New Season. New Start.
A Preview of the Old Dominion University Baseball 2013 Season
Spring is almost upon us and that can only mean one thing to a sports fan, baseball is back. All the things we love about the game from the ballpark food to stolen bases to double plays to the seventh inning stretch to shutout games to walk-off homeruns have returned to Bud Metheny Baseball Complex this season. The Monarchs are ready to erase the woes of a disappointing season last year and start fresh. “This year we expect to be much more competitive. We’ve got better athletes and more of them, as well as better balance on our pitching staff,” said head coach Chris Finwood. The team was a meager 19-34 overall and 9-21 in the conference last year, but none of that matters anymore because it’s a new season and coach Finwood and his staff have been hard at work, adding a total of 21 new players to the roster this season. “They are all kids that fit how I want to play,” said coach Finwood.
The team acquired seven junior college transfers as well as 14 new freshmen during the offseason. “The fans will notice a lot of new faces, but they’ll be surprised by their play,” said CAA-all rookie sophomore outfielder Josh Eldridge. Eldridge himself had a standout season last year hitting .299 with 26 RBI’s despite his team’s troubled play. Of the 21 newcomers, the biggest acquisition came in junior third baseman Jordan Negrini from Kihei, Hawaii. “He’s a big kid and a power hitter. He’s probably our top professional prospect,” said coach Finwood. Negrini had a .375 batting average, 46 RBI’s and was All-League while playing at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona.The fans should also keep an eye on junior shortstop Tyler Urps, Negrini’s teammate in Arizona, who was also a transfer from Yavapai Junior College. “He’s just kind of a sparkplug type of player, plays real hard and has great energy. He’s a guy that the fans are going to like because of how he approaches the game every day. He’ll be the dirtiest guy on the field,” said coach Finwood. Urps was All-League as well in junior college and had a .283 batting average with 23 RBI’s and 10 stolen bases. “He has a lot of energy and he is fun to watch play,” said senior reliever Brandon Smith.
The team lost five of the eight starting position players from last season, as well as three starting pitchers, but that might be a blessing in disguise considering their losses greatly outweighed their wins last year. “I think we’re better talent-wise with guys we replaced them with. Experience can be overrated. The honest fact is I think we’ve got better players now,” said coach Finwood.
The team also has two of their top pitchers from last year returning to the mound that will help them solidify their rotation, junior Dean Ali and Smith. Ali had a 2.32 ERA with 60 strikeouts. Smith will be their go-to reliever this season. He was 8-1 last year with 47 strikeouts. “Numbers-wise he had a phenomenal year. He’s a strong kid and he throws hard. He’s got a really good, solid consistent demeanor about him,” said coach Finwood.
Although the team is ineligible for the Colonial Athletic Association tournament this season, due to the fact that they are moving to the Conference USA next year, they are still competing for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. “All of our games are big for us. We’ve got to probably win 38 or more games to get that bid coming out of the CAA, which isn’t rated as a real high baseball conference like C-USA is,” said coach Finwood.
On top of the Monarchs 28 home games at Bud Metheny Baseball Complex, they will also play two home games at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton. “It’s a great old ballpark. It’s got great history and it’s a great venue,” said coach Finwood. They will host Virginia Commonwealth University on April 23 and College of William & Mary on May 14 there. “When I got the job here I thought what a neat place for college baseball to play. We’ll play a couple of games there every year,” said coach Finwood.
The team opens their season at home in a three game series against Marshall University on Friday and from there it only gets tougher. They play North Carolina State away, who’s ranked in the top 10 of the country preseason, as well as University of Virginia and East Carolina University twice. The Monarchs will also play Virginia Military Institute, coach Finwood’s Alma Mater, twice this season. “That’s always a fun game for me. I root like heck for them except for those two games,” said coach Finwood laughing. By: Brian Bowden Staff writer