Many Penn students will be basking in the Florida sun this Spring Break, and the Quakers on the diamond will be no exception.
Penn baseball kicks off its spring season with nine games against four teams in Jacksonville and Port St. Lucie, from March 5 to March 12. The Red and Blue face North Florida, Valparaiso, St. Bonaventure and Fairfield over the week.
“The nice thing about playing so many games is that we will be able to get guys opportunities at bats. And there should be enough innings to go around,” coach John Yurkow said.
The Quakers have been training all year and are eager to get the season officially started. They have benefited from some warm Philly winter weather lately.
“I think this is a little bit different compared to where we’ve been the last few years. One of the things that’s been different just two weeks leading up is the break that we caught with the weather here in the Northeast,” said Yurkow, whose Quakers went 2-6 during last season’s trip to Florida.
“It has put us ahead of where we typically are, just being able to get outside and scrimmage outside for eight to ten days. So I‘m hoping that that helps us get up to game speed a little quicker than we have in the past.”
Penn has a long road of non-conference games ahead before its first Ivy League competition on April 1 against Dartmouth at home.
Last season, the Quakers finished 19-22 (10-10 Ivy), three games behind Princeton for the Lou Gehrig Division title — the team’s third consecutive second-place finish. As such, the Red and Blue are determined not to suffer the same agonizing fate yet again.
“We are more experienced, and I see a pretty big jump in guys from the sophomores this year, as far as just like their approach to the game in general,” the fourth-year head coach said. “It’s a lot more mature, a lot more advanced as far as their approach to the plate, which should help us cut down on our strikeouts, which was a point of emphasis coming into the season.”
Penn will rely on the leadership of its two senior captains, catcher Tim Graul and pitcher Mike Reitcheck. As the first unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year since 2009, Graul led the Ivy League in hits, doubles, home runs and RBIs last year. Reitcheck, a two-time All-Ivy selection, finished ninth in Ivy League ERA last season at 3.96.
“They are both good kids, both very mature. We are fortunate that we have Timmy for the pitchers and Mike for the positions players,” Yurkow said. “I think the other thing is that we have five senior pitchers this year too. They know how to get things done. They know how to prepare. It’s been kind of fun watching the young guys latch on to the older guys’ ways of doing things.”
If the team’s stacked senior class and its rising young talent can mesh as well as anticipated, the Quakers just might be ready to finally break that elusive title drought.