Tristan Coolen

Baseball and January and February usually aren’t synonymous. An outdoor sport that usually conjures up images of sunny weather, green grass and a nice breeze doesn’t mix well with 40 degrees and rain.

However, every year, college baseball teams around the Northwest and the nation dust off their cleats and start practicing in anticipation of games that start at the end of February. Oregon is no different, with practices starting in the last week and the first game of the season less than a month away.

Head coach George Horton — now in his second year of resurrecting the once-defunct

program — said he’s optimistic after the recruits he’s brought in, but he’s not ready to say the team will compete for a Pacific-10 Conference title.

“I think we are still a little short,” Horton said in a teleconference last week. “I’m optimistic. I’m not ready to go through a losing season, but the realist says we’re not ready.”

Horton discussed the challenges of starting a new program and said the third season is usually the season when significant progress is made at a new or reinstated program. One of the challenges he is still facing is the construction of PK Park, where the Ducks will play their games this year. It was half-finished last year, with just the playing field finished. Ground-breaking on phase two of the field happened the day of Oregon’s final game last spring. Construction crews have been steadily gaining ground on the project and they will be finishing up construction by the end of the month. That means the team will again be practicing in a construction zone.

“We had hoped for earlier,” Horton said. “It’s still on schedule and I’m very encouraged. It really won’t affect us until March 2, when we open up against Washington.”

The most immediate worry for Horton concerns his players. He said 13 guys were dinged up in one fashion or another.

There were only three that Horton estimated were of any danger of missing time. Jack Marder is still battling a high ankle sprain he suffered in the fall; Stephen Kaupang injured a leg sliding into a base during a scrimmage; and Darrell Hunter suffered some side-effects from a concussion he received this fall.

“Marder is still about a week,” Horton said of the freshman infielder. “He hasn’t been able to put weight on it and he’s struggled at the plate because of it.”

Marder, Horton figures, is one of the Ducks’ top nine batters and will fight for a starting position somewhere in the infield — probably at second base. But his injury isn’t nearly as worrisome to Horton as Hunter’s. The sophomore from Springfield was hit in the head with a baseball in the fall and since then has struggled with blacking out. Horton says he developed migraines and four weeks ago blacked out a couple of times. Doctors said it was because of his medication for the migraines, but he hasn’t practiced in the individual scrimmages since.

Horton is still positive, however, that once everyone is healthy, this season will be a different one than the team that went 14-42 last year.

“As a staff, we feel much better,” Horton said. “We’re a better group and we have better chemistry.”

Media day is Monday, Feb. 8, at PK Park and the Ducks open the season in California against Horton’s former team, Cal State Fullerton, on Feb. 19.

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