Free-spirited freshmen put the fun back in Penn baseball
Eight rookies making plays and changing the clubhouse culture
March 18, 2013, 9:06 pm·
Look out Penn baseball, there’s a new sheriff in town. Or eight of them, to be exact.
With the Quakers returning just three seniors, a lot of attention has been placed on the team’s youth. Leading the new wave for the Red and Blue is a group of eight freshmen who are already making an impact for Penn.
The Quakers’ eight new players are providing the team with a new personality, as the first-year group has made it its mission to bring a different energy to the diamond, with this past weekend serving as a prime example.
“In high school, when you play two games in one day, you are kind of goofing off with your friends,” second baseman Mike Vilardo said. “Some of the upperclassmen may say that we goof off a little bit, but we just try to keep things fresh and make it fun. We want to make it a fun year.”
To go with a jovial attitude, Vilardo has brought consistent hitting to the Quakers, as he currently has a .286 batting average while being one of only four hitters that have played in all 14 games so far this year.
“I was really blessed to come into a position that was more vacant than other spots,” Vilardo said. “And I have just tried to seize the most out of my opportunity.”
And while the freshmen are lively on the field, the seniors are keeping their new teammates focused on playing the game.
“I think they are a group that we look up to due to the age difference,” freshman infielder Marshall Harden said.
“For the upperclassmen, it’s their last hurrah,” Vilardo said. “They know a lot of them won’t be able to play after college so they are taking these last few years very seriously.”
While some of the players already have specific roles on the team, the newcomers are still finding their niches and looking for different ways to contribute.
“Not many players on this team have really sat the bench,” Harden said. “When you get to the next level, you realize what role you have to play and what you have to do to work your way into the lineup.”
On this year’s team, the sophomore and junior class make up the starting rotation. But the freshman pitchers are still finding ways to contribute.
Mitch Holtz, nicknamed “The Animal” by Vilardo, has been a key setup man for the Red and Blue, as he is tied for second on the team in appearances while having also thrown the most innings of any pitcher in the bullpen.
As the underclassmen play more games as the season progresses, they are becoming more and more confident in how their abilities stack up within the team.
And Penn’s rookies are trying to bring this newfound confidence to the park on a regular basis.
“Baseball is one of the most mental sports,” Vilardo said. “If you are not confident, you are not going to be successful out there.
“So the older players helped show us the ropes in the fall. But now that we are in the spring, we need to know that not only are we good enough to play, but we are as good as any other player on the team.”