The grass is freshly cut, the infield is well groomed and the weather feels like spring. While we’re still in the month of February, the nice breeze and clear, sunny skies remind us that baseball season is here.
For the Aggies, the future is just as bright as the recent days because the team is full of youth. But even with a lot to look forward to in the next couple years, the team expects everyone, young teammates included, to be prepared for the 2016 season.
“We expect a lot of them because there’s a lot of talent,” said senior pitcher and first baseman Spencer Henderson. “I think they all know right now that we expect them not to play as freshmen.”
As one of the team’s leaders, Henderson tries to lead by example and show the incoming players what the UC Davis baseball program is all about. After a 30-win season last year for only the second time in the school’s Division I history, Henderson knows it’s necessary to use what he’s learned from his time as a ballplayer at UC Davis.
The former reliever will now take the mound as a starter this year, most likely as the second man in the rotation. And for the Aggies, this season is full of transformation for just about everyone.
“We’re going to be finding our way a little bit,” said head coach Matt Vaughn. “I think you’re going to see some changes.”
The Aggies return 18 letterwinners, but the biggest concern for this team is whether or not players will be able to flourish in their new, more prominent roles. As a reliever, Henderson was a Big West Honoree, but there are a lot of changes to be made in becoming a starter, both mentally and physically.
Vaughn understands his team’s youth, but like Henderson he has the same expectations for everyone on his team regardless of age. Vaughn reminds his players every day that they are here for a reason, that the game of baseball is the same as it was when they were five or six years old.
Returning senior outfielder Tanner Bily is also expected to play an important role in the Aggies’ year. After having a solid season at the plate, Bily also understands his influence on the team and knows his role as a leader and what it takes to be successful.
“If the young guys see you putting in the work, they see you doing your job,” Bily said. “Hopefully they follow [your] lead and do what you do.”
Henderson and Bily have witnessed a culture change within the program over the past few years. Teammates began to hold each other more accountable, as opposed to the coaches always harping at their players. The seniors have no quit in them, and they are both ready to compete against some of the best teams in the nation.
The Aggies have an incredibly tough schedule this season, as they will take on Michigan at home, who is ranked 25 in the nation in NCAA Division I baseball. Not to mention, the Aggies play in a tough conference in the Big West. Cal State Fullerton is ranked 16 in the nation and the team will have to face them on the road. But it is important that the team does not psych themselves out.
“I think we just kind of prepare like you face any other opponent,” Bily said. “You focus on yourself, that’s all you can really control.”
The Aggies are confident in themselves and that’s all that matters. There are doubters, naysayers, but these players know just how much off-season work they put in. They remember the countless hours in the weight room, on the practice field, in the cages and know how mentally tough they are, which is important in a three month, 56 game season.
“We’re predicted to finish last as always,” Henderson said. “We always have something to prove as always.”
The team will begin their season at home against Portland on Friday, Feb. 19, which is especially important in the comfort level for the younger players.
“When you can be at home, I would hope that’s an advantage for us,” Vaughn said.
Written by: Michael Martinez – firstname.lastname@example.org