Young, fast Bucs begin season
Opening series against Penn State scheduled for this weekend at Thomas Stadium
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 22:02
Friday, Feb. 15 has a 20 percent chance of rain and a forecasted high temperature of 48 degrees. For most that doesn’t scream baseball weather; for ETSU it’s exactly that.
The 2013 baseball season begins at 2:35 p.m. with the first pitch against Penn State in Thomas Stadium.
The team played in Thomas Stadium last season, but in front of muddy banks and construction equipment littered around the exterior of the stadium while the fans watched from behind left field, out of earshot of the players.
“It seemed like we played in silence [last year],” said head coach Tony Skole. “All the fans were in the outfield or down the third base line, we’d do something well and you could see the people cheering but you couldn’t hear them.”
The Buccaneers enter the 2013 season with some extra attention as a result of two players earning preseason recognition and a third being nominated for a regular season watch list.
Junior Clinton Freeman was named Atlantic Sun Preseason Player of the Year by Baseball America. Freeman led the Bucs last year with a .365 batting average with 81 hits during the 2012 season.
“There are numerous college baseball publications, probably a dozen different preseason teams and Clinton’s been on about every one,” said Skole. “He had a great year last year and pretty much led us in every offensive category.”
Along with Freeman, senior Andrew Green received recognition from the A-Sun coaches being named the “Best Baserunner” in the conference. Green stole a team high 22 bases in 2012 and enters this season only 23 shy of the ETSU record.
“Andrew Green is a senior who has played a lot for us since he was a freshman,” said Skole. “He is one of the fastest college baseball players in the country.”
Junior pitcher Will Chesney joins Freeman and Green with his nomination to the National College Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award. With the nomination Chesney joins 74 other Division I pitchers across the country. The award is given to the top relief pitcher of the year.
“He [Chesney] gives us an opportunity at the end of games to hopefully shut things down,” said Skole. “ [He] just throws a ton of strikes.”
The preseason recognition is nice but doesn’t always translate into on the field performance.
The Bucs will look to their seniors to guide a young team through preseason hype and into the grind of a season.
Skole and his staff put together a squad for the 2013 season that includes 18 underclassmen, 13 of those being freshman.
“The stability of our team and our program are those six seniors that really are the glue of our program,” said Skole. “All of them have played a lot since their freshman years and have played big roles, not just sparingly.”
With players from as far away as California, New Hampshire and Southern Florida sharing a clubhouse with local guys who grew up in the Tri-Cities area, team chemistry is vital to a successful campaign.
“It’s a very family type atmosphere,” said Skole. “It sounds corny to say it but there is a lot of love in our clubhouse right now, the guys really get along and work hard for each other.”
With the preseason accolades, clubhouse chemistry and slightly warmer weather coach Skole and the team are anxious to get the season started and make use of the new stadium and the benefits it creates for the home team Buccaneers.
“Playing at Cardinal Park it really played into the 3-run homer,” said Skole. “ You had to hit the 3-run homer to win and defend it to win.”
Having played at Cardinal Park, the team was designed and built to win there.
During Skole’s tenure at ETSU, the Bucs have been a solid home run hitting team. After moving to Thomas Stadium last season, Skole realized there needed to be a change in strategy.
In the first year in their new home, the team was still hitting home runs but not at their normal pace. They were striking out more often and hitting a lot of balls to the warning track.
“We decided our best way was to recruit speed,” said Skole. “We’re playing a lot of small ball. We are going to bunt. We have a lot of guys who are going to have the green light to run”
With the Bucs hoping to run their way into an A-Sun tournament appearance they will need their best to be good enough for that goal.
Regardless of position or pedigree, ETSU will need all 32 roster spots to finish the season where they want to be.
“As you get closer to opening day the cream sort of rises to the top,” said Skole. “At some point during the season, no matter what your role, you’re going to have an opportunity to win a game for us. If you are going to have a special season, a championship season then your best players have to have career years.”