YPSILANTI — The new calendar sitting on Uncle Mel’s desk is indicating that it is the month of February and that means it is still winter but here in the state of Michigan and for the citizens of the city that borders and provides a shoreline for the Huron River, there should be a foot of snow still crunching under the shoes with every step taken and the feel of a blustery winter wind slapping a person in the face and turning cheeks into a rosy shade of red instead of rain puddles and 40 degree days.
Sitting majestically on the north side of campus and is surrounded by many fields of dreams, a roof that is white and is reflecting the sun back into the air making a spotlight for the sound of baseball bats making contact with a baseball and is echoing across the building.
Volunteer assistant coach Dan O’Brian sitting on the turf fixing baseball gloves, the players gather around him and listen to the baseball stories told by O’Brian as the stories gathered momentum and start to gain a life of their own, the laughter now a loud roar like the sunbeams drift across the air inside the dome.
The sound of athletes gathering and chattering giving each other encouragement but also able to have more fun as the stories of player’s escapades circle through the building along with the popping sound of a leather glove and for Eastern Michigan University baseball coach Jay Alexander there is no better sound, as the beginning of the 2012 baseball season begins inside the building known as the Bubble.
“We know we have a lot work to be done,” Alexander said before the start of the first practice allowed by the NCAA. “I am excited!”
The Eagles have seven starters returning this season, eight pitchers and 12 rookies to the squad this season.
Last season the Eagles won 37 games the most victories since the 1982 season when Eastern Michigan University won 59 games.
The Eagles made another trip to the Mid-American Conference Baseball Tournament played in Chillicothe, Ohio. Winning 16 games in the league and getting a fifth seed in the tournament were they finished 3-2 and losing to the conference champions Kent State University.
Alexander made some changes to the coaching responsibility this year assistant coach Andrew Maki and Alexander are working with the pitching staff.
He said the change was just a difference in pitching philosophy.
The Eagles pitchers in camp are led by junior right hand starting pitcher Steve Weber, relief pitcher Kristian Calibuso and Joe Battistelli.
Alexander said about that he is confident of Battistelli talent on the mound.
“Joe is tough,” Alexander said. “He is a competitor and he wants the ball.”
Alexander said the Eagles success for the upcoming season depends on the consistency of the pitching staff finding the strike zone and making adjustments on the mound.
Last season the Eagle’s pitching staff earned run average of 4.72 and the 358 strikeouts placed the pitching staff in eighth place in the Mid-American Conference.
Webber made 17 appearances and he earned 11 starts for the Eagles he finished with a record of 6-3 and he struck out 49 batters but the 32 base-on-balls allowed was second on the pitching staff.
Alexander is giving right-hander Brian Valente a hard look at joining the starting staff rotation. Last season Valente made 12 appearances and started six times for the Eagles, his record of 4-0 and an era of 1.86 is helping with his bid to make the starting staff.
Eastern Michigan University team’s batting average was a conference leading .298 with 28 home runs and scored 377 runs but Alexander will be looking for somebody to fill some pretty good size shoes trying to find a replacement for Ken Battison and Zack Leonard.
Alexander said the Eagles offense is going to be okay through the season, he said there will be a good mixture of power for the home run and just solid hitters able to get the ball in play.
Eastern Michigan University hitters are aggressive at the plate but Alexander wants them to be smart hitters and not strike out as often as the hitters did last season.
The Eagles struck out 422 times and they seemed to come with runners in scoring position and ending many scoring threat. Eastern Michigan batters were second in the conference in striking out just two behind Central Michigan University.
Returning to the offense and leading off for the Eagles will be centerfielder Brent Ohrman, shortstop Tucker Rubino will be the captain of the infield and first baseman Lee Longo with his good hands at first and will provide a threat in the line up.
Ohrman is a solid all-around player he batted .339 and stole 20 bases he play a solid outfield making just two errors playing and starting every game for the Eagles.
Rubino will anchor the infield from his shortstop position, he was second on the team last season with 39 runs batted in and showing that he had a good command of the strike zone leading the team with 31 walks.
Alexander is hoping that Rubino will cut down on the 17 errors that he made last season and the 40 strike outs.
Longo will be in the middle of the line up card everyday for the Eagles, he can provide some power and a slugging percentage last season of .471 and four home runs. Longo made 41 appearances and started 38 times he finished the season batting .312 for the Eagles.
The 2012 Eastern Michigan University season begins with a trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina and making an appearance at the University of South Carolina-Upstate Baseball Tournament being played at Harley Park Friday Feb 17-19, 2012 starting at 4 p.m.
Joining the Eagles and the University of South Carolina-Upstate in Spartanburg will be the University of Kentucky and the University of Dayton both teams are familiar with the Eagles.
The Wildcats and the Eagles have played 23 times and the last time they played each other was last season when the Eagles made a trip to Lexington.
The University of Kentucky leads the series 19-4 including winning last season taking two games of a three game.
The last time the Eagles played the Flyers the series was a heated and emotional set a couple of good ingredient for a serious rival between the two programs.
Dayton leads the series four games to none including the exciting series back in 1999.
The success of Eastern Michigan University baseball team according to Alexander depends on the consistency from the pitching staff. He said that the Eagles gave up too many base on balls. The 210 walks seemed to hurt and at times just prolonged too many innings.
The hitting will not be able to hit the long ball but according to Alexander that is okay because he said the Eagles can hit home runs but he is looking just to be able to extend rallies by getting the timely base hit.
There will be 17 games on the road to open up the season, the Eagles will play in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Durham North Carolina, Tucson, Arizona and finally Morgantown, West Virginia before returning back home to Ypsilanti, March 16-18 and the Oestrike Classic.
There will be heavy hearts this season because the mother of Alexander the lovely and passionate Patricia Alexander passed away earlier this month after courageously fighting an illness that took her life too early.
She provided Alexander tremendous advice and she also felt enormous pride in her son’s career.
About the Author
Written by Mel Suiter
Graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2002 and have been working as a beat writer for The Ypsilanti Courier covering Eastern Michigan University football and men's basketball during my school career and after graduation. I like the Mid-American Conference and the rest of the mid-major conferences.