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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball dusts off the plate in 2010

“”Wait till next year,”” the old Brooklyn Dodgers saying goes.

These words surely ran through the mind of Arizona baseball head coach Andy Lopez last season, during what he described as the most disappointing season in his coaching career.

“”It was a nightmare,”” Lopez said. “”An absolute nightmare.””

But when the first pitch crosses home plate this Friday night against Utah Valley at Jerry Kindall Field, it means next year is finally here, and with it a clean slate for the Wildcats.

“”I think everyone is just getting real fired up,”” said freshman pitcher Kurt Heyer. “”It was three months ago we were talking about it, and now it’s finally here.””

Character issues got in Arizona’s way last season, with players often missing class and even practices.

With off-field issues translating to poor play on the field, Lopez quickly rid Arizona of the disease before it spread, and is now ready to compete with a roster full of dedicated players.

“”I don’t think we’ve had one day (this year) where anybody hasn’t been on the field,”” Lopez said. “”It’s been a whole one-eighty.  It’s been fun for me because like I said, last year was a different experience.””

Twenty-three newcomers will don the cardinal and navy this year, and the large crop of freshmen is expected to shoulder the load and point the program back in the right direction.

Mindful of his young squad, Lopez created a schedule that begins with 26 straight home games, hoping to ease the freshmen into college baseball.

He made it clear, however, that his freshmen needed to be ready to play this weekend, and has been trying to instill a veteran mentality into the younger players from day one.

“”(The freshmen) are going to have to play. No ifs, ands or buts; They’re playing,”” Lopez said. “”My job, I felt like for the past few weeks, (was) to just get them prepared to do that.””

It will be a juggling act for Lopez during the first few series as he tries to solidify a rotation and a starting lineup.

Freshmen like Heyer, Alex Mejia and Seth Mejias-Brean will have the chance to make an impression on Lopez early on, having earned the opportunity by improving under the guidance of veteran players.

“”We’ve got a lot of really good freshmen that have come a long way,”” said junior Bryce Ortega. “”We have some older guys that have shown them what to do and they’ve come along really nicely.””

Even though the freshmen are being asked to do a lot, it helps that they are not alone. They will be able to pick each other up when they make mistakes and experience the transition into college baseball as a group.

“”You kind of build that bond together and you know everyone gets nervous,”” Mejias-Brean said. “”But I like that we have a lot of younger guys that I can grow up with for the four years that I’m here.””

The pitching rotation is set for the first series against the Wolverines. Heyer will handle the Friday night assignment, with sophomore Kyle Simon following on Saturday and redshirt Daniel Workman rounding out the staff on Sunday afternoon.

However, plenty of questions still remain entering this weekend’s series with Utah Valley.

Can Simon step up and take on the role of ace of the staff? Will the freshmen experience jitters in their first college games? Can the team come together despite the new faces?

These are questions that will remain unanswered until the season progresses, but one thing is certain — Arizona is not making excuses. 

“”We do realize that we are young, but that’s not an excuse for us to play young,”” Workman said.

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