“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Those well-known words, uttered by the legendary St. Louis Cardinal Rogers Hornsby, have all-too-accurately portrayed the offseason for Penn baseball. After losing to Columbia in a winner-take-all playoff game a year ago, the Quakers have had 10 months to anxiously await the 2016 season.
And their chance to begin their shot at retribution begins this weekend.
The Red and Blue will start off a slate of eight games over spring break when they travel to take on North Florida this Saturday. Penn will play three contests in Jacksonville before continuing on to Port St. Lucie, Fla., to take on Holy Cross and Georgetown.
“I’m sure that this weekend there will be some pregame jitters since we’re a very young team,” coach John Yurkow said. “But I don’t want to ease into it. I want to hit the ground running, ready to go from the first pitch.”
It is indisputable that the team will in fact be incredibly young, as Yurkow says he plans to start up to three freshmen in both the infield and outfield in the opening game. The pitching staff, however, will be led by juniors Mike Reitcheck and Jake Cousins, who will provide a measure of veteran stability.
“The strength of our team is going to be our pitching. We’re older, more experienced there. We’re going to have to lean on that,” Yurkow said.
One major hole for the Quakers will be behind the plate, a spot left absent by four-year starter Austin Bossart, who graduated in 2015 and is now pursuing a career in the Phillies’ minor-league system. Junior Tim Graul, Bossart’s backup for the last two seasons, is expected to move into the starting role.
“I always knew that one day Austin would be gone, so we just had to enjoy him while we had him,” Yurkow said. “But Timmy’s really done a great job. ... He’s swinging the bat great, he’s ready to take on all of those responsibilities.”
Bossart was one of 10 players lost to graduation, a deep group that also included shortstop Mitch Montaldo, third baseman Jeff McGarry and hurlers Connor Cuff and Ronnie Glenn.
The Quakers will face an additional challenge in that they rarely face the kind weather conditions of more southerly teams; according to Yurkow, the squad has only practiced outside at Meiklejohn Stadium twice so far this spring.
However, the coach says the team will not treat the trip down south as a warm-up of any sort; the team, Yurkow says, will treat the games as normal regular-season contests.
“We’ve already had our spring training. These games count,” Yurkow said.
“We’ve already gotten our work in. We’re ready to kick this season off.”
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