by Andrew J. FerraroDaily Cougar Staff
If Wednesday's practice is any indication of how the Houston Cougars baseball team will perform in 1996, the Southwest Conference had better watch out. As Houston (26-29 last season) players scrimmaged against each other, they were cheering each other on and working hard, preparing for opening day at McNeese State Feb. 13.
Coming off 1995 season-ending injuries, two of the Cougars' projected 1996 starting pitchers said they have been conditioning themselves and preparing for the season with much optimism.
Louisiana State junior transfer Jeff Hampton is recovering from severe tendinitis in his pitching arm sustained last season.
"My injury is affecting all of my pitches, and I'm a little gun-shy (tentative)," Hampton said. "I'm used to going out and throwing hard, but now I have to hold back because of the injury."
Bo Hern˝ndez is the other Houston hurler coming off a 1995 season-ending injury after tearing a tendon.
"After throwing about 80 percent curve balls against LSU (in a 4-3 Cougars victory Feb. 26)," Hern˝ndez said, "I think I went too far (threw too hard), because right before the McNeese State game (March 4), I felt something in my arm.
"After that game, I found out that I had a torn ligament in my elbow," he said. "That's probably the worst place for an injury."
During the off-season, the two pitchers got busy on their rehabilitation assignments, and both players spoke highly of the new facility (the UH Athletic/Alumni Center) in which they trained.
"I've seen all of the doctors, and have done exactly what they said," Hampton said. "I got the best treatment that I could have got. I'm a little behind schedule, but right now I feel about 80 percent."
Houston trainer Kevin Westrick said the two pitchers have been working with all the team's doctors and getting all the medical attention they need.
"We've had (the pitchers) working on a shoulder rehab procedure, and if they need something, we're here," Westrick said. "We work around their classes and busy schedules to make sure that they get (what) they need.
"We've always got doctors on call," he said. "And I don't think that we could have done some of the things (with the pitchers) that we have done without (the doctors)."
Hampton said, "The communication is real good between everybody. Even the freshmen are coming along a lot better than any of us expected."
Hern˝ndez said, "The younger guys are adjusting to the surroundings ... more than we ever imagined."
Although the Cougars are getting off to a late start -- they are the last team in the SWC to begin the season -- they say they feel they can use that extra time to learn from coach Rayner Noble.
"Noble is more than just a coach ... he's a teacher," Hern˝ndez said. "Like I said before, the communication is good, and our practices sometimes seem like a classroom.