases this year.

Luis: I wanted to talk about like, the openness to have a starter I know most people on staff, they want to get the ball. It’s their day, they want to pitch the full nine. Was it an easy conversation to have with people like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna use an opener this game?’ or how was that transition with the pitching staff?

Tony: Yeah, I think you create that in the fall with your conversations not so much about that particular. We have a couple pillars we talk about a lot. One is unity and the other is accountability. Unity is trusting your teammates and trusting the coaches and trusting that everybody’s here for the common goal. I think when you establish that, then you go to them with a move like, ‘Hey, we’re going to start an opener’. They trust you, they believe it’s in the best interest of the team and so they don’t question it and so no, nobody questioned it. You know, the one thing that I know Nathan, particular wanted to do was if he got the ball in the 3rd inning, he wanted to finish it. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey coach, I’m gonna pitch, the 3rd to the 8th and then we got to closer,’ so that I love that mentality. So I think you create that early in the Fall, and throughout the season.

Steven: Piggybacking off of that mentality, like professional baseball, a lot of people like the opener, they see the reason why people use it and then a lot of people dislike the opener. And then on the other side of it, there’s like the whole offensive strategy that’s entered into the game and you know, the the launch angle and exit velocity and I’m sure that you and your group have access to some of those numbers. Do you buy kind of like the new offensive approach where it’s kind of like, you know, finding your pitch doing damage with it and if you can’t do damage with it, you know, don’t swing or whatever, and putting the ball in the air and trying for the homeruns and the doubles, because it boosts the OPS is a little bit in the ground balls don’t pay, like we hear about it so much in the in the professional landscape of things and guys have kind of their own hitting coaches, too. I don’t know if that’s the case with you and your players, but what do you think about like the new the new school way of hitting and how it’s kind of infiltrated the game?

Tony: Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely part of what we talk about in the sense of doing damage. I love that you say that. It’s actually a term, it’s in our dugout and it’s on every practice plan, you’re looking to do damage to the plate, I’m not a big fan of ball in the air, per se, especially the yard we play at. We play at one of the biggest yards I think in my entire country to be honest with you, it’s 430 to centerfield. So you know, balls put in the air aren’t really going to be real effective in our place. I think with regards to ground balls. You know, when you’re talking about big leaguers, I played professional baseball for 10 years and the thing I learned extremely, very quickly was when you hit a baseball and professional on the ground, it’s getting caught and you’re you’re being thrown out, in the college game Brandon Crawford is not at shortstop. So you know, we teach line drive, height, we talked about L screen height, if you don’t know what an L screen is, BP pitcher throws behind it, the top of the L scream through the gaps, that’s our goal. And you know, as guys get bigger, stronger and develop their swings, they’re going to hit those balls out of the ballpark. I think we hit close to 40 home runs last year, and at no point that I ever worked on hit the ball in the air. So you know, it’s I mean, you know, if you take that for what it’s worth, and I tell you, I tell the guys all the time, ‘I go listen, you might get frustrated here, you hit a deep flyball, but and it gets caught the warning track, but if you keep that same approach, with the line drive mentality, when we go to San Bernardino, we go down to these other ballparks. Those are those are homeruns. Because all those ballparks are much smaller and so you know, we kind of played to our park a little bit.

Steven: 430 to centerfield?!

Luis: Yeah, it’s pretty deep. As far as the dimensions of the park. How hard is it to adjust for people coming in to the actual ballpark? Is it does it take time? Or how does that process go?

Tony: It does take time and I’ll tell you the hardest part is recruiting. You know, you bring a hitter down to that ballpark and the first thing they say is, ‘how far is centerfield coach?’ And you know I go back into my spiel I just told you about, we hit line drives in the gaps, and we hit 40 home runs last year so you are gonna hit home runs. The adjustment period, It’s what they the adjustment is for the freshmen, because they show up and they got guys here that are 22, 23 years old and they’re putting on a show and BP and they’re hitting the ball and the freshmen show up and they’re hitting the ball, you know, 300 feet, or 350 and I think there’s a discipline there, they have to understand that it’s, there’s growth with it and they get frustrated early. It is an adjustment. Absolutely and in the recruiting, too. But I will tell you this, you bring a pitcher on a recruiting trip, they’re smiling at the ball field.

Steven: Yeah, I kind of want to pivot because we were doing research a while back and we found out that there was over 40 SF State athletes that were on the honor roll last spring and a lot of them came from baseball and how important is that for you and your coaching staff to kind of instill that that’s also a big part of, you know, not just being eligible. It goes very much past that, but also discipline, right? And Nathan Shinn told me that discipline creates freedom. So how important is that to kind of reach that aspect to the guys and hey, we’re not just developing baseball players, but we’re also developing a work ethic?

Tony: Yeah, I appreciate that question and thank you for the acknowledgement. The group did an amazing job last year and it’s it’s obviously something that’s important to me, coming from my background to. UC Davis, an academic, very academic university, but the end of the day, though, when I have a recruit in front of me, him and his family, I tell him there’s three things you’re gonna have to promise me to receive your scholarship here, you’re going to have to do. Number one, first and foremost, you’re going to have to be the best academic student you can be. That doesn’t mean you have to get a 4.0. If you’re a B student, you better be a B student here and do the best. You don’t miss study hall hours, you meet with our academic advisor, you meet with your major advisor, ok that’s part of being the best student you can be. Second, you have to serve our community.We do a lot of community service hours, which is important to me, and that I think those last two, go back to accountability. Then the third thing is you have to be the best baseball player you can be and what I mean by that is, you get after the weight room, you get after it and practice, etc, etc, etc. So yeah, it’s extremely important. But I lay the foundation, the groundwork on the recruiting trip.

Luis: As far as you know, sustaining success and building upon this season in terms of wins and player development. What do you have planned for the upcoming season?

Tony: You really don’t know going into a season you have a plan. You don’t have an idea of how the season is gonna lay out. We’re playing in region teams, the beginning of the season. The first 10 games are non-conference games and those matter for when you get to go to regionals. So we are playing Montana Billings, they’re coming to us, Westmont just joined division two, they’re coming up to play us, Western Oregon was a regional team, they’re coming down to play us and then we go to APU who has been a regional team the last five years, I think. So we’re going to challenge ourselves pretty heavily before the season starts and my plan there is to play everybody. You know, we might take a few losses here and there because of you know, maybe the matchup wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I don’t want to wear guys out, you know, Nathan Shinn will be on a pitch count, the first two to three weekends, because that fourth weekend, I think we open it against Stanislaus and at the end of the day, you know, we want to be CCAA double A champions and it starts with winning game one against Stanislaus , but the plan moving forward is I think we’re strength by numbers not to steal anything from the Warriors. We have a lot of talent, a lot of depth, a lot of new players, 24 new players this year, so I need to see what they can do. It’s been an amazing competitive Fall but at the end of the day, it’s see what happens when there’s you know, different uniform on the other side of the field. So to answer your question, in a nutshell, is the plan is to really play with to our depth all season.

Luis: I know you said you have 24 new players. Is there anybody that sticks out from this upcoming class?

Tony: Yeah, there’s a few we think we hit gold. Actually, late in the summer with about three or four players. We got a young man that I actually recruited a few years ago out of Delta College end up going to Jackson State. His name’s Justin Johnson got some great Deion Sanders stories from last year but he’s a phenomenal hitter. We got a young man named Daniel Murillo, you guys should definitely remember that name, he’s a junior college transfer from El Camino College. He is a terrific hitter, second baseman and pitcher. Ryan Garza is going to be in our weekend rotation out of Reedley College, David Eichhorn, his dad, pitched for the Blue Jays and the World Series back in the day with you know, Joe Carter and whatnot and he’s going to be in the weekend rotation as it stands now. So some really good arms to help Shinn anchor the rotation. Then we have a young man named Anthony Alvarez that’s kind of the buzz all fall he he touched 97-98 the other day on the mound. We’ve had at least 20 Scouts reach out to him, they’re excited to see his progress. The exciting thing about him is he could be our three four hitter this year, he’s so talented offensively and with the bat. He’s an Oxnard junior college transfer and then we of course, you know, I don’t want to leave out the guys that we have back like Derrick Laferierre, Matt Sugden, those are two catchers from last year, Daniel Santos freshman Player of the Year two years ago, Michael Cunningham, who was an All Conference player last year, AJ Schrader, is a really good core of returners too, it’s not just about the new guys, lots to be excited about.

Steven: I guess final thing here. I’m like going back to like this time of year when it’s like this time of year and we saw the pictures of the team during the Halloween game, they’re Spider-Man probably trying to take on 430 to center. What is this time of year like? What is the fall like for the program? Thanksgiving time, Christmas time coming up to, what is the goal like at this point in time, usually?

Tony: Yeah, the goal is to make sure you’ve finished strong academically. We’re pretty much done. We have a couple of days left after Thanksgiving break and it’ll be very like small groups and stuff like that. Pitchers are done with bullpens, they’re going to take a month off to give their arm for time recover. The weight room is extremely important right now. They’re gonna get after it pretty aggressively in the weight room but academics weight room, things of that and rest just rest your body you know, unfortunately, the hard part right now is we have cuts coming up. So there will be some guys that you know we have to let go and the roster will take shape going into January.
Luis: Thank you, Coach.

Steven: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Tony: My pleasure guys. Really enjoyed it.


Steven: That will conclude this episode of the Chomp Pod and we’ll be back and make sure to follow us on Twitter at the Chomp Pod and Golden Gate Xpress at GGX News.

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About the Contributors
Luis Cortes
Luis Cortes, Staff Reporter
Luis Cortes (he/him) is a reporter for Golden Gate Xpress. He is majoring in journalism and minoring in recreation, parks, and tourism. He was born in Mexico but grew up in Richmond, California, where he currently lives. He previously worked for The Advocate, the student newspaper of Contra Costa Community College. During his free time, Luis enjoys hiking, watching sports and listening to podcasts.
Steven Rissotto
Steven Rissotto, Managing Editor
Steven Rissotto (he/him) is co-managing editor for Golden Gate Xpress. He is a journalism major with an education minor. A native of Pacifica, Steven attended Archbishop Riordan High School, where he played baseball and wrote on their award-winning newspaper, The Crusader. Before transferring to SFSU in Fall 2022, he attended Skyline College for two years and wrote for The Skyline View. He also covers the San Francisco Giants for SF Giants Baseball Insider on Sports Illustrated.  In his spare time, Steven enjoys cracking jokes, watching documentaries and sports, reading biographies and recording his baseball podcast, RizzoCast.

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