Baseball team heads to Florida to begin season

“The entire team put in a lot of time in the offseason in preparation for the season and that should translate into success on the field,” agreed senior co-captain outfielder John Schneider.

So far it seems the hard work has paid off. Sunday’s scrimmage against Springfield College proved hopeful as the Jeffs looked good both offensively and defensively in outplaying Springfield. After a month of indoor practices and scrimmages, the Jeffs should be better than ever when regular season play begins over spring break.

On March 14, the team will travel to Fort Myers, Fla. for a nine-day spring training trip. Opponents include SUNY-Fredonia, Fontbonne University and Worcester St. College. This is no spring break party either. With a schedule that includes nine games and four practices at the Red Sox training facility, the only sand the players will see is the infield dirt.

Amherst begins its northern schedule on Wed. March 26 at non-league opponent Westfield St. College before beginning conference play the following Saturday with a doubleheader against Wesleyan University.

Despite the loss of second-team All-NESCAC pitcher and co-captain Jeff Leduc ’02, pitcher Dave Krauser ’02 and second baseman John Brody ’02 to graduation, the Jeffs return a number of key players from a 19-15 2002 campaign. Third baseman Matt Potter ’04 will anchor the infield once again as he tries to improve upon a sophomore season in which he earned first-team All-NESCAC honors and batted .409. Also returning to the left side of the infield will be shortstop Josh Santry ’05 who started 33 of 34 games as a freshman and batted .264. Morales will share the right side of the infield with senior first baseman Brett Nicol.

Outfielders Schneider, Paul Whiting ’04 and Dave Powers ’05 will provide important defensive support while helping to lead the offense. Powers batted .336 and led the team in runs scored last season, while Whiting hit .260 and led the team in stolen bases with 11.

“We definitely have more power this year, and therefore the potential to score more runs with the bats we have,” said Morales.

As always, pitching will be crucial to the team’s success. Despite losing starters Leduc and Krauser, the Jeff pitching staff will remain strong. Veteran hurlers Duncan Webb ’04, Jonah Ansell ’03, Andy Kerns ’04 and lone southpaw Chris Vecsey ’04 will share the pitching duties with a number of younger players. Sophomores Joe Houkal, Kyle Lavery and Ed Imperatore as well as first-years Joe Vladeck, Rob Anderson and Brant Ford will also look to contribute to the staff. In addition, Lavery and Anderson will help out the offense in the designated hitter position.

Guiding this mix of young and old arms from behind the plate will be senior co-captain Joe Katuska. He hit five home runs last season as a part-time DH and led the team in slugging percentage with a mammoth .527.

“We have a strong core of upperclassman that should benefit from the addition of several promising freshmen,” said Vecsey. In addition to the freshmen pitchers, first-year shortstop Zach Schonberger, first baseman Dave Levinson ’06 and outfielder Andrew Green ’06 debut this season.

Despite a solid record well over .500 in 2002, the Jeffs went a disappointing 6-6 in conference play. As always, Williams College and Wesleyan University pose the toughest competition in the NESCAC, and the Little III matchup will be perhaps the most important of the season. Last year, Williams dashed Amherst’s post-season hopes in a playoff at the conclusion of the regular season.

Without a doubt, the Jeffs are ready, but will the rest of the NESCAC step up to the plate?