February, what does that mean for most people? Does it mean Valentine’s Day? Another month of dreaded Midwest weather? How about one month till spring break? Well for the Purdue Baseball and the rest of the country's baseball teams, it means the beginning of a new season is only two weeks away. Valentine’s Day for most Americans will be a day that they can spend time with their loved ones or closest friends and do the things they love. Well for college baseball players across the country, February 14th this year is a dream come true, the season commences on this very day.
Our very own Boilers will be heading south (but not as south as they have done so in the past) to Knoxville, Tenn. Due to the Big East break up in the past year and powerhouse baseball programs like Louisville, Notre Dame, and West Virginia moving to other conferences, the Big East/Big Ten Challenge that usually takes place in the Sunshine State is no longer happening. The Boilers will be taking on Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks of the Summit League for the first two games of the weekend, Friday night and Saturday morning. They cap of the double-header on Saturday by playing the Volunteers themselves along with Sunday early afternoon. The last time the Boilers traveled to Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville was in 2003 over their Spring Break trip.
The Boilers are looking to bounce back after finishing 17-34 overall and 6-18 in Big Ten during last year’s season. The squad will be looking to fill the spot of the 8 players that left after last year’s season ended, seven of which graduated and Brad Schreiber, who signed as a free agent with the Rays this past summer to forgo his senior season. There are three seniors for the 2014 season, Sean McHugh (3B/C), Conner Hudnall (RF), and Steve Maniago (IF). The leadership from these three men is outstanding. They take the time to pull a younger player aside and give them guidance on how to bunt or what to do in a certain situation. Look at how these three stand out when everyone else’s heads are hanging.
Along with losing eight players, the baseball program also lost Associate Head Coach Jeff Duncan. Coach Duncan has moved on to a new job, the head coach at Kent State. Duncan really helped out the program in the few short years he was here, during the 2012 season he had our boys hitting the ball all over the park. To fill Coach Duncan’s spot in the coaching staff, Head Coach Doug Schreiber brought on Coach Wally Crancer from Georgia Tech. Coach Crancer played for the Yellow Jackets and was on their 2006 College World Series team. He later spent four seasons in the Baltimore Orioles farm system, then returned to Georgia Tech for two years as a volunteer assistant prior to joining our team. In the five months that Coach Crancer has been with us, we have already seen an impact of his presence through the hitters’ performance at the plate.
‘The Pack’ will have 6 of the 10 starting hitters back from last season, being led by Sean McHugh and Conner Hudnall, will be a force looking to light up pitchers on a cool spring night. These two seniors will be looking at that junior and sophomore class for help though as they try to light up the scoreboard in mid-February. The fielding will have experience through and through, most of them being filled by second to fourth year players. The middle infield looks to be solid behind Brandon Kreig at shortstop, although he made many of his starts at second base last year. Jack Picchiotti and Cody Strong started games in five different positions last year, which provides Coach Schreiber some nice defense flexibility.
As for pitching, Sophomore Jordan Minch and Red-shirt Sophomore Kyle Wood will be looking to fulfill the starting pitching roles along with Red-shirt Sophomore Connor Podkul, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery following his incredible freshman season. Graduated senior Robert Ramer, who started out as the mid-week guy early in his career before moving up to be the Friday start for his 2013 senior season, leaves a big hole in the rotation for Pitching Coach Tristian McIntyre. With a talented sophomore pitching class and the newcomers to the squad, it looks that "Tristian’s Tossers" will have no problem keeping runs off the board this season.
On Feb. 12, the Big Ten Conference office will release the top six teams in the preseason coaches poll as well as three players to watch from all 11 squads.
My name is Andrew Marking, and I am the traveling student manager for the team this season and will be providing you some behind the scenes look at the team along with weekend recaps and previews. You can follow me on twitter as I will be posting stuff on there as the season’s adventures go on. Please comment on things you’d like to see more of in the future (player interviews, more details on travels, ect). Thanks