BG baseball seeks consistency in 2007

The University baseball team’s 2006 performance, 26-27 (11-16), was described by coach Danny Schmitz as “Jekyll and Hyde”, a season-long collection of streaks where things went well and others where things went bad.

When searching for the perfect remedy to inconsistent play, the first (and most important) step may be to simply step outside. The team’s season-opening game against Middle Tennessee State on Friday afternoon will mark the first time all year they have played outdoors. Schmitz said the players have only been able to practice inside and have not been able to field a grounder or a fly ball, hit outdoors, pitch off of a dirt mound or even play in metal spikes since last year.

Players such as pitching staff ace and team co-captain Tyler Johnson will admit that the excitement of starting the 2007 season and getting outside to play a game has been growing.

“I’ve been lying in bed at night all week just thinking about it,” Johnson said.

Like the rest of the team, Johnson has been working hard in the offseason. He missed some time last year due to an injury he suffered in 2005 that required two surgeries. Ever since, he has been trying to get back on track. Johnson will start Friday’s game.

Team captains Johnson, Eric Lawson and Josh Dietz, as well as five other seniors, will be responsible for helping lead a group of young but experienced underclassmen through the long season and to a possible Mid-American Conference title. Everyone has been working hard in the offseason, and the team is hoping it will show on the field starting this weekend.

All three phases of the game – pitching, hitting and defense – have been addressed in the offseason and, according to first baseman Dietz, practices have included working on some of everything.

“We’ve tried to grow as a team and improve in all three phases,” Dietz said. “We’ve worked on fundamentals a lot, but you can always improve.”

For Schmitz, the work on fundamentals and the three phases are important because all three go together. If the team plays well in two of the three phases, the opportunities to win are there, and if the team does well in all three, they can definitely win, Schmitz said.

Schmitz, while agreeing that the team has worked on some of everything, said mental toughness has been something that has needed to improve.

“The teams that win are physically and mentally tough,” Schmitz said.

Because of the current lack of an outdoor playing surface to test their skills, it is tough to tell what exactly the team’s strengths will be this season. The underclassmen, with players such as sophomores Marty Baird, Ryan Shay, Brian Hangbers and a host of others all logged innings last year and gained valuable playing experience. Shay and Hangbers are part of a group of seven players who can pitch and play everyday field positions; something Schmitz said really helped the team last year.

Along with depth at positions such as catcher (five players) and first base (four players), as well as the pitching staff (19 players who can pitch), there are other factors that can be considered strengths for this team, such as intangibles. Schmitz said that team chemistry will be important over the course of the season. Johnson echoed the same.

“Our strengths will be team unity and the experience of the older guys on the team,” Johnson said. “Also, the freshmen need to step up and fill key roles if need be.”

When looking at the 2007 season, there are a number of factors that can help the Falcons win games and compete for a MAC championship. While team unity and focus on a common goal will be important, the ability to play more consistently and to execute in all three phases of the game will have the biggest effect on the win/loss column. Dietz said the team will only go as far as the pitching will take them.

Schmitz also believes in the importance of pitching, but said that defense and hitting would work together with pitching to win games.

“When you get them [opposing players] out, you have a chance to win,” Schmitz said. “Then you just hope that your offense can carry you the rest of the way.”

But before the 2007 University baseball team can find out where they stand, they must first take a step outside.