Club baseball gears up for first pitch
Extended interview: Players talk about the importance of returning to NCBA Showcase.
Spring break for many students means a chance to get away from everything university-related; but for the UW-Eau Claire club baseball team, spring break offers them a much different opportunity.
The team will be spending their spring break in Florida, but not just for the sunny beaches and warm weather. Their spring break will also mean that it is game time – an official start to their season.
Senior James Kopp, secretary of the club, said after having to skip the National Club Baseball Association Showcase last year, the team will be taking the trip to Tampa, Fla. to participate.
“We will be playing five games … and we’re stopping in Georgia on the way to play another,” Kopp said. “Every game we will be playing a team from a different state.”
Playing teams from around the country offers a great opportunity to not only face a variety of teams, but also to get some live field playing time before their conference games actually start, senior president Shawn Held said.
The team will be leaving Thursday, March 15 and will carpool down to Athens, Ga., the first stop on the trip. Held said this first game, which is separate from the actual Showcase, will prove to be quite the challenge.
“We will be playing the number 12 ranked team in the nation,” Held said. “It will be our first time outside, so I’m a little bit nervous about that one.”
Held said that the ranking he was referring to was still from last year, and that suspected they could even be in the top-10 now. This proved to be true, as the newly-released rankings show Georgia is ranked no. 5, according to a March 8 release from the NCBA website.
Senior Vice President Matthew Kruger acknowledged the single nine-inning game against Georgia will be tough, but said he was confident enough in the team’s talent this year that pulling off a win is not out of the realm of possibility.
“If we came out to beat those guys it would be a pretty big statement,” Kruger said. “We are throwing our ace out there against them.”
Although the games over spring break will be the first live field play the team will see this year, Kopp said they started practicing in McPhee Center well before the Showcase.
“We practice every Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 6 a.m.,” Kopp said. “And we started that the first week of February.”
The components that will help ensure success during these games, Kruger said, are both their strong hitting and fielding.
“We have … our whole lineup back for fielding,” Kruger said. “And we also have a couple of good freshmen that came here, so we’re looking forward to see how they play.”
Although the team is returning their entire lineup in the field, they will need to figure out a way to deal with being a little short on pitchers this season, according to a season preview from the team’s website.
Kopp said that being short in that area is a consistent issue, but that he is confident with the talent of this season’s pitchers and the quality they will provide.
After losing several key starters following the 2005 season, Held said the team has been rebuilding ever since. However, with a lot of hard work, he said other players have gained experience and that the team has really started to improve.
“We basically started over from scratch,” Held said. “We’ve been building ever since, and hopefully we’re back to the peak.”
Held is confident that four out of six games can be taken at the Showcase, and the level of talent from this year’s team will make up for their disadvantage of not yet playing outdoors.
The team’s first game back in Eau Claire will be at 6 p.m. on April 6 at Bollinger Field.