Baseball Team Opens it Season with New Strategy, Expanded Roster

Oberlin baseball player Yianni Gardner celebrates on the field in a huddle with his team.

Courtesy of Oberlin Athletics

Oberlin baseball player Yianni Gardner celebrates on the field in a huddle with his team.

Oberlin baseball travels to Kentucky to play Berea College in the team’s season opener today. The 53-player roster is sure to be packed with talent, with 29 underclassmen — including 22 first-years — and 24 upperclassmen. The 2019 team won less than half of its games, going 17–38, and has since only won two games throughout the shortened 2020 and 2021 seasons. The new, lengthy roster marks a huge rebuilding year for the Yeomen as they look to capitalize on young talent.

First-year pitcher Jack Page highlighted that having such a large roster has fostered the right amount of friendly competition between team members.

“We’ve only had one scrimmage and we had an emphasis that anyone can play from game to game,” he said. “We have 51 games — which is a lot — meaning many of the players will have tired arms for pitching. Anyone has to be ready.”

The extensive roster is beyond the 40-player travel cap implemented by the NCAA, and as such, the team was split into developmental and varsity squads. Which team a player is on can vary from game to game. Despite the competition for a spot on the varsity team, every player is pushing each other to be the best they can.

“The older guys who may be on the cusp between [developmental and varsity] will help us try to get better, and if we have the ability, we’ll try to push them to get better as well,” Page said. “We even have cage wars in practice to make it feel more like a game.”

Page believes that the friendly environment the team has established enables the Yeomen to push each other as they look to a building season. Assistant Coach Jonathan Ray echoes the importance of not actively competing with teammates but still pushing each other to become the best players they can be.

“With our guys, the main goal is for them to focus on attacking their opportunities,” Ray said. “Baseball has a lot of one-on-one opportunities within a team sport. We want a highly competitive practice but want them to be rooting for each other. If they’re struggling, they know they can hand the ball to any other pitcher on the team. There’s a huge focus on building trust with each other.”

The Yeomen, who were ranked last in the North Coast Atlantic Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, look to keep the conference on its toes with fresh talent and a roster that varies from game to game.

“Our expectation with this group is that they’re inexperienced, and there could be some fluctuation in the line-up,” Ray said. “We’ve been proud of the effort and focus, and feel good about where the team is at. We’re playing a lot of developmental games and providing a lot of opportunities for individuals to build.”

Although there are benefits to having such a huge roster this year, this tactic calls into question the ability for the team’s leadership to maintain cohesion. Despite this, the coaching staff remains optimistic in the leadership of the upperclassmen, particularly the seniors.

“Our senior class has been great — the only class that was here for a full season,” Ray said. “They lead in their own ways, and the younger guys have an opportunity to gravitate toward the leadership style they respond to.”

Right-handed pitcher and fifth-year Nick Dawkins, tries to use his experience to set expectations for the young roster.

“I like to lead by example and give advice for off the field,” Dawkins said. “I provide a lot of insight into opponents as well. We had a scrimmage against [The College of] Wooster and I tried to talk everyone through what it’s like to play in the conference.”

Still, the Yeomen know that the conference underestimates their talent, which requires them to focus on keeping their goals in sight and coming out tenaciously this season.

“At practice or a game, I get on people about what they’re doing so they can stay laser focused on the goal,” Dawkins said. “It’s created a great culture where people have started to call out others when they’re not paying attention so we can keep our goals in sight.”

The culture shift for the veteran baseball players this coming season is very hopeful.

“The culture is 100 percent different than what I’ve seen in the past, one reason being the older people trying to get better on their own,” Dawkins said. “Juniors and seniors stay back to hit more, and underclassmen follow suit. One thing I want to develop this sea- son is maintaining focus and intensity through a weekend series. If we develop that focus we have a shot to be a really good team.”

The Yeomen have the work ethic and team culture to come out strong and to capitalize on being an unknown force in the conference and the division. The team looks to best Berea College, which currently stands at 1–5, in its season opener today.