In a one-on-one interview session, Ryan Wheeler has never been one to skew an answer.
The third-year Temple baseball coach isn’t afraid to shoot from the hip when paged for a non-masqueraded line.
Staying true to character, his response regarding how Temple transfers and twins Eric and Patrick Peterson would fare among a star-studded North Carolina State University pitching staff oozed nothing but the pure honesty of a baseball coach who has had a rather rough time of it since his team was marked for the chopping block last month.
“Do you want me to be honest?” Wheeler quipped.
The Peterson twins are two of six players who have already jumped ship to other schools amid news that the baseball program is one of seven intercollegiate Division I sports to be cut from the budget effective July 1.
Juniors Matt Snyder (Kentucky), Adam Dian (Pittsburgh) and Eric Ferguson (Hofstra) transferred during the holiday break, mere weeks after the announcement. Junior Nick Lustrino, one of the team’s top regulars for the past two seasons, left the team as well, but will not play for any university this spring, Wheeler said.
The Peterson twins, meanwhile, are joining a North Carolina State staff that ranks among the more highly touted groups in the nation and features junior flamethrower Carlos Rodon, who is heavily favored to be the top pick in the 2014 MLB Amateur draft in June.
Just how well the Petersons can fare with the No. 10 Wolfpack remains to be seen, a skeptical Wheeler said.
“I guess some people want [me] to say they’ll be great and they’re going to be superstars down there,” Wheeler said. “But honestly, N.C. State might have the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft this upcoming June, and their pitching staff was just featured in [Collegiate Baseball Newspaper], so I don’t know how they’re going to fare.”
“They’re coming into this team midseason,” Wheeler added. “The coaches have never seen them pitch, and really they’re there for depth. They are not there to provide the 1-2 punch they would’ve done for us. I don’t know every pitcher on N.C. State’s program, but I can’t say they’re near the top there like they were for us.”
Entering the 2014 season, Eric Peterson figures to hold the edge over his brother after posting a 3.03 earned run average en route to a 6-3 record and a team-high 69 strikeouts as a first-year starter last year.
Pat Peterson was second on the team with 51 punch-outs last season, putting up a 4.49 ERA and finished the season at 2-7 after impressing in his freshman season in 2012.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of going to another team and seeing what I can do,” Pat Peterson said.
In terms of the transfer, the brothers joined the rest of the roughly 200 affected athletes in unified shock when the announcement of the cuts broke on Dec. 6.
“It was pretty difficult,” Eric Peterson said. “It was finals week. We had finals coming up and it got us by surprise. All of a sudden we were trying to figure out and think what’s best for us and what’s better for us individually.”
“The whole experience was very overwhelming as far as deciding what the best route for us academically and athletically was,” Pat Peterson said. “It put us in a tough spot and that was the biggest concern for us.”
The Peterson twins will leave a sizable hole at the top of Temple’s starting rotation come February, as they were the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 starters.
In addition to Snyder and Ferguson, Temple lost one of its prime back-end relievers in Dian, who posted a 2.33 ERA in 11 appearances last season.
Lustrino was the team’s starting shortstop for the past two seasons, and posted the fourth-best batting average on the team in 2012 at a .282 mark.
“I can’t even put into words how difficult [losing players] is,” Wheeler said. “There’s been a lot of hard things with this, but that one sort of supersedes all of them because you build relationships with these kids. It’s the reason why you coach and you get an opportunity to work with them, and for them to leave, it hurts. It hurts a lot.”
For Wheeler, the painful emotions at the prospect of losing his job come July 1 have brought another feeling to the forefront of his current situation.
“I’m a little scared,” Wheeler said. “I would like to stay in coaching. It’s a funny business. These jobs are very precious and hard to come by, so I worry that there’s not going to be something open for me to jump to [this summer] and I’ll have to sit on the sidelines.”
“The longer you sit on the sidelines and wait for another job to open,” Wheeler added, “the harder it is to get back in.”
Andrew Parent and Jeff Neiburg can be reached at email@example.com.