With a new season, new recruits and a new chance to win it all, the Dixie State University baseball team is preparing for opening day.
The Storm will host the annual alumni game Saturday at 1 p.m. as a kickoff to the 2014 season.
“The team is going to look at the alumni game as a dress rehearsal,” said center fielder Donald Glover, a junior integrated studies major from Las Vegas.
Third baseman Mike Umscheid, a junior integrated studies major from Beaverton, Ore., said the team is going to play in the alumni game as if it were against Cal Poly Ponoma University to help get the team ready for the first week of the season. The alumni game takes place just seven days before opening day.
With that, head coach Chris Pfatenhauer is trying to get all the new players ready to face what lies ahead of them.
“We have a lot of new guys,” Pfatenhauer said. “Last year we had 15 seniors, and this year we only have 10 seniors. They were the heart and soul of the team, and a lot of them played substantial innings. So we have had to replace a lot of those guys — it has been a learning process.”
Pfatenhauer said Dixie’s strength this year will be within its pitching. Though with the new recruits, it still has the same sized team from last year, but he said it has given Dixie a lot more depth.
“All of the pitchers are good friends,” said pitcher Chance Abrath, a junior business major from Salt Lake City. “We are all really close, and we all help each other out a lot.
Umscheid said the pitchers’ unity has rubbed off on the position players as well.
Preseason started with a bang as the Storm participated in preseason games due to the new NCAA rule. Pfatenhauer said it was good practice for them to prepare for their first games.
“We did have some injuries throughout the fall, which put some guys behind, but the [preseason] was good,” Pfatenhauer said. “It was more learning for us. This year we have to go to some core basics — we have to teach a lot. But we like our team, and our expectations are to try and win the conference.”
The team started 11-1 last year. Pfatenhauer said it will be more of a climb earlier on this year, and there will be some learning curves in the first few weeks, opposed to last year when he said the team felt like it was ready to play in the first few weeks.
Dixie State had three freshmen last year; this year the team has 10. Pfatenhauer calls this year of the “youth movement” with the new recruits and the junior college transfers. There are 11 new transfers to Dixie State this year — most of them from junior colleges in Nevada and Utah. He said his main focus is trying to get those men to adapt to the NCAA level.
“Compared to [junior college], in D-II — there are a lot of rules on how long you can practice and how many games you can play, so I guess we are kind of limited to practice,” Umscheid said. “So during that practice time, we have to be efficient and do things at a fast pace.”
Division II differs from junior college by having less preseason games as well as having a later start to the season.
Pfatenhauer said, so far, the men are catching on to his system. He said something to be remembered about the 2013 baseball team was its camaraderie on the field.
“Last year’s team was very close,” Pfatenhauer said. “The team was a great group on and off the field; they cared about each other and they cared about the program. This year’s team I think is getting there, but we have 10 seniors instead of 15, so we have a little less ownership in that, but it is getting there.”
Pfatenhauer said he thinks all the different things the team does together, such as going to sporting events and taking part in parades, instills the camaraderie and closeness it needs.
“Every time you go to a new school, it is different, and you have to adjust to it, but Pfatenhauer’s system is great,” Glover said.
Glover said they are all starting to get on board with the system and become united as a team.
“I feel like we are [coming] together as a team pretty well,” Glover said. “We are all trying to get our spots, so competition is getting pretty fiery, but it’s not bad — we are all pulling for each other.”
Coming to a new program is different for some of the new players, but the team has helped make the transfers feel at home at DSU.
“A lot of the guys are really cool — they don’t really treat you as a new-comer,” Umscheid said.
The season will open Friday with the Spring Kickoff weekend, where the team will host different events such as a dinner banquet at the Gardner Center Ballroom, with Mike Littlewood, the former head baseball coach for Dixie, as the guest speaker, and a Golf tournament held at Sunbrook Golf Course earlier in the day.
The DSU baseball team will be honoring the 2004 national championship team this kickoff weekend. This will mark the 10th anniversary of its success.
Dixie will travel to Scolinos Field to face Cal Poly next weekend for the opening series of the season.