By Matt Larsen
Every spring brings Baylor Baseball new faces, new obstacles and new questions.
Not every season, however, brings with it a question of who will don the catcher’s mask.
For the past three years, the Bears have known exactly who called home plate home.
In 200 games during his sophomore, junior and senior years Gregg Glime started all but eight of those games. The captain also led his team in home runs and RBIs during Big 12 play his senior year.
With the three-year starter graduated and gone, the Bear’s infield found themselves staring home at a glaring vacancy sign.
With its 2011 opener this Saturday, Baylor now knows who will be filling in Glime’s spike ruts behind the plate. The only catch is, Baylor’s newest catcher will be catching the first game of his Baylor career this Saturday.
“[Joey Hainsfurther’s] performance and his ability to play that position is the most significant question on this club,” head coach Steve Smith said. “Can he do it? Absolutely. The whole catch and throw part is very natural to him. The question is going to be catching the ball 120-140 times a game. He has never done that.”
Smith believes the ability to catch as many pitches as a catcher does during a season with so few drops and mishaps is one of the most undervalued aspects of the game.
“We all notice it when they don’t,” he said. “We take it for granted when they do.”
Entering his 17th year, the skipper is prepared for a learning curve.
“I think we will see a little more running to the backstop then we have seen,” Smith said. “But that is just a part of him learning how to do it.”
Hainsfurther also won’t be simply picking up where he left off in high school. The junior spent some time behind the plate but primarily pitched and played shortstop at Highland Park in Dallas.
As a sophomore last season, Hainsfurther started every game. He began with nine starts at second base, took on the designated hitter role for several games and finally found his niche at third. The utility player led the team with a .339 batting average and racked up the second most RBIs in 2010.
His coach thinks the arm strength that comes with infielders on that side of the diamond will translate well behind the plate.
“He [throws it] as well as anyone we have had,” Smith said. “He is accurate. He can throw like you would expect an infielder to be able to throw from different angles. He can catch the ball in different places and make the throw. He is just a very athletic catcher with really good arm strength.”
Hainsfurther’s predecessor brought a strong arm and then some. Glime, along with other seniors, guided the Bears through their Big 12 and NCAA tournament runs last season.
Specifically, Glime’s defensive plays under pressure were assuring signs for younger players in tight situations.
Now players like Hainsfurther and senior infield teammate Landis Ware must provide similar leadership.
“They were great leaders, Greg and Willie [Kempf] being our captains last year,” Ware said. “I kind of looked up to them then, and they gave us a good idea of what we as seniors are supposed to do this year.”
Though he looks to take on a leadership role from a position he has never called home, Hainsfurther trots out to his new spot without fear of trying to imitate Glime.
“Those are some big shoes to fill,” he said. “I am not trying to live up to Gregg (Glime); I am just trying to create my own identity. So I am just trying to work with the guys and try to make the pitchers as comfortable with me as they were with Gregg.”