One hundred and fifty years since the team’s inception, the Yale baseball team enters this historic season more focused on flipping the script of the past 21 years rather than celebrating the past century and a half.
Yale has not secured an Ivy League championship since 1994 and has failed to make it to the title game since 1995. A year ago, the Bulldogs came within mere innings of reaching the three-game series that decides the Ancient Eight champion after sitting in the pole position of the Red Rolfe division for much of the season.
This year — though the season has been delayed thanks to unpredictable Northeast weather, with today’s season opener against the University of New Haven cancelled due to poor field conditions — the Elis are intent on making their 150th campaign a memorable one for reasons other than becoming the fourth Division I program to have lasted since 1865.
“The taste of the opportunity to play for an Ivy League championship was something the program hasn’t had in quite a long time,” right fielder and captain David Toups ’15 said. “This team wants to prove we cannot only get back to that point, but get beyond that point.”
Yale’s 2015 formula for success will be predicated upon maintaining its strength on the mound, led by Chris Lanham ’16, whose All-Ivy Second Team season last year included a conference-best seven victories.
Bolstering the Elis’ staff will be Chasen Ford ’17, who pitched 53.2 innings a year ago, and Chris Moates ’16, who will transition into being a starter after coming out of the bullpen in all 16 of his appearances last season. Moates dominated in his relief role, spinning a team-best 2.11 ERA and the second-best WHIP — 1.42 walks plus hits per inning pitched — of any Bulldog with more than 18 innings pitched.
Toups was adamant in highlighting consistency as the key to Yale’s title prospects this season, a sentiment that Ford can relate to as he prepares for his sophomore campaign.
“My main takeaways from last year were just to keep my focus going all year and not get caught in going through the motions,” said the 6’3” righty from southern California. “This year all I can expect from myself is to give my team a chance every outing.”
The pitching staff kept Yale in many of its 20 conference games last season, allowing three runs or less in nine Ivy outings. Yale’s offense, on the other hand, was unable to remain in a groove at the plate and struggled to bail out its hurlers.
In Ivy games in which Yale allowed four or more runs, the Elis only mustered a 2–9 mark. That record does not include the Rolfe Division one-game playoff against Dartmouth, in which the Bulldogs fell by an 11–4 final score.
However, the Bulldogs are confident that they can build up an offense that sees six of its top eight run creators from 2014 return for this year’s title push. Leading the way will be catcher Robert Baldwin ’15 and third baseman Richard Slenker ’17, who combined to hit 0.326 with 39 RBIs and a 0.367 on base percentage.
Center fielder Green Campbell ’15 will also return a strong bat as well as some eye-catching speed, a trait coveted by head coach John Stuper, who is entering his 23rd year at the helm of the Elis.
Campbell, a Louisiana native who played a critical role in last year’s upset of Louisiana State University, swiped nine bags last season to tie infielder Nate Adams ’16 for the team lead.
Moreover, he displayed more than just prowess on the bases, as he was second in the team in RBI and among the team leaders with 36 hits. The Bulldog center fielder is confident that this Eli squad will be able to carry its own weight this year and grant its pitchers a wider margin of error.
“Offensively, I think we will be a completely different team this year,” Campbell said. “We have some seriously good hitters in the lineup, and this preseason I have been astounded at the types of swings guys are taking. From top to bottom, I honestly think we will be really strong.”
Offensive questions aside, a major storyline to watch develop will be where infielder Tom O’Neil ’16 plays, as he and fellow infielder Derek Brown ’17 have been competing all offseason to fill the substantial void left at shortstop by former captain and All-Ivy first team member Cale Hanson ’14.
Despite the undefined state of the lineup, at least one Bulldog is not worried about the Elis’ ability to field a strong team across all facets of the game.
“I had a nice streak in league play last year, but I attribute most of [my] success to the team as a whole,” said Lanham, who was 4–0 in Ivy competition and piled up three shutouts. “We had a lot of timely hits and played great defense. I think we’ll have those again this year so that’s a great confidence booster.”
Lanham credited the experience of seven returning starters in the field and five Elis who started at least one game on the bump for his lack of concern.
The team’s veteran presence will be complemented by a class of seven freshmen that Stuper has spoken highly of, including a pair of right-handed pitchers, Eric Brodkowitz ’18 and Drew Scott ’18, who will fight for a spot in the starting rotation. Additionally, Mason Kukowski ’18 will attempt to carve out a utility role on the mound as well as in the infield.
The Elis will head to a more temperate climate for their annual spring trip, opening their season with a doubleheader in North Carolina on Saturday against Richmond and Davidson.