The ‘Battlin’ Buckeyes have learned that baseball is a whole lot like college itself. There’s a whole lot to learn and a whole lot of people willing to teach you. Those who perform the best are the ones who can overcome hardship and change. Such has been the 2017 season.
COLUMBUS — Nine games remain on Ohio State’s baseball schedule, six of those in conference play: three this weekend at Iowa, and three to close it out versus Indiana at Bill Davis Stadium (May18-20).
In between, there are games Tuesday and Wednesday with Bowling Green and Ball State, respectively, and Toledo next week (May 16).
But at 18-29 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten and with little chance of making the league tournament, some would say the 2017 season is a done deal, and from the standpoint of post-season achievements, they would be right.
Little has gone the way Coach Greg Beals and his staff hoped it would in 2017. Losing 17 players from last year’s Big Ten Championship team hit harder than expected. The influx of six new position players proved more difficult than anticipated. The adjustment from JUCO and high school ball to NCAA Division I Baseball was not easy, is not easy—because the process goes on.
The pitching staff was upended largely due to injury, but not entirely. There were those whose performance fell short of what was expected and those who exceeded expectations, but not enough of them.
The team has holes. There is no doubt about that, but in the course of these 47 games Beals has learned about his players and they have learned about one another. Through the trials and the losses, character is being forged or revealed and ability is being gauged.
It’s this that makes the last nine games anything but a throw-a-way. In some respects, these games are as important—possibly just as important—as any that have passed before.
Beals is not talking to hear himself talk when he says, “We have to get better…we have to get better on offense.”
He’s said it so often, he probably says it in his sleep. He’s said it so often, he apologizes.
He said it last weekend when the Buckeyes dropped two of three at Michigan. The only port in the Ann Arbor storm came Sunday’s when Zach Ratcliff’s grand slam in the sixth helped the Buckeyes to a 4-2 win over the 17th ranked Wolverines.
Specifically, the Buckeyes have suffered and still suffer from a lack of selectivity at the plate. For instance, this past weekend the Buckeyes struck out 40 times in three games.
Certainly, some of that can be attributed to Michigan pitching, but quality at bats and strikeouts have been an issue for Ohio State all season.
The Buckeyes 156 strikeouts ranks second worst in the Big Ten. Only Penn State at 162 is worse. At times, Beals has taken issue with his team’s lack of competitive at-bats. In other words, his players are taking too many good pitches, pitches they could put in play.
At other times, he’s cited a willingness to “chase” pitches out of the strike zone, and the failure—in both instances—continues.
What we are seeing and have seen this season is the education of a team that was forced—by it’s own success—to deal with a radical change in personnel and all the learning processes that accompany such a change. Not the least of which, but possibly the most important, is that success is not necessarily found on the stat sheet or in some “metric” born in the the deepest, darkest corner of the math department.
Success often lies in burying one’s personal goals in favor of the team’s aim; realizing there are times and situations when a right-side ground ball is as good as it gets, or a soft fly ball to center is nearly as good as that double to left-center that moves the batting average a few points.
The move from high school ball or summer traveling leagues to Division I ball is huge. The move from the JUCO level to D-I ball is no piece of cake.
Funny thing, it’s not unlike college itself. There’s a whole lot to learn and a whole lot of people willing to teach you. Those who perform the best are the ones most willing to listen and learn, to try new methods, and often it takes some a lot longer to adapt to the system than it takes for others.
Unfortunately, there are some who never get it and move on.
In baseball and in the best of circumstances, the best of the lot band together, learn from their errors, learn from their successes and lean into their common purpose together.
We have seen some of this from the Buckeyes this season. Hopefully, we will see more of it in these last nine games. A team is being forged. The process goes on and will go on.