Finally at home, Ducks preparing for next season

With the beeps and rumblings of construction all around them, the Oregon baseball team practiced this fall with a new sense of purpose.

Finally home at PK Park and not at a high school field, the Ducks slowly worked on building a foundation for the 2010 season much like the construction crew was building a
foundation for their new home.

“It’s just a lot more convenient,” sophomore first baseman Darrell Hunter said. “It’s nice to not have to go back and forth like we did last year.”

As for the progress of the team, there were some mixed results from both coaches and players. While everyone thought that the level each person came in at was better than a year ago, head coach George Horton said that the effort still wasn’t quite up to snuff at times.

“We’ve been encouraged,” Horton said. “The level and landscape of the guys is different this year. They know what Division I baseball is like now. But I’d be lying to you if I told you I was completely happy. We had a couple of very mediocre days and I thought we just went through the motions.”

Horton expressed frustration a couple of times this fall with how the team prepared for practice and sometimes how they just showed up. However, the veteran skipper said it is bound to happen and it will take the leaders on the team changing the attitude.

“That’s the educational process and we can yell as much as we want as coaches,” Horton said. “But in the end it’s up to them to remember the taste in their mouth from last year and remember how hard they need to practice.”

That’s not to say there weren’t a lot of positives that came out of fall ball. For one, the team is a lot deeper at more positions.

“Our infield is loaded right now,” sophomore infielder Danny Pulfer said. “Lots of versatility, we have a lot guys working in at a lot of spots.”

Pulfer is also getting in the action of becoming a more versatile player. He played innings last year at third base, shortstop and second base, but this fall, Horton had the Cypress, Calif. native work out as a catcher.

“I’m still getting used to it a little bit. It’s exciting,” Pulfer said. “It’s a possibility. I wouldn’t say I’m starting there anytime soon, but it’s just in case we get a few guys hurt like last year…I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to help this team win.”

Horton had expressed last spring that he wasn’t as happy with the catcher position and this fall he still seems to be searching for the right person. Eddy Rodriguez, Paul Eshleman and Mitch Karraker took the majority of the pitches last year.

“We hope we can find a competent player or two that we can go to battle with,” Horton said.

One thing that the team has found are a few bats with some pop in them. Junior college transfer Stephen Kaupang from Cypress College drew raves from pitchers and hitters alike, and with him in the middle of the Duck lineup, it could help alleviate some of the lack of power. The Ducks hit just 16 home runs in 2009.

“Everyday it seems someone hits a home run,” Pulfer said. “Most of the time it’s Kaupang. We have guys that can really drive the ball in the gaps…it’s going to be a good combination to put up some crooked numbers.”

“We’re throwing fastball and change-ups only, but you have to worry about the long ball more this year,” closer Drew Gagnier said. “It’s a good thing. I’m not complaining.”

As the fall wraps up for the second-year baseball team, cuts are also on the mind of Horton and the team. Horton hates to cut anyone, and he says that the timeline for that is up until the team’s first game in February. He will notify some now that the chances are slim, but others he will give the winter and part of spring practice to continue to prove themselves.

For the rest of the team, Pulfer says that the this year’s team has grown up from a high school team to a D-I baseball team.

“It’s exciting to watch,” Pulfer said. “The guys have really bought into the system this year. The veterans really have taken the new guys under their wing and shown them the ropes…it’s night and day.”

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