By Greg DeVries
The Baylor baseball team is looking to redeem itself after a heartbreaking end to last season. The Bears came within one strike of winning their first regional title in six years, but a four-run 9th inning by the California Golden Bears sent Baylor into the off-season.
“I’m just excited that the season is finally here,” junior outfielder Logan Vick said. “It’s been a long off-season. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point. It’s been a long journey. It’s been a bad taste in our mouth since the last game we played — to lose like that. I’m just excited to get a chance to start a new season. A new clean slate.”
Baylor returns eight position starters and nine pitchers. Juniors Josh Turley (4-5, 3.39 ERA) and Max Garner (3.12 ERA, 8 saves) are two of the top returning pitchers. Two of Baylor’s starting pitchers last season — Logan Verrett and Brooks Pinckard — were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds, respectively.
“We’re all really excited. It’s been a long time coming … since last year with the tough loss and everything like that,” junior pitcher and outfielder Josh Turley said. “I think were prepared for it. We spent the fall preparing for it, and these few weeks that we’ve had to get ready this spring have been really good weeks for us.”
With so many returning starting position players, opposing teams will be hard pressed to find a weak link in the Bears’ roster.
“I don’t really see an Achilles’ heel, a real glaring spot defensively. Pitching-wise, we don’t have what you might consider just a dominant guy. I don’t think we had that last year,” head coach Steve Smith said. “But I do think we have a lot of capable guys, and I think they will be prepared and hopefully we can do a good job of putting them in positions to be successful.”
This year’s team includes nine freshmen, though few of them will be given major roles.
“I’m not going to put an ‘impact tag’ on anybody, but I think [outfielder] Adam Toth will be in our lineup to get us started. He brings speed to the table,” Smith said. “I think at some point in time, we will get a taste of [outfielder] Michael Howard and probably [outfielder] Logan Brown. I don’t know that we’re going to weigh heavy on any freshman arms, but I think we’ve got some that, over the course of this kind of season, they will do some things.”
The Big 12 Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll picked Baylor to finish fourth in the conference for the second year in a row. Baylor received 42 points, placing them behind Texas A&M (64), Texas (56) and Oklahoma (48).
The Aggies, Sooners and Longhorns are all ranked in the top 25 nationally according to the USA Today/ESPN College Baseball 2012 Preseason Poll.
The Bears begin their season at 4:05 p.m. today at Baylor Ballpark. They will begin a three-game series against Oral Roberts.
“I’m three years into [my college career], but there is no feeling like opening day. It’s a different kind of nervousness, it’s a different kind of excitement, and [we’re] just ready to get going,” Vick said.
Big 12 Conference play begins March 16 against Texas Tech at Baylor Ballpark.
“Right now we’re just imagining winning the first game [today], but in the long term, it’s definitely going to have to be winning the Big 12 Championship as our first goal, and then host the regionals as our second goal,” said junior first baseman Max Muncy.