No sport seems to practice quite as much as baseball. Sure, football tends to have quite the offseason, with lifting and the upcoming winter conditioning, but that is not necessarily practice per se. It is more training and preparation than practice. However, the school baseball team really gets after it during the offseason.
Should you find yourself walking by Fairfax Field during the offseason, there is a very good chance you will see quite a few young men throwing a baseball around in the outfield. You may also see them practicing at Ram Stadium should women’s lacrosse not be using the field.
“We really do practice a lot, but it is worth it, as evidenced by our conference championship last season,” redshirt senior Jake Cook said.
“We’ve really been working hard for [interim] coach [Matt] McCarty this offseason,” Ohio native Chad Murphy said.
One of the big stories of the offseason for the baseball team was the departure of long-time skipper Wayne Riser, who left Shepherd to become the head coach at the University of Mary Washington. At the end of September, athletic director B.J. Pumroy announced that assistant coach Matt McCarty would take over the role of head coach in an interim role. Should the team win another conference championship, it would not be a shock at all to see the interim label removed from his job title.
There may be no bigger story for the baseball team than the loss of Tino Martinez Award winner Nathan Minnich. The Waynesboro, Pa., native was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 8th round of the Major League Baseball draft with the 271st overall pick. Minnich was named Shepherd’s Male Athlete of the Year as well as Senior Male Athlete of the Year during the 2011-2012 academic year. Replacing such an intrinsic part of a team will be no easy task.
“He’s the best I’ve ever played with. Nate won’t be easy to replace, ” Cook said.
Minnich paced the Rams with a .433 batting average, .553 on-base percentage, 14 home runs and 38 runs batted in. That kind of production will not be replaced overnight.
Shepherd will open the season against the University of South Carolina-Aiken on Feb. 15 in Aiken, S.C., and will play them twice more over the following two days. After leaving the Palmetto state, the team will head one state north to North Carolina to take on Davis & Elkins, Winston-Salem State and Shippensburg the following week in Winston-Salem. Those opening six games could go a very long way in determining if Shepherd has a fair, legitimate chance to repeat as conference champions.
No doubt, it will be a very interesting year for the baseball team. Losing such an important player in Nathan Minnich and going through a coaching change could very well leave the team in disarray, but considering that the team is familiar with coach McCarty, there should not be much of a transitional phase. According to many of the players, McCarty is well-liked by the squad, something that will be vital in their defense of the last edition of the WVIAC.