Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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As they wrap up 2018 fall baseball workouts, Buckeye coach Greg Beals and his staff are sorting through, and searching their candidates, looking for their own version of Neil Armstrong.

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Columbus – Fall baseball workouts conclude for Division I schools across the country in the next ten days, a yearly ritual not unlike what Urban Meyer and Nick Saban do during spring football workouts.  They’re looking for a “few good men”, as the US Marines used to declare – an everyday lineup and the spare parts with which to compete come spring.

And ironic this month at Bill Davis Stadium as Buckeye coach Greg Beals and his assistants sort through the returning lettermen, last year’s “almosts”, and the incoming freshmen looking for their version of former astronaut Neil Armstrong, the lead character in the current feature film, “First Man”.

Of course Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, a kind of courage and leadership heretofore unheard of when he landed on the lunar surface in 1969.

But in a smaller sense – in a baseball sense – Beals is looking for those very attributes from a select group of candidates to lead last year’s 36-24 team into the 2019 season.

“I think we have some candidates,”  he said Saturday after the Scarlet team took a 5-4 decision over the Gray team in their annual fall ‘series’.  Gray leads the series going into next week’s finale games, 2-1.

“We have a handful of guys.  I think Dom (Canzone) is that kind of guy.  I think Dillon Dingler’s that kind of guy.  I think Griffan Smith’s that guy.  Griffan has grown and he’s had a good fall.  I think Seth Lonsway has the capability of being that guy, so there’s three sophomores in the mix right there.  Kobie Foppe is a great player, a compliment type player instead of a first-off-the-bus type because it’s not his personality or his skill set.  But Kobie Foppe…we’re going to rely on him, depend on him to be very productive for us this year.  And that’s what we’re here for in fall baseball, to make these determinations.”

Two overtones dominate the process of this 2018 fall baseball period.

Junior Joe Gahm had his own ups and downs, trying to make a favorable impression in Saturday’s Scarlet and Gray scrimmage.

One, how to make a defense better that led the Big Ten in errors last year, and finished tenth from the bottom of all Division I programs nationally.

And two, pitching, and who amongst a bevy of talented young arms will emerge to make significant contributions in 2019, following the example of Minnesota in 2018.

“We have some great young arms with your new freshmen, but they have to become more efficient and pound the strike zone more,”  says Beals.  “They have to learn to trust their stuff, and not give the hitters too much credit.  You anticipate that with freshmen, of trying to do too much.  Will Pfennig struggled today with his command, but he put up three zeroes, which tells me his stuff is good.  He just needs to become more efficient.  Garrett Burhenn and Bayden Root pitched last night, two more freshmen, and both have the tools to be very, very good pitchers, this year even.

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“To the point about defense, we’re trying to change the mindset, clear the mind and retool defensively- to free up guys to go make plays.  And last year I thought our infielders were a bit trapped in that regard, thinking about it too much, being too mechanical, instead of reacting athletically and making a play.

“Personnel-wise, I’ve liked Zach Dezenzo at third base so far because it’s freed us to move Conner Pohl to first and let his size and reach make our infield better, and him better.  Noah West looks comfortable and grown up at shortstop, and with Dillon Dingler and Brent Todys behind the plate I’m very comfortable with our catching.  And Todys provides us with the option of using Dillon in the outfield if needed.  Left field will be a platoon position in all probability, and we’re still considering our options in center field.  But we’re better at this stage of fall ball and we have some young men making some good impressions.”

Pitching is the buzz word of 2018 fall camp, and senior Brady Cherry will get an opportunity to use his 90-plus fastball in addition to playing in left field.

He (Beals) is confident that the down time between the end of fall ball and February will pay big dividends in terms of added individual instruction, and individual improvement.

He’s confident that the offense, so much a part of last year’s success, still has the components necessary to come out and put runs on the board – Canzone, Pohl, Fobbe, Dingler, West – all returning from last year’s starting eight.

“I like our pieces offensively,”  he adds.  “In our two scrimmages against outside opponents (Indiana State and Dayton), we’ve scored runs with our starting lineup.  When we put our lineup together, and that’s hard right now because it’s scattered in fall ball between the two teams (Scarlet and Gray)…when we bunch them together there’s the potential to be a very good offense.”

And, he’s confident that the tincture of time is all that’s necessary for the makeup of this team to become manifest.

“It’s a whole different animal for some of these young guys,”  says Beals.  “Things they used to do in high school they can’t do now.  So what needs to happen is to remove the mindset of what they can’t do and replace it with the mindset of what they can do with the talent they possess.  Think about what you’re going to do instead of thinking about of what you’re afraid to do.  If you’re afraid you’re going to push the golf ball to the right you’re bound to do that every time.  If you’re afraid of hanging the breaking ball you’re bound to hang the breaking ball.  Trust your stuff and focus on a different mindset, and the only way you get to that point is by playing.”

And on a beautiful fall Saturday freshman Nolan Clegg powered a ball to the opposite field for three-run homer to help the Scarlet team win.  He probably didn’t do that so much in high school;  and Will Pfennig didn’t have to pitch as efficiently at Mason High School as he’s finding he must do now if he wants to be successful in the Big Ten.

That’s why they’re all here on a what’s otherwise a football Saturday. They’re changing a lot of mindsets, old and new.  It’s called fall baseball, a different kind of college education.  Where you see if you have what it takes to be…a ‘first man’.

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