Baylor baseball won its third ever Big 12 title in the 2011-12 season and the team’s success was one reason 2011-12 was nicknamed “The Year of the Bear” as a result of widespread success throughout Baylor athletics.
Last season, however, was a different story for Baylor baseball. Expectations were high for the reigning Big 12 champs, but the Bears were not able to defend their title going through an under .500 season last year.
“Last year ended pretty abruptly and not the way we wanted to,” junior pitcher Ryan Smith said. “Going into this year, we’re really looking for a fast start, and just playing some ball against someone else without green and gold on.”
The Bears are looking to regain dominance from their championship season two years ago in the upcoming 2014 season that starts today against the No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe, Ariz.
“It’ll be a great test for both of our programs to really see where we stand as a group and it’s a good place to start,” Smith said. “Both of us really have a great past and obviously they’ve got a tremendous tradition there. We’re really looking forward to playing them.”
Coming off an underperforming 27-28 season, outsiders are not expecting much from Baylor this year in the Big 12. The preseason coaches poll has Baylor projected to finish sixth in the Big 12, one spot lower than its fifth-place finish last year.
Smith said his team does not really pay much mind to the predicted finish for the Bears.
“We’re all 0-0, so, I mean, they can say what they want,” Smith said. “We’re really just going to look forward to our next game and take it one game at a time and worry what we can worry about.”
Regardless of the disappointing season last year and a mediocre preseason ranking for Baylor baseball, Smith said his team’s strength lies in its grit and willingness to do whatever it takes to win.
“I think we’ve got a lot of competitors,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’s one thing. I think a group of us are just a bunch of dogs that are ready to fight, and we’re pretty hungry.”
Baylor head coach Steve Smith is the father of two players on the team— Ryan and freshman first baseman Case Smith.
“For me, it’s just been a dream,” Case said. “To play with my brother, to play with my dad, to be here and to finally be on the field, it’s just a dream. I’m excited to begin this year.”
Case is entering his first season with Baylor baseball. He said pregame jitters and butterflies are always part of the process for starting a season, but he is also mindful of how important it will be for the Bears to stay focused in this 54-game season.
“We have to remind ourselves that the game of baseball is definitely a marathon, not a sprint,” Case said. “It’s all about just pacing yourself and taking it one game at a time and having the ability to respond and stay positive throughout the year.”
Steve, Ryan and Case Smith are looking forward to their first season as part of Baylor baseball for the first time together. Ryan said they all expect greatness from each other, but they treat the rest of the team the same way and with the same amount of respect.
The Bears are leaving the recently chilly and windy Waco to the warm, sunny weather in Tempe to face-off against the No. 19 Sun Devils. Weather is expected to be in the high 80s all weekend. Today will be the first of a weekend-long three-game series for both teams.
Senior pitcher Dillon Newman, who was drafted by two MLB teams in 2011 and 2013, will most likely start the season for Baylor on the mound.
“If you’re going to beat him, looks to me like you’re going to have to swing the bat,” ASU head coach Tim Esmay said.
ASU leads the series overall against Baylor 6-4, and leads the series in Tempe 4-1. The last time the Bears and Sun Devils faced off was June 2006. These are two different teams, both with high hopes at a conference title this season.
The first pitch is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Only Today’s game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network, but all of Baylor’s games this season will be on ESPN 1660 AM radio.