EAST LANSING, Mich. – Fresh off the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1979, the Michigan State Spartan baseball team conducted its first official practice of the 2013 season Friday afternoon inside the Duffy Daugherty Football Building.
The Spartans, who received votes in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll, return 20 letterwinners from last season’s team that won 37 games, third most in school history. MSU will practice for three weeks before taking on Miami-Ohio on Opening Day Friday, Feb. 15 in Greenville, S.C.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day since the end of fall practice so it’s an exciting time,” head coach Jake Boss said. “We’re three weeks away from the first game. I know guys have been working hard on their own before today and we’re excited to get things kicked off and get it rolling. Three weeks from today we’re going to be out and competing so it’s a fun time of year.”
Michigan State had five players named to the All-Big Ten Team in 2012 and just Jordan Keur will be back this season after Torsten Boss, Ryan Jones and Tony Bucciferro were each selected in the MLB Draft and shortstop Justin Scanlon, a second team All-Big Ten selection, is also gone following graduation. The Spartans also had two named to the All-Freshman team – Blaise Salter and Jimmy Pickens – who are back for their sophomore seasons.
Keur, along with seniors Andrew Waszak and John Martinez will serve as team captains for the 2013 season, giving Boss three reliable starters that know what it takes to reach the goals set for the program.
“I think all three of those guys are outstanding leaders,” Boss said. “We’ve had a lot of good kids in our program the last four or five years and I think the leadership, with those three guys, is as good as it’s ever been. All three guys have played a lot early in their careers; they know what it’s all about, they have a good idea of how to go about their business and they know what it takes to win a championship and compete a national level. That knowledge is really going to help with our young guys.”
Keur ranked among the Big Ten leaders in batting average (eighth with .353), on-base percentage (fifth with .432), runs scored (eighth with 47) and hits (second with 89). The mark of 89 hits ranked third all-time in a single season at Michigan State.
In addition to Keur, Andrew Waszak will step up and fill the No. 1 slot in the rotation and will be counted on throughout the season. Waszak went 4-4 last season with a 2.98 ERA as a junior and tied for first in the Big Ten in starts with 16. He also ranked among the Big Ten leaders in innings pitched (second with 106.1), opposing batting average (tied for sixth with .238) and ERA (eighth at 2.96); the 106.1 innings pitched were second most in school history.
“It means a lot, these guys voted for me and it means a lot for me to have their support, for them to trust me,” Waszak said. “Going out there, you don’t have to worry about anything, just lead by example.”
Waszak noted that the seniors are looking to leave their own legacy at MSU and that the camaraderie the three captains share is vital.
“We all live together and we’ve been friends since freshman year,” Waszak said. “I’ve been friends with John (Martinez) since I was eight. All of us, we know each other really well, we’re all close. I feel like we have a good combination of leadership to combat each other.”
The obvious goal is returning to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1978-79. Now having experienced the tournament, the Spartans are looking to advance past the NCAA Regionals.
“We talk with our guys a lot about taking the next step,” Boss said. “We’ve talked about that every year since we’ve been here and it’s no different now. Obviously, it was a thrill to be in the tournament a year ago. We were a little disappointed in how we played out there and so the next step would be to raise the level of expectations and make a run at the Big Ten Championship and the regional championship.”
Michigan State also returns sophomore Anthony Cheky in center field, who was named to the Stanford All-Regional team last season and hit .311 with 15 stolen bases, and John Martinez who will serve as a third captain alongside Keur and Waszak and hit .306 and had 32 RBIs last year.
Other position starters returning include sophomore first baseman Ryan Krill and junior catcher Joel Fisher. On the hill, MSU returns hard-throwing righty David Garner who went 6-3 last season with a 3.28 ERA and fellow righthander Mick VanVossen who went 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA.
The Spartans will also welcome one of the most talented freshmen classes in recent history to the roster. Justin Alleman, 2012 Mr. Baseball in Michigan, and Cam Gibson were both drafted out of high school but elected to enroll at MSU and continue their baseball careers in East Lansing.
“I’m very excited about those guys,” Boss said. “I think they have the chance to be special players here. Justin (Alleman) I think could close for us. I would see Cam (Gibson) getting some playing time early and having a chance to contribute too as things get going. The future is bright for those guys.”
Michigan State’s schedule features 10 teams receiving votes in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Poll, including No. 8 Kentucky. MSU will also play three teams that earned bids to the NCAA Tournament last season (Austin Peay, Kentucky and Purdue).
“It’s a good schedule,” Boss said. “We play some northern teams early that are going to be very good. Kentucky is going to be good. Austin Peay has an outstanding program and Tennessee Tech is very good. We play a lot of good programs early so it’s going to be a good test for us.”
The Michigan State baseball program hosts the eighth annual First Pitch Dinner on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Kellogg Center and will honor Tom Yewcic as its Alumnus of the Year. In addition to honoring Yewcic, World Series champion and Lansing native John Smoltz will serve as the keynote speaker for the event.
In addition, MSU head coach Jake Boss will introduce the 2013 Spartans, who are fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 33 years. The event will feature a silent auction, player autographs and door prizes, and attendees will receive a 2013 season ticket card and poster. Player autographs and the silent auction will start at 12 p.m.
“It’s a fun event, fun for our guys to interact with people in our community,” Boss said. “It’s good to have a big name like John Smoltz coming back and also get a chance to embrace our past with Tom Yewcic coming in. It’s fun for everybody.”