Although it has been just three and a half months since the baseball team finished its inaugural season with a 5-2 loss to Arizona, there’s a new feel around the team. There are new faces, a new look to PK Park, and a new set of goals.
What a difference a summer makes.
“It’s a lot different than last year,” infielder Danny Pulfer said. “We know what to expect now. We’ve been through it. There’s more motivation.”
A lot of the players attribute their newfound confidence after last year’s 14-42 record to playing during the summer in various leagues, but also to the fact that they are now an established team.
“Last year none of us knew anybody,” left fielder Curtis Raulinaitis said. “Plus we get to come back to a nice park and use our facilities instead of playing on a high school field like we did last year. It’s nice to have a home and take batting practice on your own field.”
“The fact that we have a returning nucleus is big,” added head coach George Horton. “It’s not like we did great last year but just having those returning guys who can lead by example.”
But the taste from last season’s flop hasn’t gone away. Everyone is back wanting to show that there has been progress.
“What we did talk a lot about was what went sideways last year and the mindset for this year,” Horton said. “We’re not going through that again.”
Horton’s changed demeanor hasn’t gone unnoticed by his players, either. Pulfer says that although the Duck skipper still cracks the occasional joke, he’s more likely to get in your face this year.
“He still has his little quirks to keep us loose,” Pulfer said. “But there’s times you can see how embarrassed he was about last year. There are no more excuses.”
One spot the Ducks look to improve in is power. Opponents hit 46 home runs off of Oregon, while the Ducks managed 16. In doubles the Ducks were outhit 100 to 56, but with a number of highly touted recruits coming in to bolster the lineup, the bats shouldn’t be as much of a problem this year.
“I’m definitely excited; we brought in some big freshmen,” closer Drew Gagnier said. “We’re going to have more power from our bats.”
“The incoming guys seem to be more instinctive,” Horton said. “It’s a great sign for me. We’re already a lot more advanced than we were through this time last year.”
As for the half-finished field the team is using through the fall, there’s a palpable sense of
excitement. Steel beams and mounds of dirt loom behind them as they take batting practice, but everyone can imagine the final product when they get set to take the field next February.
“I can’t describe how excited I was when I first saw it this fall,” Horton said. “I had goose bumps when I walked through the gate. You realize how lucky we are.”