By Michael Haag | Sports Writer
After an abrupt end to an adverse season, Baylor baseball sat and watched as their name wasn’t called in the 2021 Division I NCAA tournament selection show. The final three weeks of their season was filled with COVID-19 problems and brutal losses as their journey came to a close. A program expected to win was faced with defeat, and was stuck at home in an undesirable situation.
“It hurt, it wasn’t anything that, at least this program, is used to,” sophomore infielder Tre Richardson said. “This program is usually winning, making it to regionals. Last year, not making it hurt, seeing how close we were to not making it, that was the part that stung the most because this program is used to winning and we were one of the years that didn’t.”
Being left out of the bracket showed the Bears that every game counts, something they will be looking to emphasize this season. For sophomore infielder Kyle Nevin, the painful 2021 season opened the team’s eyes to the importance of each game.
“You can always look back at just a couple games here and there that would have put us in [the tournament],” Nevin said. “It just kind of shows you coming into this year that every game counts and everything’s important and you have to [treat] every game like every other one.”
Head coach Steve Rodriguez‘s squad dealt with unordinary adversity for back-to-back seasons and he said it’s unfair to the athletes who had no sense of normality. He is excited for the current roster to get out there and get the year started after what they have dealt with the last two years.
“It’s frustrating because these guys have done everything right and yet, they kind of get the short end of the stick a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “I’m excited about what these guys can do. We have a majority of our guys back, we have a team nucleus back in regards to the middle infield [and a] couple of guys on the mound. It’s going to be exciting to see how these next three weeks kind of shape up so we can kind of figure out the missing pieces right now.”
The Rodriguez-led team is in a present state of mind, as every year brings about new opportunities. Rodriguez said there is no chip on their shoulder after the tough end, and it’s in the best interest of the current group to not dwell on the past.
“I understand one thing, I tell people ‘Every year is a new year,’” Rodriguez said. “What happened last year happened. We need to focus on right now. These guys deserve to be dealt with on a today basis, not like what happened last year or a couple years back. But it’s different, our team is different, other teams are different, so we need to approach it that way.”
Nevin said the returners will be key toward the team’s goals to be successful. He also said bringing so many guys back will not only impact on-field performance, but team atmosphere as well.
“I think our team last year was pretty young and a bunch of us are coming back this year,” Nevin said. “We have seven guys that are returning that started last year, and being able to play together for a whole year and now getting back together this year; I think team camaraderie is going to be really good.”
Team spirit is vital for any group trying to establish a high level of play. With some COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the ability to be closer to each other has given the team a huge boost.
“We’ve got a pretty tight, close team,” Richardson said. “I think it helps with it being past the COVID-19 year. Being able to be closer and being able to see each other off the field helps with the chemistry on the field because we’re a lot closer to each other. That’s part of a winning culture, a winning team, being able to be close to your brothers.”
Baylor baseball is projected to finish fifth in the Big 12. For Richardson, there is nothing he wants more than to win and prove those projections wrong. He said the predictions are better for the squad since they embrace being overlooked.
“I’m just ready to win. I’m ready to go out there and prove that we’re worth it and that we’re worth[y] to be the team they look at,” Richardson said. “I think we all strive when being the underdogs. I enjoy being that because we aren’t surprised when we win games, we’re expected to win. I think us being that type of team that we have the confidence in ourselves; I think that’s perfect for us coming into the season.”
Baylor baseball is hoping to continue the trend of success of other Baylor athletic programs. There is so much excitement going around and with under a month until the opening pitch, Baylor baseball will look to hop on that winning trend.
“You see the excitement that Baylor has created for the Waco community, with coach [Scott] Drew and coach [Nicki] Collen and everything that’s kind of going on,” Rodriguez said. “And coach [Dave] Aranda, I just saw him yesterday and just by talking to him you see the excitement that is going around Baylor and I know our guys feel it too and they’re excited to hopefully get to be a part of that.”