After all day in the air, in airports, and in traffic, the Buckeyes arrived in Florida to palms and 80 degree temps, ready to tee it up in the Friday opener against Marshall.
North Port, FLA – They got here late, two hours and forty five minutes later than anticipated Thursday due to flight delays.
And of the three teams that worked out Thursday at the Centennial Park baseball complex in North Port – Marshall, Indiana State, and Ohio State – the Buckeyes had the place to themselves. Finally rolling up the batting cage at 9:20 pm, no one seemed to mind if it was AM or PM. Friday is opening day!
The anticipation is high here to get back into the predictable daily routine of college baseball in 2022, with Ohio State taking the field against Marshall (C-USA) today at 4 pm.
“There’s a lot of buildup, and we’re ready to go,” said Greg Beals as the Buckeyes took some late-night cuts against assistant coach Matt Angle. “We’ve been talking all week about not looking too far ahead. Friday will get here, let’s just be sure we finish up our work to prepare for it. One of our core values is that everyday preparation, but I sensed it from the guys this week that they were fired up. It is game week, but we needed to make sure we did our work.”
Officially, it’s the 139th opening day in the history of Ohio State baseball, the oldest varsity sport on campus. And like all but probably a select few of those 139 openers they open Friday with questions about how ready they are, regardless of preparation. The pitching staff is young, the offense is looking to bounce back from last year’s disappointing stats, and there’s a lot of new faces looking for opportunities to prove they can play.
Sophomore lefthander Isaiah Coupet (0-3, 3.63 era in ’21) gets the Friday start on the mound, followed by another sophomore, Nate Haberthier (Saturday), then senior Griffan Smith (Sunday), and grad transfer Aaron Funk (Arkansas-Little Rock) in Monday’s weekend finale against Brigham Young.
Beals made no bones about it. Assessing his starting pitching this weekend is a prime priority.
“If Publishers Clearing House knocked on my door tomorrow I’d still come to the ballpark and hope that Isaiah Coupet is really good,” he laughed. “We know what he’s got, and that’s a great feel for throwing the baseball and using different pitches. His breaking ball is really good at times, and we’re hoping that opening day is one of those times.”
These four games are that important. Given the situation of the last two years, no baseball to speak of in 2020, and conference-only baseball in ’21, all Big Ten teams missed out on a third of their season – non-conference and mid-week games – and a lot of valuable developmental opportunity.
That said, Beals and company are anxious to establish a winning mindset with a positive start. The horse that breaks clean from the gate nearly always has an advantage on the field.
“We want to get off to a good start, because the elephant in the closet is our starting rotation,” he says. “We lost Lonsway and Burhenn from last year so it’s all brand new for the most part. Smitty (Griffan Smith) had some starts, Pfennig (Will) has had some starts, and Aaron Funk has had some starts at his previous school…Isaiah got one start last year (pitched a total of 17 innings).
“What would be big for this weekend is that the starting rotation gets off to a good start. And these four games are part of our 56. So you get to the end of your season and you begin thinking about the national tournament…these four games are a big part of that. I think these teams that we’re playing are going to win their share of games the rest of the year, so if we have a good weekend it’ll be a good start for us, no doubt about that.”
Pitching, of course, is 75% of baseball, but you can’t win if you don’t score, and that closet he spoke of also houses another concern over this team’s ability to be offensive without being offensive. Painful to reflect upon, they’ve got to improve on last year’s numbers at the plate.
“No doubt,” he adds. “I’m really excited about our offense, where it’s at, and about the good work that we’ve done this off-season in approach and philosophy – more that than in mechanical-type stuff. We’ve tried to focus on each guy differently, because they’re all different guys. “I’m not going to ask Zach Dezenzo and Trey Lipsey to be the same kind of hitter.
“I’m confident, but again, we’ve got to get out of the gate clean.”
If hope springs eternal there seems to be plenty on hand. They flew down here commercial, but if they do get out of the gate clean that might not be sufficient to get home. Something in a C-5A, perhaps.
Sophomore Kade Kearn has changed his number this year from the #46 that served him so well last year (.325 and freshman All-American recognition) to the time-honored, and iconic #7 made famous by former Yankee hall of famer, Mickey Mantle.
And he’s aware.
“Oh yeah, Mickey Mantle wore #7, right?” he said prior to taking some cuts in the batting cage Thursday.
“Pretty famous guy, and a good guy to look up to. #7 is a new number for me and I wanted to try it out.”
Mantle, of course, played for 18 years, hit .298 for his career, with 536 home runs and 1,509 RBIs.
“Cool,” added Kearn.