With Opening Day just three weeks away, college baseball teams officially open practice today, the first day the NCAA allows full-team workouts.
A week ago, however, it was difficult to think of the start of baseball season with a massive snowstorm bearing down on the Eastern seaboard. What had been a mild winter turned last weekend, as a storm dumped snow across the eastern half of the country, from Oxford, Miss., into New England.
For college baseball teams, the storm came at an inopportune time with the first day of full-team practices just a week away. Those areas on the Eastern seaboard that were hit the hardest found their fields buried under more than two feet of snow.
In New York, nearly 28 inches were measured at LaGuardia Airport. At nearby St. John's, coach Ed Blankmeyer said they had about that much snow.
“It was the largest snowfall we've had in some time," coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “We got smoked."
The heavy snowfall extended all the way to Washington, where Maryland coach John Szefc said there was more than foot of snow on campus.
“The weather was great up until last Friday, it was mild outside quite a bit," Szefc said. “Then, all of a sudden, bang, it just drops on you. But there's a lot of guys in that same situation. You just have to get a little creative and keep moving."
Maryland benefitted from the installation of a turf field this fall. Digging out a turf field is much easier because they can be plowed, though Szefc said Maryland wanted to be careful because their field is still settling. Even at schools without turf baseball fields, it is still often possible to practice on a turf soccer or lacrosse field.
Other teams took a more hands-on approach. At Seton Hall, where more than 30 inches of snow fell, the players shoveled the infield at Carroll Field (which has turf). Coach Rob Shepard said it was the players who took the initiative to get the field cleared.
— SHU Baseball (@SHUBaseball) January 26, 2016
“Anything we need to do on diamond, we want to be able to do that," Shepard said. “We can do that inside, but it's not the same. They knew the weather would get warmer and they know they would benefit from getting outside as much as possible. There's nothing like playing the game the way it's supposed to be played."
The weather has warmed since the storm ended, allowing some snow to melt. Blankmeyer, Shepard and Szefc all said they planned on holding practice outside Friday.
With Opening Day approaching on Feb. 19, the coaches are particularly eager to get going and not lose any practice time to the weather.
“We had a long fall, a productive fall and then we've had a lot of small group sessions, individual sessions since Jan. 15," Szefc said. “We'll have a short intersquad (Friday) and be able to do a lot of stuff you can do in a normal practice. Everyone wants to get the whole thing going."
NEWS AND NOTES
Atlantic Coast Conference: Florida State lost several key pitchers from its super regional team last year, including starter Boomer Biegalski and closer Billy Strode. Freshmen Cole Sands and Tyler Holton and graduate transfers Matt Kinney (Belmont) and Tyler Warmouth (Stetson) are expected to provide an immediate impact for the Seminoles, but two sophomore righthanders will also have the chance to step into larger roles. Cobi Johnson and Andrew Karp both arrived in Tallahassee with high expectations, having been ranked Nos. 92 and 146 on the 2014 BA 500. Johnson went 3-2, 7.21 in 44 innings as a freshman and Karp didn't pitch at all as he recovered from a car accident. With starters Mike Compton and Drew Carlton returning, if Johnson and Karp take a step forward, the Seminoles could end up with a deep pitching staff. “I'm confident we'll get three starters we like out of the pitchers we have on staff now," coach Mike Martin said.
Big 12 Conference: West Virginia announced this week it will play an exhibition game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Feb. 29. It is believed to be the first time in program history West Virginia has played a Major League team.
Big Ten Conference: Maryland has a tough schedule this season, including nonconference road series at Alabama and Cal State Fullerton and the Keith LeClair Classic at East Carolina. Szefc said he wanted to challenge his team and build as good an RPI as possible. “I don't want to put us in a position late in the season where we're not going to be a postseason team based on our schedule," Szefc said. “If we're not good enough based on how we're performing, we're not good enough. But we should be able to compete against good quality RPI teams."
Pacific-12 Conference: Arizona third baseman Bobby Dalbec hit 15 home runs last year and is one of the best power hitters in the country. But with the Wildcats losing Scott Kingery, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Kevin Newman, a first-rounder, from last year's team, Dalbec will need some help in the lineup. Coach Jay Johnson, who was hired after Andy Lopez retired at the end of the season, doesn't want to put any added pressure on his young hitters by asking them to protect Dalbec in the lineup. “That's doing nothing to help them develop, so we haven't (talked about it)," Johnson said.
Southeastern Conference: As practice begins around the country, one of the most captivating position battles will be for the three weekend rotation spots at Vanderbilt. The Commodores lost their whole rotation to the draft last year, as Walker Buehler, Carson Fulmer and Philip Pfeifer all moved on to professional ball. Coach Tim Corbin and pitching coach Scott Brown have a long list of candidates from which to choose three starters, including returners Ben Bowden, John Kilichowski, Jordan Sheffield and Kyle Wright, as well as freshmen Chandler Day and Donny Everett. Corbin said he has yet to make up his mind, and isn't in a hurry to do so. “I explained that to the kids, it doesn't need to be figured out yet," Corbin said. “I think that'll happen in next few weeks."… Texas A&M also has several spots open in its rotation, which became more unsettled Thursday when junior lefthander Tyler Stubblefield was dismissed from the team for rules violations. Sophomore righthander Corbin Martin is a name to watch as the Aggies sort out their staff. He threw just 14 innings as a freshman, but is coming off a strong summer with the Mat-Su Miners and was named the No. 1 prospect in the Alaska Summer League.
Other conferences: Georgia State coach Greg Frady will be inducted into the German Baseball Hall of Fame next July. Frady was coach of the German national team from 2004-2014, winning more than 100 games. He was named European Coach of the Year in 2010 … Cliff Godwin has added a new role to his job as East Carolina coach: taxi driver. Every Monday leading up to the start of the season, Godwin is giving students rides to class in a six-passenger golf cart he drives around the East Carolina campus. Godwin asks his passengers Pirates trivia questions, somewhat like the old game show “Cash Cab." The first episode of “Cliff's Cab" can be seen below.