Every great team needs a great leader — or in the case of Penn baseball, leaders.
While the whole team battled to earn a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series, the Quakers leaned heavily on their seniors to guide the way.
The Penn squad featured a rare combination of leadership and production from its seniors, a testament to how important the group had become by their final season for the Red and Blue. The ringleader of the group was slugger catcher and outfielder Tim Graul, one of the team’s two captains. The other captain was fellow senior pitcher Mike Reitcheck, who remained one of Penn’s most consistent starters throughout the season.
“Being captain is really important. Mike and I are the liaisons between the coaches and the players,” Graul said. “I think our great season was partially due to the great attitude around the team, and that’s something we have to manage as captains.”
When choosing the captains, head coach John Yurkow is faced with a tough task of designating the players he think has the communication skills to excel in the position. However, he expects a level of leadership from every senior, captain or not.
“I was excited to be named captain, but it also didn’t change much about how I act with the team,” Graul said. “Yurkow has expectations for us, he knows he can count on us to give this team a spark when they need it.”
Graul went on to explain that he not only led the team verbally and motivationally, but technically too. When teammates were in slumps, Graul attempted to spread his hitting wisdom — and with a .371 batting average and .600 slugging percentage on the season, he was clearly qualified to do so.
“One good example I remember was early in the season when [Matt] Tola was in a bit of a slump,” Graul explained. “I tried to work with him a bit on his swing, and he turned it around soon after.”
The hardestt test for the Red and Blue this season, barring the Ivy League Championship Series itself, was the final series and eventual playoff against Columbia. Just one win away from their first ILCS in a decade, the team saw their nerves get the better of them, losing three straight to set up a deciding one-game playoff. Many teams would have hung their heads after the collapse against the Lions, but Graul and the seniors ensured that did not happen.
“I think the seniors really came through during that Columbia series, both on the field and off,” Graul said. “Even when we lost those games, we kept the mood positive and that really helped us out in that playoff.”
When it is all said and done, though, every team has a senior class. But what makes a senior class special, and not just good? For the Quakers, it was all about the seniors’ leadership.
As Babe Ruth said in one of the most famous baseball movies of all time, The Sandlot, “Heroes are remembered, but legends never die.” The seniors on the team have spent this season ensuring that they have not only cemented their legacy as team heroes, but also as Penn baseball legends.