Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Maybe this was a wise and brilliant saying in its day, but do not tell this to the baseball team. The 2005 season, when the Red won the Gehrig Division, is a distant memory while each of the past three seasons ended with Cornell in last place. However, when the baseball team opens up the 2009 campaign this weekend with back-to-back doubleheaders at the U.S. Naval Academy, the past three seasons will be the furthest thing from the players' mind.
“Our big thing this year is that we’re not thinking about past years at all, said senior catcher Adam Jacobs. “We’re concentrating on this year. That’s our mindset. We go one pitch, one inning, one game at a time.”
Tomorrow marks not only the start of a new and promising season for the Red, it will also be head coach Bill Walkenbach’s ’98 debut as the new Cornell manager. Walkenbach, a former assistant coach and player, replaced Tom Ford last August while Ford assumed his current role as associate head coach.
“Coach Walk came in with a totally different approach,” said sophomore outfielder Mickey Brodsky. “He told me he wanted to come in and change the culture right away. We’ve been a very good program. We’ve won the Gehrig Division in 2005, but we really haven’t competed on the Ivy level year in and year out as we should. So, coach Walk came in and provided a real culture shock for us. Everyday we visualize winning a championship. I know a lot of people outside of the program don’t believe in us right now, but inside the program we’re expecting some pretty big things this year.”
Returning for his fifth year of eligibility after an elbow injury shortened his season last year, Jacobs has been around long enough to assess the changes in the clubhouse and notes the difference in attitude this year as opposed to years past.
“It’s a little bit different than in years past when some guys wanted to do their own thing,” Jacobs said. “Now, it is a complete team and everyone on the team is looking to do what’s in the best interest of the team and not necessarily what’s best for themselves.”
The Red will send junior southpaw Matt Hill to the mound in the season-opener tomorrow afternoon. Hill led the Red in 2008 with five wins, three complete games, 55 innings pitched and tied for the team lead with 36 strikeouts. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Taylor Wood will start the nightcap while junior Tony Bertucci and sophomore Corey Pappel will take the mound for Sunday’s twinbill.
“Less than three weekends ago [Wood] pitched in one of our intra-squad games in the turf room and he pitched lights out,” Jacobs said. “I believe he pitched three innings of no-hit ball. So, I said to myself, ‘He looks pretty good. Let’s see if he can back it up two weeks in a row.’ And, he did. Then, he did three weeks in a row as well. He was consistently hitting about 91 or 92 with his fastball. He has a really good changeup and really good curveball. If he keeps the same intensity he has during practice and doesn’t try to do too much, I think he’ll do just fine.
Although Cornell only lost two starting players from last season, some players may find themselves in a new position. Brodsky, who was selected as an Ivy League honorable mention in 2008 at first base, will move to a corner outfield spot to make room sophomore Jadd Schmeltzer at first base. Senior Nathan Ford, the Red’s top hitter from a year ago and only first team All-Ivy selection, will be manning the hot corner with the return of Jacobs behind the plate.
The top of lineup will most likely have senior shortstop Scott Hardinger or junior transfer second baseman Matt Langseth leading off. Ford, Brodsky and senior outfielder Dom Di Ricco will return to the heart of the order.
“It always takes a while for the offense to get going because we’re not used to playing outside,” Brodsky said. “Again, we will be lead by Nate Ford and Dom Di Ricco. They’ve probably had two of the best careers at Cornell and other than that we’re looking to just step up and have a better year than we did last year.”
Navy, picked to finish second in the Patriot League Preseason Poll, will prove to be a formidable opponent, having won over 30 games in each of the past three seasons.
We don’t know too much about [Navy] but we know that they’re in the Patriot League, which is pretty similar to the Ivy League,” Brodsky said. “So, we’re not going to go in there intimidated at all because they’re probably on the same level as we are. I am really excited to go to one of those military academies to play and to see what that’s like. The team got to play Army two years ago and they had a great experience there, so we’ll see what Navy has to offer.”