By DJ Ramirez | Sports Writer
Baylor baseball opened practice for the 2019 season Friday afternoon at Baylor Ballpark, but according to head coach Steve Rodriguez, most of the work was done in the fall.
“I told our guys way back in August, everybody talks about today and a lot of excitement is built around it obviously because there’s no more breaks, that’s the biggest thing,” Rodriguez said. “There’s no more holidays that we get off. There’s no more school days that we get off. When you start now, you’re going to continue going until the season’s done, but the season started back in August for us. Making sure that we prepare physically, making sure that we prepare emotionally, making sure that we know where we’re going, what we’re doing. That started many months ago.”
The Bears are coming off their first ever Big 12 Championship Tournament title in 2018 and have received several top 25 preseason rankings, with Perfect Game placing them at No. 12.
The entire 2018 lineup and pitching rotation will return to the field, including juniors catcher Shea Langeliers, pitcher Cody Bradford and third baseman Davis Wendzel, all of whom have received preseason honors. Also back for his fifth season in a Baylor uniform is senior outfielder Richard Cunningham, who said he is excited to get back to the outfield after undergoing surgery almost eight months ago.
“I’m feeling really good. I’m 7 1/2 months out of surgery,” Cunningham said. “At season I’ll be eight months out, and I’m already throwing to bases. I feel like if the season started tomorrow, I could play center field, no doubt about it. So these next few weeks it’s just a great time to close the strength gap and I’d be stunned if I’m not in center day one.”
Langeliers and Bradford are returning from a summer of playing on the National Collegiate Team after being named Co-Most Outstanding Players in the Big 12 Championship Tournament. It was Langeliers’s walk-off RBI single that brought Cunningham home in the 11th inning of the final game against TCU. Bradford was named Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year after throwing back to back complete game shutouts in the regular season and posting an ERA of 1.88 in 52.2 innings played. They have both been named top prospects for the 2019 MLB Draft, but they’re “taking it one day at a time,” focusing on winning this season.
Even with all the veterans returning, there is also a lot of new talent on the team with seven freshmen and three transfers trying to break into the line up and out of the bullpen. After the Bears saw the majority of their relievers graduate last season, they have brought most of that new talent into their pitching staff, but also have some experienced arms ready to take the mound. According to Bradford, the “friendly competition” is welcomed by the veteran players.
“It makes everybody play at their best and at the highest that they can,” Bradford said. “There’s going to be some competition to see who comes out of the bullpen. There’s going to be some competition for that Tuesday starter spot. So, I think it’s going to be really good for us. It’s going to make everybody better. It’s going to make me better.”
The Bears open up the season with a four-game series against Holy Cross starting at 6:35 p.m. Feb. 14 at Baylor Ballpark.