March 12, 2002

A Diamond in the Rough

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Early March in upstate New York is certainly not the ideal environment for baseball, but each year at this time Cornell’s baseball team commences its season with aspirations for an Ivy League championship. Despite the obstacles that the Ithaca weather presents to building a championship contender, head coach Tom Ford and the rest of the baseball squad remain confident in this year’s team to improve upon last season’s disappointing 12-26 record (7-13 Gehrig Division). Fortunately, this winter has been one of the mildest in history, allowing the team the advantage of practicing outside more often than usual, a substantial benefit in readying itself for this year’s grueling 47 game schedule.

Senior tri-captains right fielder Erik Rico, second baseman Vince Santo, and left fielder Andrew Luria are charged with the responsibility of forging team chemistry as the Red pursues its first Ivy League crown since 1977, hoping to improve on last year’s disappointing last-place finish in the four team Gehrig Division.

Now for an in-depth, position-by-position look at the 2002 Cornell defensive alignment and batting order:

Catcher

The Red enjoys substantial depth at the backstop position, and juniors Tony Depalo and Paul Hudson will see the bulk of the playing time at the beginning of the season. Both have labored over the off-season to improve all facets of their game, quickening their releases, while adding bat speed and power. Depalo and Hudson are evenly matched in most respects, though Depalo is a slightly better hitter as evidenced by his superior 2001 batting average of .253. The team’s third catcher is senior Javier Alfaro, whose main strength is his bat. In addition to part-time catching duties, Alfaro will see action as a late inning pinch hitter and at the designated hitter position. Based on early season production, one catcher may assert himself as the primary starter as the squad enters the conference portion of its schedule, but the team feels confident with its catching platoon.

First Base

Power-hitting Flint Foley led the team last year in home runs with eight and looks to add to his power totals this year, as he will man the clean-up spot. A former third baseman, Foley was moved across the diamond because of injuries and was also granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. One of last season’s top sluggers, the senior tallied 28 RBI and a .290 batting average to complement his impressive power credentials.

Second Base

Senior tri-captain and three year starter Vince Santo will form part of Cornell’s double-play duo with sophomore shortstop Dan Baysinger. The left-handed batting gamer will bat ninth in the line-up, adding stability to the bottom third of the order. Although registering a respectable, but unspectacular .257 batting average, Santo is known for coming through in pressure situations and solid defensive play.

Third Base

Junior Jim Jackson has the difficult task of replacing last year’s second-leading hitter and current White Sox farmhand Raul Gomez after biding his time on the bench for his first two years. Last year, the left-handed hitting Jackson excelled in pinch-hitting situations and will occupy the seventh spot in the Red’s line-up this season. Freshman recruit Matt Miller will spell Jackson at third, splitting his playing time between the hot corner and shortstop.

Shortstop

Santo’s double-play mate will be athletic sophomore Dan Baysinger, who struggled last year, battling numerous injuries. Blessed with a strong arm, Baysinger will also see time in Cornell’s pitching rotation. Offensively, the sophomore will be inserted into the second position in the batting order, but Baysinger must improve upon last year’s .241 batting average and five RBI. When Baysinger takes the mound, Matt Miller will take his place.

Left Field

Andrew Luria, a senior tri-captain arrived to Ithaca an infielder but now roams the outfield for the Red. A speedster, Luria has the range to also play center, but with senior Justin Irizarry entrenched there, he will see the bulk of his time in left. A consistent hitter with power and speed, he has led off in the past but this year will bat fifth, an important run producing spot. One of the ball club’s best offensive weapons, Luria batted .287 with five homers, 14 RBI, and 31 runs scored in 2001. On the base paths, he added 15 steals to lead the team.

Center Field

A .311 hitter last year who stole five bases, Irizarry will employ his superlative speed to track down fly balls from center field. In addition to his stellar defensive play, Irizarry will set the tone for the team’s line-up, acting as the team’s offensive sparkplug at the lead-off position.

Right Field

Batting third for the Red will be the team’s best player, senior tri-captain Erik Rico. Rico has established himself as one of the Ivy League’s premier players, showcasing pro-potential that enabled him to hit .381 with a team leading 32 RBI and five long balls in 2001. Not only a strong offensive player, Rico is a talented pitcher who will comprise one of the four spots in the team’s pitching rotation. When Rico is pitching, sophomore Glenn Morris will man right field, hoping to improve on last season’s mediocre batting average. Additionally, fellow outfielder and University of Saint Louis transfer, sophomore Dave Bredhoff may see playing time in the outfield.

Designated Hitter

Cornell will make use of a designated hitter in most games, employing a DH by committee strategy depending on the given day’s match-up. Alfaro, Morris, and Miller are top candidates for the DH position.

Pitching Staff

With an exhausting 47 game schedule comprised of numerous doubleheaders condensed into a two month season, the team’s pitching staff will need to be resilient. Cornell has attempted to address its lack of pitching depth in recent years and anticipates that this year’s staff can improve upon 2001’s 7.01 earned run average.

Senior and second team All-Ivy League standout Brendan McQuaid will anchor the starting rotation in 2002. Last year, he won five games against only two losses, compiling a sparkling ERA of 2.86 in 66 innings. An excellent control pitcher, he issued only seven walks all of last season and attacks hitters with a 88-89 mph fastball, with a slider and change-up rounding out his repertoire.

When he isn’t chasing fly balls in right field, lefty Erik Rico will come after opposing teams with an 88 mph fastball that dances, mixing in change-ups and sliders to keep hitters off balance. Though he only compiled a 2-2 record last year with an ERA over five, he shut down eventual national champion Miami over 7 2/3 innings, with the Red eventually losing in extra innings.

Rounding out the starting four will be sophomores Chris Schutt and Dan Baysinger. As a freshman, the right-handed Schutt gained valuable experience, going 1-4 over 28 2/3 innings and compiling an ERA of 5.65, good for fourth best on the team in 2001. Topping out at 88 mph, Schutt utilizes a change-up and a hard, biting curve that gets hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

Baysinger, also the starting shortstop, was unable to pitch for the Red as a freshman, but is expected to contribute positively to the rotation despite his lack of experience. Although he doesn’t throw as hard as the other three, Baysinger employs a slider and change-up in addition to an 86 mph fastball.

At the head of the club’s relief corps are Morris, freshman Brian Fiedler, and juniors John Hardy and Dave Sharfstein. The righty Morris is a candidate for the rotation if one of the starting pitchers falters and spots his fastball at
85-87 mph. As a freshman, Morris rung up 25 1/3 innings gaining valuable experience, but must make use of his curveball to improve an ERA that climbed over double digits last year.

Righty Hardy also pitched substantial innings for the Red last year, tallying just over 26, winning two games in the process. Joining the bullpen is fellow righty Fiedler who will be asked to assume middle inning responsibilities. Sharfstein will assume the stopper role for the team, taking the ball in late innings and coming after hitters with a hard fastball and sharp slider.

Team Outlook

Overall, the 2002 Red needs to build around a solid veteran core led by Rico, Luria, and Irizarry, as well as right-handed ace McQuaid, first baseman Foley and a host of other players with significant experience. Mix in a few impressive debuts from the likes of Sharfstein and Miller and a little luck, and this year’s Cornell team may challenge Princeton, Penn, and Columbia for the Gehrig Division title and a chance to meet the winner of the Rolfe Division in mid-May for the opportunity to play in NCAA tournament. Having dropped five of its first four contests the Red must right the ship in the coming weeks in order to realize its hopes of an elusive Ivy League championship.


Archived article by Mark Fetzko