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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Baseball springs into new season

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Arizona baseball team’s first official practice Monday not only symbolized that spring is near, but the pop of the glove and balls flying off the bat also pose an opportunity for the Wildcats to rid the bad taste from the mouth of last year’s season.

The Wildcats will feature an expected 12 returners from last year’s roster, leaving 23 spots for newcomers who are eager to wake head coach Andy Lopez from what he called a bad dream.

“”(Last year) was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare,”” Lopez said. “”It was very humbling and very disappointing. But thank God it’s over and we have a new group.””

Arizona finished with a respectable 30-25 record, but the problems for Lopez and the baseball program stemmed from issues with players off the field, which unfortunately translated in the team’s record.

“”I’ve been coaching for 20 years at this level, and the problems weren’t on the field,”” Lopez said of last year’s team. “”Last year, we had guys who were talented enough and we should have had a better season.””

“”But there was a lack of respect for themselves — they were out of shape — and a lack of respect for academics,”” Lopez added. “”We had a lot of guys missing practice last year because they just didn’t buy into (the system).””

Veterans and coaches of this year’s Wildcat team have made it clear early on that a shot at redemption will run through the team’s ability to stay disciplined off the field.

With a roster expected to be filled with a slew of freshmen, this may seem like a tall order for players who are experiencing not only college for the first time but also the tougher competition of Division I baseball.

Sophomore Kyle Simon, one of the returning pitchers in charge of teaching the young group of freshmen how to pitch at a higher level, alluded to the off-field epidemic that struck Arizona last year.

“”Coming into the program last year with the sloppiness that I did, there wasn’t really any leadership,”” Simon said. “”Our team didn’t take things seriously during the season, like working out, going to class, and that kind of showed up on the field, especially with a few guys not getting starts because they were ineligible.””

Junior infielder Bryce Ortega, who is one of the Wildcat’s core returners, agreed with Simon in acknowledging the problems that plagued Arizona a year ago. 

“”A lot of the guys (last year) — there were some loopholes that couldn’t be taken care of,”” Ortega said. “”Now that they’re not here anymore, I think with this year’s team, everyone is really dedicated — a lot more dedicated than last year.””

While talent is always helpful to a winning team, Lopez sees the character of this Arizona club as being just as significant in helping it reach its potential.

“”I think there’s a correlation to when you lack character off the field, I think that it shows up on the field,”” Lopez said. “”That character issue has always been a huge thing for me, you know, those intangibles.””

With opening day just around the corner, Feb. 19, Lopez is confident that he has the right group of players who are ready to help the baseball program turn over a new leaf.

“”I make the statement to the guys all the time, ‘attitude is more important than fact,'”” Lopez said. ””With fact, you’ll say with another team that this guy is real good or they have that guy. Another team shows up that isn’t as good but they have all those intangibles — the work ethic, the respect for the game — and before you know it, that team is on top of the other team.””

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