Well it’s official. It’s game week. With only three days until Opening Day, the energy around the facilities is electric. This week I will review practices, introduce you to our pitchers and catchers, and talk about our first opponent, Hendrix College.
The week started on a negative note. Mother nature sent a fierce storm to Shreveport that hung around for all of last Tuesday and Wednesday. Every second on the field is crucial because we have a pretty young team. The best way to become a better player is repetition, and it is tough to get those “reps” when a classic southern thunderstorm rolls into town. Luckily, the weather cleared up for the back half of the week and we had solid practices on Thursday.
One part of practice that has greatly improved is our Pitchers Fielding Practice (PFP). In the fall, PFP’s were disastrous. In this exercise, the pitcher simulates throwing a pitch, and a coach standing at home plate hits a ground ball for him (the pitcher) to field and throw to first or second base depending on the situation. While it doesn’t sound too difficult, we are only 60 feet away, and the ball sneaks up on you sometimes. Coach Jolley, master of hitting PFP’s, likes to challenge us and force us to stay down and not let the ball get past us. In the fall, we did a poor job of fielding the ball cleanly and “sticking our nose in it.” By that I mean not being scared of the ball. Pitchers need to be tough and not afraid to have the ball hop off of their leg, knee, chest, or even face. We have done a much better job lately of taking pride in our PFP’s and fielding our position. Our pitching coach, Coach Stephens, really emphasizes that PFP’s are extremely important. If you can’t field your position, you are a liability on defense, and the coaching staff may not be able to trust having you on the mound in a game.
We had our last “off-season” intersquads on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, all of our relievers threw an inning apiece. On Saturday, our 4 starting pitchers threw 4 innings apiece, and, after that, the relievers each threw another inning. The coaching staff threw our “bullpen” (relief pitchers) on back-to-back days to see who is durable and can pitch multiple times a weekend. Most of our games are three-game weekend series, so it is important to see which pitchers we can rely on to throw an inning the first game, be ready to bounce back the next day, and still help us win the final game of the series out of the bullpen. On Friday, our hitters stole the show and swung the bats well. However, our defense was a little sloppy and needed to be better. On Saturday, our pitching looked fantastic, and our defense did a great job. After Saturdays’ scrimmage, I believe our team is ready. I feel confident in our hitting, pitching, and defense.
Let’s meet your 2012 Centenary Gents pitchers and catchers. First, I will introduce you to our three catchers. Behind the plate we have Senior Jeff Schaffert, Junior Ryan Gasporra, and Freshman Zach Price. Jeff is a 5th-year senior and the leader of our team. All of the guys look up to him for leadership and advice. He excels defensively and has the tools to play at the next level. “Gaspo” is a JUCO transfer from California, and he brings a powerful bat to our lineup. He will be in our lineup even if he is not catching. He does provide a quality backup to Jeff, and, as a pitcher, I am grateful that we have two great catchers. Zach Price is a freshman from Texas who has made great strides since arriving at Centenary. His defense has really improved, and our two older catchers have done a great job of passing on their knowledge to a younger guy.
Now let’s meet the pitching staff. First off, I need to let y’all in on a little secret and tradition that the pitching staff carries on. We have our own “pitchers-only” club dubbed the “BBB” (Bad Body Bullpen). This nickname is derived from a popular baseball book, Bullpen Gospels. The “Founding Fathers” of the BBB are Trey Lavespere, Trey Guccione, Kelby Langston, and myself. The “BBB” has few requirements, the main prerequisite being that you are a “pitcher-only.” As many of you know, we have several two-way players (pitchers who also play positions), and these guys are unfortunately not allowed to join our illustrious club. We are a tightly knit group that comes out ready to compete everyday. Our starting pitchers for now are Lance Nugent, Nic Parrott, Taylor Henry, and myself. I say “for now” because our rotation can change at any time. If a guy struggles, our coaching staff is not afraid to give someone else a chance to prove himself as a starter. While it seems cutthroat, I love it because it gives our team the best chance to win every day and forces our starters to bring their “A-game” each week or else they could lose their job. Out of the bullpen, we have Trey Lavespere, Trey Guccione, Peyton Stover, Kamden Haglund, Chase Clarke, Grady Flournoy, Matt Posey, Dustin Dalton, and Ryan Stevens. I am confident that our bullpen will do a great job because we have several guys who fit several roles. We have a “submarine” (sidearm) pitcher, crafty lefties, and righties that can get the ball up there with a little bit of velocity. I don’t want to talk about each individual pitcher too much and give up their scouting report, but come on out to Shehee Stadium this weekend to see the “BBB” and the rest of the Gents in action.
Now let’s talk a little bit about our first series of the year. We open with Hendrix College. They were picked to finish second in their half of their conference, so we cannot take them lightly. Since this is our first season at the Division 3 level, I am not familiar with most of our opponents. However, I would venture to guess that many teams will give us their best shot because we were a Division 1 program last season. As for me, I am excited to get out on the mound and give our team a chance to win. I only worry about what I can control as a pitcher. On Saturday, I can only control filling up the strike zone and keeping the ball down in the zone. After that, I have faith in our defense to handle the ball and in our offense to score runs. On the flip side, I believe our hitters/defense have faith in our pitchers to keep us in the game and not give up free bases (walks and hit by pitches). I am really excited to see all of our young guys get their feet wet and experience college baseball. It will be a weekend filled with firsts – first hit, first run, first RBI. But it will also be filled with character tests such as first failure, first strikeout, or first time to give up a hit. I am excited to see how our young guys handle the adversity and bounce back and compete.
It is only Monday night, but Saturday is all I can think about. There is nothing quite like Opening Day. The smell of the fresh cut grass, the music ringing inside the ballpark, and the promise that surrounds a new season are things that get a baseball player pumped up. Do I think our team will play to its full potential this weekend? I hope so, but in reality probably not. But that is what makes baseball great. When a teammate struggles, you have another guy who has the opportunity to pick you up and turn your failure into a team success. Baseball is a crazy game. If you think about it, you are considered a great hitter if your batting average is over .300. Do you realize that means that 7 out of 10 of your at-bats are deemed a failure? That is why baseball forces you to be mentally strong. Failure is imminent, but it is how you bounce back from your struggles that truly define you as a ballplayer and a person in life.
Thanks for stopping by this week to check up on the Gents. I hope to see all of you out at Shehee Stadium at noon on Saturday and at 1 PM on Sunday for our series with Hendrix College.