By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Most collegiate baseball programs start fall practice working on areas of improvement ahead of a new season, using its previous year as a blueprint for where to improve. That isn’t the case for Baylor baseball — a group with less than half of its members being returners.
First, the players need to learn each other’s name before moving on to anything else.
“You come in, there’s guys from everywhere, all different states across the country and you don’t know any of them,” sophomore catcher Cortlan Castle said.
The Bears are not only ushering in new player personnel, but also an entirely new coaching staff, led by new skipper Mitch Thompson. Baylor moved on from Steve Rodriguez over the summer and brought in Thompson from McLennan Community College.
Thompson, however, is no stranger to Baylor, as he was an assistant coach for 18 years (1995-2012).
Regardless, with so much newness to the program, Thompson said he is taking things slowly with his athletes and focusing on building chemistry from the ground up.
“They’re all newcomers to me, they’re all newcomers to our staff and we’re newcomers to them too,” Thompson said. “So, everything we’re doing, we’re trying to put it all in, starting from the very bottom and [then] work our way through it.”
Like Castle, fifth-year senior right-handed pitcher Blake Helton is another returner, that is strikingly in the minority. Helton said after being here four years, it’s a “huge change” to see the vast differences in terms of what the roster looks like.
Not dwelling on who’s gone, Helton said those who have returned are buying into Thompson’s program and enjoying the new faces.
“The returners have really embraced and we love all the new guys,” Helton said. “It’s bringing new competition like we’ve never had before. Our team can be a lot better for it.”
One of those newcomers is junior middle infielder Cole Posey, who has been all over the place. Posey transferred to Baylor following stints with Boise State University and the University of New Mexico.
Posey raved about his new teammates and said Thompson has already instilled a “person over player mindset” that is seen from other coaches at Baylor.
“On the team side, [there’s] some phenomenal guys,” Posey said. “And you can’t always say that about different places that you go, but the staff did an awesome job of recruiting. Kind of that person over player mindset.”
The squad is only through two days of practicing together and participating in intrasquad scrimmages, but Thompson said he loves what he’s seeing. He said the team had been itching to get out on the diamond and start competing and that he’s glad to start the fall slate.
“I’ve just been impressed with the kids,” Thompson said. “They have plans where they want to go as players and what we want to accomplish as a team. The frustrating part has been that getting them together as a team hasn’t happened until just now. That’s why we’re so excited to get out here and really get going.”
A program doesn’t rebuild overnight, and it may be awhile until fans really see what this team is made of. Although, if you ask Castle, he’ll tell you the team is in good spirits and that if they continue it, the wins will stack on its own.
“As a team, if we can continue to build this positive culture and bring energy every single day, and stack one good day on top of another, we’ll be really good,” Castle said.