Baseball is on its way back to Boston. Emerson's men's baseball team is ready to get back to the diamond and improve on last year's run to the playoffs.
"I'll be disappointed if we don't break the school record for wins," said Head Coach David Hanley.
"I fully expect to get to .500, make the playoffs, and win the first playoff game in the school's history."
The school record for wins is 10, set in 2001. Last year's team won nine games, an improvement over the prior season's seven victories. The team has made the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship Tournament the past two years since being reinstated as a varsity team, but lost each time to Rivier College in the first round. Rivier is the alma mater of ace pitcher Isaac Burkett, who now pitches for the American Defenders of New Hampshire, a professional team in the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball.
"It's a tough conference. If you win 20 games, you're having a good year," said Hanley. "Two years ago we beat Johnson Wales University, who was a twenty-win team. Last year we lost in extra innings to them. So we're right there."
Hanley believes his first real recruiting class will push the team over the top, emphasizing that the added depth makes the team stronger all-around and maximizes competition for playing time. The Lions' success will depend on how quickly their youngsters develop. The team consists of 11 first-year players, including nine freshman and two transfers.
"These freshmen and newcomers are going to need to hit the ground running," said junior captain, pitcher and outfielder Pete Karl. "I'm hoping they kind of grow up overnight on our spring break trip."
The team's newcomers will have big cleats to fill. Among the players lost to graduation were Kent Anderson, who led the team with a .411 batting average and .600 slugging percentage; Zach Wintrow, who started all 29 games and was fourth on the team with a .344 average, and Bryan Fennessey, a first-team All-GNAC selection.
"Fennessey went 5-0 on the mound, and we won a total of nine games. It's a huge loss," said Hanley. "But we're a more talented team man-for-man. They're big losses, but we've replaced them."
The team will start their 2009 campaign in Winter Haven, Fla. over spring break, and will play 10 games in seven days.
"We have no days off," said Hanley. "We can do it this year because of the depth of our pitching staff. Last year we couldn't just because our pitching wasn't deep enough."
Captain and first baseman Pete Hall said it isn't just the pitching staff that got deeper.
"The team is the strongest from top to bottom that it's ever been," the senior TV/video major said. "We have a solid pitching staff, and, with our defense, have the ability to make noise in the conference and in New England."
Emerson will embrace the Florida heat. Because of the Boston weather, the team has had to practice in the Brown-Plofker Gym, as well as indoor facilities in Watertown and Danvers.
Hanley said practicing indoors is tough, but that he is proud of the way the team has responded.
"We're sick to death of it. Baseball is not meant to be played indoors," he said. "The guys have been gung ho, though. They've had great attitudes. Nobody misses anything and no one really complains."
The team hopes to get off to a good start in Florida in order to gain some early confidence that will carry over throughout the year.
"The quicker we all get into a groove and find a comfort zone, the more damage we will do," said Karl, a broadcast journalism major.
Hanley feels that the team can find that confidence and win at least half their games on the trip, pushing them closer to their goal of being a .500 team this season.
"We have a great chance of going 5-5 or 6-4 on the trip," he said. "If we go 7-3, I'll be the happiest coach in Division III."