By Mac Moore
The lights are on over the pristine turf. The ping of the baseball connecting with aluminum fills the field. Athletes are rounding the bases, at first jetting from first, and then jogging back after the outfielder cuts them off at second. This is normally the scene of an average spring day at JCCC. It’s also the scene during the fall semester.
Fall baseball is a little unfamiliar to the Kansas City area. The Royals are almost always out of contention before October. The college’s baseball team has a fall baseball schedule that is made entirely of scrimmage games that the team only loosely keeps track of. Although the scores are not official, the team does take these games seriously.
“Other coaches take different approaches to fall,” Kent Shelley, head baseball coach said. “It’s important for our kids that come from programs that aren’t used to winning, it’s important for them to learn how to win.”
Shelley believes the fall is vital to preparing his squad for the spring season when the games really count. If he did not think so before, he definitely believes so after the tough road the team had last year. His team gets to play on a state of the art turf field that was finished in time for the 2013 spring season. The fall of 2012 was another story.
“We didn’t have a place to play when the fall season started.” Shelley said. “Granted we have one of the top indoor facilities in the country, with what we are trying to accomplish in the fall, it is imperative that we have a field.”
The team switched between playing two days a week at the “3 and 2 Baseball Club of Johnson County” and in the school’s indoor facility. Shelley admits this was a factor in the team’s 21-29 record in the spring.
The lack of real looks on the field became extrapolated when the terrible weather caused many cancellations and reschedules. The cold spring was not a suitable environment to a team that was struggling at the plate.
“The spring weather did not favor us making a comeback in terms of offensive production.” Shelley said. “Our coldest game was at Highland. Actual temperature was something like 18 degrees with a 6 wind chill. That’s not baseball weather. When you’re forced to play under those conditions it is a game of survival.”
Sophomore pitcher Connor Miller agreed that the cold weather was a factor but felt like it was something that each player had to focus on working through.
“We can get a lot done inside even though it’s not the same as it is out here,” Miller said. “We gotta keep our swings down. Pitching wise, we have to work on throwing at bullpens, hitting our spots and keeping our arms loose.”
The fall is important to gaining team chemistry before the official season starts. Sophomore Aaron Schnurbusch feels like this team has improved on this front over what they accomplished a season ago.
“It’s crazy, this year is a little bit different than last year.” Schnurbusch said. “We got a bunch of dudes that hang out. We have family dinners on Sunday. We try not to leave anybody out, especially sophomores. From the experience of last year, it is a lot closer of a team.”
Miller felt like the team had more “cliques” last year and the team has done a great job of avoiding that in an attempt to boost team camaraderie. The improvement of team chemistry should be huge to this squad as the talent laden group goes forward. Shelley is pleased with the team on most fronts, including the intangibles that the recruits have brought with them.
“We have several freshman that I consider baseball guys.” Shelley said. “They understand the game of baseball. They understand what it takes to grind out a long season.”
The one area that Shelley views as needing work is the fielding and team defense. Currently the squad is not at the level the team expects for a Cavaliers baseball team. Shelley said he has total confidence that the team will shore up their fielding and will put an outstanding defense on the field this spring.
“We are working hard to get that corrected,” Shelley said. “We teach fundamentals and we recruit the types of kids that will be able to field on all types of terrain. That’s what baseball is all about, adjusting. Baseball is a game of total adjustment, whether it’s a pitcher to an umpire’s strike zone, a hitter to a pitcher. Baseball is a game of constant change. The great teams make those adjustments.”
Contact Mac Moore, sports editor, at email@example.com.