Though the unrelenting snow and bitter cold of early March in Ithaca hardly bring to mind the nation’s pastime, Cornell’s baseball team will escape the confines of the Field House for the first time this weekend, as it commences its 2003 season with a three-game series against George Mason University.
The Red has had little time to prepare itself for the Patriots, having just recently added the Fairfield, Va. school to its schedule after inclement weather canceled this weekend’s previously scheduled games against Fairleigh Dickinson University.
George Mason is a significantly more talented team than FDU and was recently selected to finish third in the Colonial Athletic Association by Baseball America. However, despite the change of opponents, the Red’s opening series expectations remain the same.
“Our expectations are just to go down there and play intelligent, aggressive, and hard baseball. If we expect to go down there and play flawless, errorless, mistake free baseball in our opening games, we’re setting ourselves up for frustration,” said head coach Tom Ford.
Despite a solid core of returning players from a squad that finished 28-29 in 2002, the Patriots have lost four of their first five games this season. Part of those struggles can be attributed to the dismal start of leadoff hitter and center fielder Matt Cooksey. The diminutive 5-8 sophomore is the key to George Mason’s offense, but he has begun the 2003 season with just two hits in his first 20 at bats, having struck out 10 times already. As a freshman he stole 34 bases while batting .284 with 24 RBI.
While Cooksey is struggling, junior shortstop Jeff Palumbo and sophomore first baseman Chris Looze have played well. A transfer from South Florida Community College, Looze has already solidified his position in the lineup, leading the team with a .600 batting average and six runs scored in his first five games.
Meanwhile, Palumbo has also been solid as well, batting an even .300 so far. In 2002 he batted .318 while driving in 40 runs, but more importantly, he is one of the best defensive shortstops in the CAA, as shown by his 184 assists last year, just three short of a school record.
Consistent with the team’s poor start, the Patriots’ pitching staff has struggled so far this season. George Mason returns its top five pitchers from a team that finished with a 4.73 ERA a year ago, including right-handed starter John Sterling and left-handed starters Chris Murray and Jake Glanzmann. The No. 3 rated prospect in the CAA according to Baseball America, Glanzmann finished 5-5 with a 4.74 ERA as a freshman.
However, he lasted just two innings in his first start of this season, giving up six earned runs before being lifted. Murray and Sterling, both seniors, have struggled as well, combining to give up 14 earned runs in 18 innings. Murray was particularly strong last season, finishing 7-5 with a 3.57 ERA while Sterling led the team with 72 strikeouts, compiling a 5-6 record and an ERA of 4.79. The staff’s lone win belongs to left-hander senior Travis Hardman, who defeated Tulane 6-3 on Feb. 15. However, Hardman owns a stratospheric ERA of 9.64.
For Cornell, right-hander Dave Sharfstein will take the mound in tomorrow’s opener after spending all of last season in the bullpen. The junior was Cornell’s most consistent pitcher in 2002, finishing 4-3 with a 2.34 ERA and five saves.
In the seven-inning nightcap, talented but erratic junior right-hander Chris Schutt will take the mound. Despite attacking hitters with an excellent breaking ball and a 91 mph fastball, Schutt was just 1-3 with an 8.86 ERA in 41.2 innings in 2002.
The Red will close out the series with junior pitcher Dan Baysinger on the hill. Baysinger pitched well in 2002, finishing with a respectable 4.23 ERA in 44.2 innings despite dropping five of six decisions.
Offensively, Cornell will have to overcome the loss of Ivy League Player of the Year Erik Rico ’02, Andrew Luria ’02, and Flint Foley ’02 with increased contributions from the entire lineup. Rico, Luria, and Foley were the team’s three leading hitters in 2002, combining for 21 of the Red’s 27 home runs.
The leading returning hitter is junior outfielder Dave Bredhoff, who finished 2002 with a .279 batting average, three home runs and 16 RBI in just 86 at-bats. While Bredhoff will be asked to help solidify the middle of the order, sophomore third baseman Dan Parant, who finished last season with 11 runs scored, two stolen bases, and a .255 batting average in 18 games has inherited table setting responsibilities.
“We’re expecting him to just go out and be aggressive and get things going for us by getting on base any way possible whether it’s a bunt or a walk. He swings the bat pretty well and can drive the ball to the allies. We’re looking for him to be one of the guys we can steal with too,” said Ford about his newly anointed leadoff man.
The Red is excited to finally get out of the frigid conditions of upstate New York and on to the playing fields of Virginia, hopeful that it can improve on last season’s disappointing 15-30 finish. However, the team is more concerned with coming out and playing fundamentally sound baseball against the Patriots than focusing on early season win totals.
“They’re realistic. They know they are going down and playing a very good baseball team in George Mason. But, they’re not going to back down. They’re going to show up and play hard and play intelligently,” said Ford.
Archived article by Mark Fetzko