March 28, 2008

Baseball Returns Starters at Most Positions

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The good news is that the baseball team improved both its overall and Ivy League record last year. The bad news is the team still finished in the cellar of the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division. However, this season the Red (6-8) welcomes a promising class of newcomers to join a solid core of veterans as the team vies for its second Ancient Eight title in the last four years.
Behind the plate, senior co-captain Adam Jacobs returns for his second consecutive season as the Red’s primary backstop. Gunning down 11-of-23 potential base thieves in 2007, Jacobs’ 47.8 percent success rate ranked him first among regular starting catchers in the Ivy League. The Ted Thoren Blue-Collar Team Player Award winner also displayed some power last season belting three longballs and driving in 13 runs.
Freshman Mike Lopez was slated to be the backup to Jacobs, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. However, depth at catcher is not an issue for the Red as senior Tony Bandanza and junior Eddie Timpano can provide additional assistance behind the dish. The versatile junior Nathan Ford can also don the tools of ignorance in a pinch, having caught in 11 contests last season.
Up the middle, the keystone combination of junior shortstop Scott Hardinger and senior second baseman Jimmy Heinz turned 18 twin killings last season. Both players received second-team All-Ivy League accolades following the 2007 season. Hardinger started every game at shortstop for the Red last year and committed a mere eight errors in 176 chances for a .955 fielding percentage. After calling third base and shortstop home in his first two seasons, Heinz, a tri-captain, returned to his natural position at second base in 2007 and posted a .958 fielding percentage.
Nathan Ford, the team’s Most Valuable Player recipient last year, returns to the hot corner after leading Cornell with a .338 batting average, two roundtrippers, 16 runs scored and a team-high 27 RBI. Taking a break from baseball in the fall to call the shots under center as the starting quarterback for the football team apparently did not disrupt Ford’s prowess at the plate as he paces the Red in the early season with a .423 batting average, one big fly and 16 RBI.
With first base as the lone position up for grabs at the outset of the season, it appeared that junior Kyle Groth would get the nod after playing 20 games there a year ago. However, freshman Mickey Brodsky, who was primarily recruited as a pitcher, has demonstrated to be a lethal offensive threat at the plate and will most likely be the team’s first baseman for the remainder of the season. Brodsky is hitting .326 with a .465 slugging percentage in 43 at bats for Cornell this year. The Encino, Calif., native was named to the All-Southern California team by the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times during his senior year of high school. Fellow freshman Jadd Schmeltzer may also vie for time at first although he has been utilized more as a designated hitter this season.
Sophomore Jerry Vitiello and freshman David Polhemus may spell Heinz and Hardinger throughout the season while sophomore Steven Dannaway and junior tri-captain Casey Brett can provide relief for Ford.
Junior Dom Di Ricco returns as the Red’s starting left fielder this season after being named an honorable mention to the All-Ivy League team in 2007 with a .329 batting average, .441 on base percentage, a team-high 31 runs and a team-high 25 walks. As the only player whose walks exceeded his strike outs last season, Di Ricco will be the Red’s table setter as the leadoff hitter this season.
The center field battle comes down to a pair of seniors, Kaleb Hutchinson and Ry Kagan, who each made the transition from the infield to outfield during the offseason. Unfortunately, Hutchinson endured a setback last week in Palm Beach, Fla., as he suffered an injury to his wrist during the Papa John’s Palm Beach Classic. Hutchinson was also hampered by injuries last season, but head coach Tom Ford hopes he will regain the form of his impressive 2004 freshman campaign in which he hit .288, cranked three dingers, and knocked in 17 runs. Kagan appeared in 24 games as a junior and hit .231 with nine RBI and 10 runs scored.
While Groth, Brodsky and senior Brian Kaufman have split time in right field in the early campaign, it appears Groth has emerged as the starting right fielder. The former infielder batted .263 with a homerun, nine runs scored and 17 driven in last season. Kaufman paced the Red in 2007 by pilfering 11 bags in 14 attempts. Sophomore Nate David has also contributed as an experienced flychaser this season.
Last year’s pitching staff only had two hurlers, Jim Hyland ’07 and Blake Hamilton ’07, with an ERA below 5.00, and neither call Ithaca home this season.
However, the Red has some pretty talented “newbies” in sophomore southpaw Matt Hill and right-handed freshman sensation Corey Pappel. Hill and Pappel sport the staff’s lowest ERA’s this season with 1.32 and 1.57, respectively. With the lefty-righty combination of Hill and Pappel heading the rotation, coach Ford can rest assured that the Red will not suffer any prolonged losing streaks.
Sophomores Tony Bertucci and David Rochefort also return to the starting rotation after impressive first-year campaigns. Bertucci whiffed 27 batters while walking only 15 in 47 1/3 innings pitched last year. Rochefort secured a starting role last season, starting in six out of 10 appearances.
In the bullpen, look for senior right-hander Walker Toma to emerge as the closer among the firemen for the Red. Toma should offer experience and stability to a young Cornell pitching staff. Junior Stephen Osterer and senior Bryce Klinesteker will also provide trusted arms in the pen although Klinesteker may move into the rotation. Seven of the nine freshman arrive from high school with mound experience, including Brodsky and Schmeltzer. The other newcomers to make their collegiate debut on the mound this year include Mike Carroll, Will Keehn, Dan Lea and Taylor Wood. With many lively and experienced arms to choose from, head coach Ford and pitching coach Scott Marsh will have the pleasant chore of shaping the staff from many quality candidates.