With a revamped coaching staff and a talented group of freshmen joining the corps of battle-hardened veterans from last year’s squad, Yale’s baseball team is well-equipped to rebound from a tough season in 2000. But don’t ask the Bulldogs for any predictions on the upcoming season. They refuse to wonder aloud whether they could make a run for the Ivy Championship or even if they will break .500.
“All I can say is that we’ve been working hard,” captain R.D. DeSantis ’01 said, “harder than we have before in my three years here. That’s the difference.”
DeSantis, who batted .314 last year, led all returning players with five home runs and 28 RBIs last year.
This new work ethic, players said, is the result of a new training program and two new coaches. And it appears to have re-energized a squad that spent most of last spring taking its medicine.
Bill Asermely ’93 joins head coach John Stuper as a full-time assistant this year. The former left fielder and Eli captain was drafted out of Yale by the Baltimore Orioles. Glen Lungarini, a 1998 graduate of Eastern Connecticut, has also come aboard as an assistant coach. The players all agree that these two young mentors have set quite a different tone in practice already this February.
“[The new assistant coaches] have really stepped up the intensity,” infielder Mike Hirschfield ’03 said. “They’re younger than our assistants last year, and they bring a lot of energy.”
Stuper and company instituted a new conditioning program three times a week in the off-season to complement the Elis’ already-existing lifting program. That should mean the Elis will be quicker and more agile than ever before this year.
The program was intended to improve specific skills that translate into better play on the diamond.
“We really got the sense that it was a cohesive program,” DeSantis said. “We can see how it will directly help us on the field.”
The freshman class has stepped right into this new program and flourished, challenging upperclassmen for their spots on the field. It is very likely two or three frosh will appear in the opening day lineup when the Bulldogs take on Boston College March 8 at the Homestead Challenge in Florida. Yale will also play Florida International, a team ranked in the top-25 last season.
While the Homestead will offer perhaps the toughest competition Yale will see all season, the squad is eager to say goodbye to Coxe Cage — where practices have been held since Feb. 1 — and to begin playing outside on real grass.
“None of us can wait to play down there, in some nice weather,” outfielder Chris Elkins ’03 said. Elkins, who batted .294 last season with three homers and 11 RBIs, is one of several sophomores on the squad who saw significant action last year.
This year’s spring break trip to the Florida tournament was scheduled in a way that ought to aid the Bulldogs more than in years past. The squad will have a few days to practice and adjust to the warmer weather before facing the Eagles. Then they will get rest days sporadically throughout the rest of the competition.
For Yale’s baseball team, spring break has usually meant a grueling game schedule — sometimes as many as 16 games in two weeks. A pace like that quickly takes its toll on a team’s pitching staff. This year the Bulldogs should be well rested throughout their stay in Florida, giving their rotation a chance to compete at full-strength.
“No team can play 16 games with no rest [like we have in past years],” DeSantis said. “This year, there won’t be any limping into games in Florida.”
The Elis’ roster features only eight pitchers — whereas other Ivy teams carry up to 15 or 16 — but this shouldn’t be a problem if starters are effective and arms can be kept fresh. Among the returning pitchers on the staff is last year’s workhorse Jon Steitz ’02, who was second in the Ivies both for most appearances and strikeouts looking.
In the fiercely competitive Red Rolfe Division — made up of Harvard, Brown and Dartmouth as well as the Elis — consistent pitching will be key. But according to the determined Bulldog squad, those kinds of questions will sort themselves out as the season progresses. Right now, they will continue to just work hard.
“All that I can say is that we are working hard,” captain DeSantis said. “In terms of what that means for the team, we’ll just have to wait and see.”