Hope abounds as Ducks begin year

Dave Martinez

Oregon baseball coach George Horton has a lot of sayings in his back pocket, but the one that has emerged this year has a particular ring in the second year of Duck baseball.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery; live today, live the present,” sophomore Danny Pulfer said at Monday’s media day.

Coming off a 14-42 season in 2009, the Ducks have made this their slogan. They must forget about the past and start fresh with a more mature group of players.

“Everyone looks back to last season and we all have a chip on our shoulder,” said Pulfer, who started in 55 games as an infielder. “No one wants to go back there and know what it’s like to win 14 games.”

Even though the team starts 2010 with a deeper roster and more experience, the Ducks have been picked to finish 10th in the Pacific-10 Conference by the league’s coaches. This is due in large part to Oregon’s 13-game losing streak to finish Pac-10 play and 4-23 conference record.

“I showed the team and I asked them if it made them mad, and they said yes,” Horton said. “Instead of talking about it and complaining about it and saying ‘it makes me mad,’ I challenged them to do the right thing about it, and that means work harder … until you do the right thing about it, there’s no use even talking about it. I hope it gives them a sour taste in their mouth.”

The expectations may not be as high around the league for these Ducks, but Horton wants to instill a sense of what it means to play college baseball at the Division I level. He says you don’t play to finish in the middle of the conference; you play to win it all. Your talent level may not be there yet, but it would be a waste of time not to dream big.

“It would be pretty shallow to set expectations to just wins and losses,” Horton said, referring to how the team’s goals go much deeper than just record. “Our goal is going to be the same as it is every year that I’m coaching here: play in the College World Series and win the College World Series.”

“I’d be lying to you if I told you I wouldn’t be disappointed if we didn’t go,” Horton added. “Are we ready for that? We are about ready to find out.”

It is true that there is a new feel around the baseball team this winter. Most of the team played in some sort of sanctioned college summer league over the summer term and according to Pulfer, the attitude in fall camp was completely different from a year ago.

“Coming back, we all had a different swag to us,” Pulfer said.

Sophomore K.C. Serna, who started 52 games at shortstop, said his summer playing in Minnesota in the Northwoods League helped him get the taste of winning back, and now he looks forward to bringing that mentality back to Oregon.

“I’m just looking forward to the whole season,” Serna said. “I’m looking forward for us getting closer as a team.”

The roster is also beginning to fall into place. Horton and his staff have said who will be the starting four pitchers for the team’s opening trip to Southern California next week, naming lefties Tyler Anderson and Christian Jones and righties Scott McGough and Justin LaTempa as the four. Horton says Anderson could be the No.1, or Friday starter, but that could change, just like it did last year when MLB draft pick Erik Stavert took over the No. 1 spot.

“We really like our pitching,” Horton said. “It’s hard to tell whether we’re going to struggle with our hitting because of the excellence of our pitching during scrimmages.”

The rotation will get a tough test right out of the gate next weekend with the team’s first games. On Feb. 19, the team opens up at Cal State Fullerton, followed by Feb. 20 at Long Beach State, Feb. 21 at Pepperdine and Feb. 22 at Loyola Marymount.

“I understand Cal State Fullerton is pretty good at baseball,” Horton said to laughter. Horton coached at Fullerton for 11 seasons and won two national championships with the Titans. “They’re ranked very high and we’re familiar with the environment, and that should be exciting and challenging … these first four games will be very tough. We like to challenge ourselves with scheduling tough opponents right out of the gates because it gives us a pretty good barometer of what we have to work on and what you need to do.”

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