Recruiting, fall practice, and anticipation is over. The Buckeyes open this weekend in Florida with purpose…to see if talent, plus chemistry, can equal early wins.
COLUMBUS — Now it’s real. No more inter-squad games or simulated situations. There is no Spring Training. Every pitch and every swing counts.
Friday at noon Ohio State opens it’s baseball season against Kansas State in the Sunshine Classic at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.
This is where Coach Greg Beals and his staff begin to find out about their club and if their hopes for the 2017 season are well founded.
Over the past few weeks and on countless occasions, Beals has expressed his belief in this team. He likes the talent, likes the make-up. But all this is based on practice and preparation.
“We look good,” Beals said. “Our line-up is pretty much set, but strange things happen when you put on the uniform and take the field against another team.”
OSU goes to work with four known position players: Jalen Washington at short, Tre Gantt in center, Jacob Barnwell behind the plate, and Brady Cherry at third.
Junior College transfers will start at first base (Bo Coolen), second (Noah McGowan) and in left field (Tyler Cowles). True freshman Dominick Canzone gets the nod in right.
“We’re young but we are not as young as people might think,” Beals said. “Still, guys are going to have to adjust. We’ve got guys who are not accustomed to the caliber of play they are going to see every day at this level.”
“The talent is there,” says Washington, the senior co-captain, “but it’s all in how we come together. Last year, was such a special situation. We believed in one another completely. That doesn’t come quickly or easily.”
“It’s chemistry, I guess,” says Zach Ratcliff, the senior redshirt and designated hitter. “It grows. Last year, we had guys who had been together a long time. We knew everybody really well, I mean really knew one another…You almost knew what a guy was going to do in a certain situation.’
Of course, that was last year, and—quite naturally—the 2017 club will be measured against its predecessor until it establishes an identity of its own. That comes with the territory, especially when you follow a championship team.
But in this case it’s particularly ironic. The core value, the foundation of the OSU program, is the idea that success comes from seizing the moment, not allowing past experiences or future fears or hopes to divert one’s attention from what is immediately occurring and what needs to be done. In short, it’s intense focus on what’s required or demanded right now.
“That focus on the moment was so much a part of our success last season,” Beals said. “I truly believe it’s what helped get us through the grind of the (Big Ten) tournament (four games in 30 hours).”
It’s heady stuff, not the typical subject of conversation around the locker room or the batting cage.
“At first the new guys were like, ‘What’s this all about?’” Gantt said. “But after a while, they begin to understand…Do your job and trust your teammate to do his. Don’t try to do too much. They understand what it led to last year and they start to buy-in.
“We have a lot to prove. We know that,” Gantt continues, “and we’re excited to get out there and do it. I think people are going to be surprised how hungry this team is and I think that is going to take us a long way.”
The trademark of this 2017 team is yet to be defined, but there are some early indications.
“We haven’t figured out our identity yet,” says Seth Kinker, who will anchor a battle-tested bullpen with Kyle Michalik. “That’s true, but we will in the next few weeks. Half the team is new, but I can tell you from pitching against these guys we will be a scrappy team that strings doubles and singles together and scores some runs. These guys know how to work the count. There’s no question about that…
“From the start, I think our pitching staff will carry this team but as time goes on, we will score our share of runs. These guys will progress.”
NOTES: The third spot in the starting rotation is not settled yet, but Beals seems to be leaning toward Yianni Pavlopoulos, last year’s closer. “I’d like to have him out there in the pen, but he’s looking awfully good,” Beals said…Right-hander Jake Post is also in the running and closed pre-season practice on a strong note…Co-captain Adam Niemeyer and sophomore Ryan Feltner will hold down the top two spots…Meanwhile, Beals says he will handle the bullpen on a situational basis. He has not designated a “closer” per-se at this point. That said, Kinker and Michalik will be his go-to guys out of the pen, while Joe Stoll will also play a prominent roll…At this point, don’t expect much tinkering with the starting line-up. Beals says he and his staff are “pretty settled” on the starters and stresses the importance of letting the starting eight ease in and get accustomed to playing with one another…Solid Bets: That Jalen Washington and Tre’ Gantt will drive the ball into the alleys with more frequency than last year. Gantt has added muscle and refined his swing. Washington’s move from catcher to short will lead to a free and fresh approach at the plate…K-State goes into play this season with 21 newcomers, four returning starters plus the DH…The Wildcats were 26-31 last year, 8-16 in the Big 12…Sticks to watch: Jake Scudder (.333, 7, 45) and Steve Serentore (.310, 3, 22).