Feb. 25, 2010
PHILADELPHIA - One hundred years ago, Saint Joseph's fielded its first varsity baseball squad. While no one involved with the current squad was around in 1910, head coach Fritz Hamburg, in his second year at the helm of the program, knows exactly how he wants his team to conclude its centennial year.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the Atlantic 10 championship and go to the NCAA regionals," Hamburg stated.
To that end, the Hawks have a nucleus of seniors who have spent the past three seasons molding themselves into a team with that goal in mind. After posting the team's best conference finish since 2005 last season, Hamburg's charges have their sights set even higher in 2010.
"Our goal is to improve on last year, to play more consistently," he said. "We have to get better and drive through adversity, because there is adversity and there are challenges at some point in every season."
The overwhelming amount of experience possessed by the SJU squad can only serve to help the cause.
"With the veterans we have back this year, and having a year together under our belts, I think everyone is on the same page with where we want to go," Hamburg said.
Fourteen seniors are in their fourth seasons with the program, but it's the first time those seniors will have had the same head coach for two straight seasons. That familiarity is important to Hamburg and assistant coaches Jacob Gill and Greg Manco. The headman hopes to build on it this season.
"I think it's definitely a big thing, yes," he said. "The expectation level and the consistency just gets higher. I think, in the past year, the guys have grown a lot, as have we [as a coaching staff]. We're a lot closer to working as one unit."
The large senior class has done a lot for the program, and Hamburg is quick to show his appreciation.
"[Having so many seniors] certainly bodes well for us," he said. "It's a committed senior class. I think they really want to go out on the right note and make a mark. Hopefully this group has a memorable season. It would be nice for them for what they've given to this program."
While their off-the-field contributions have been unquestionably important, whether or not 2010 is a banner year on Hawk Hill will depend on the performance of the senior class on the field. Hamburg expects seniors to fill six of nine spots in his opening day starting lineup as well as a number of key spots on the pitching staff.
The offensive leader of the infield, David Valesente will start the season manning the hot corner at third base. Valesente hit .369 last year, leading the squad with 65 hits, 39 runs scored, and 15 doubles. He also got on base at a .459 clip, best among the Hawk regulars. The senior is within striking distance of the 200-hit barrier, a mark reached by only nine players in school history.
At shortstop, senior Joe Cook is the likely starter for the third straight year. Cook hit .281 last season, drawing 23 walks (second on the team) and getting hit by 10 pitches. He was also successful on 84% of his stolen base attempts.
Despite all the familiar faces in the lineup, Hamburg expects freshman Quinn Renner to start at second base in 2010. Renner hails from California and led his high school squad to a league championship while being named a Trinity League All-Star as a senior.
The first base job will come down to a pair of seniors in Brian Hartsell and Ryan McDonald. Both saw significant time at first in 2009; McDonald also spent some time in the outfield. He hit .301, including a home run in the game at Miami (Fla.), and posted a .391 on-base percentage. Hartsell hit .269 in 34 games and slugged at a .398 clip. He hit his two longballs for the season in back-to-back games at Xavier. Both players are above average in the field, as McDonald posted a .988 fielding percentage, while Hartsell just pipped him at .989. The pair combined for just five errors on the season in 430 total chances.
Sophomore Kevin Taylor should also see some time at first after appearing in 14 contests a season ago.
Adding depth around the infield will be a pair of freshman additions in Anthony Cirillo and Shane Lynch. Both players should get plenty of opportunities to impress in the hopes of cracking the starting lineup in the future.
One player who has spent time at first base in the past but will start the season as the club's designated hitter is senior Dewey Oriente. He served as the primary DH last season and will reprise that role in 2010. Oriente paced the Hawks last year with a .403 average, six home runs, and 39 runs batted in. He was named to the ABCA/Rawlings All-East Region Second Team and received All-Atlantic 10 Honorable Mention accolades as well. Oriente and Valesente were also chosen for the All-Philadelphia Big 5 Team last season.
There is less certainty in the outfield, as the coaching staff will have a few decisions to make. Senior captain Mike Coleman, however, has locked down the starting job in center field.
Hitting at the top of the lineup in 2009, Coleman recorded a .408 on-base percentage, helped out by his 16 hit by pitches, a new single-season school record. He is also easily within reach of the career HBP record as well. Last season, Coleman also led the squad in games played (47) and stolen bases (12). His speed on the basepaths also translates to the field, giving him increased range in center.
At the corner outfield spots, junior Mike Plakis took over the starting job last year in left field and looks to retain his position this season. He led the team with 27 walks last season despite getting just 145 plate appearances, giving him an on-base percentage 150 points higher than his batting average. He also ranked third on the squad with four home runs.
Pushing Plakis and competing for the job in right field will be sophomore Brett Tiagwad and freshman Greg Kumpel. Tiagwad appeared in 28 games last season, starting 11, and made use of his great speed on the bases and in the field before a shoulder injury kept him on the bench for a few weeks. Kumpel is a versatile player, capable of playing either the infield or the outfield, and has shown some pop in his bat as well.
McDonald could also see time in the outfield this season as well. Sophomore Drew Stoll, in his first year with the team, will provide solid depth and allow Hamburg to spell his regulars. Senior Matt Barnathan and sophomores Dan DiOrio and Ryan Kemp could see some at bats in the outfield over the course of the year but are expected to make more significant contributions on the mound.
After the graduation of two of his three catchers last season, Hamburg has brought in three new players to provide some competition and depth at the position. Senior Drew Smith should be the opening day starter, bringing his .304 average and plenty of power from the left side of the plate to the Hawk lineup. He started 23 games last year and looks to be the full-time number one option this season.
Sophomores Mike Brown and Rob DiSandro and freshman Eddie Palmer have joined the backstop corps this season. Brown served as a team manager last season, while DiSandro, the younger brother of senior pitcher Doug, helped St. Joseph's Prep to back-to-back Catholic League titles in his final two seasons. Palmer was a three-time All-League First Team selection at Archbishop Spalding in Maryland and spent four seasons as the varsity starter.
Throwing to those catchers this season will be a talented and experienced pitching staff supplemented by an influx of young arms that will look to carry Saint Joseph's to new heights.
"Our biggest question mark right now is getting consistent pitching," Hamburg said. "It was a tough area for us last year. We were young and inexperienced...as we firm up the staff, I think guys will start to embrace their roles and feel pride in what they are contributing to."
At the front of the rotation will be senior lefthander Randy Mower. He is the three-time SJU Pitcher of the Year and is within range of the school records for career starts, wins, and innings pitched (see box on page 5). He was selected to the All-Big 5 Team the last two seasons and will be relied upon to replicate that form if the Hawks expect to make noise in the Atlantic 10. He's already etched his name in the Saint Joseph's records books, and in 2010 will look to cement his legacy as one of the finest pitchers the Hawks have ever had.
Favazza made nine starts last season and also made five appearances out of the bullpen. He led the staff with 46 strikeouts last year and will begin this season as a member of the starting rotation. He saw success in that role as a freshman and was even a part of SJU's three-man no-hitter against Saint Peter's that season.
Holland showed poise as a freshman, earning his first career victory in just his second start. He was second behind Mower in games started and, as he matures, he could be a natural successor to the lanky lefthander at the top of the rotation.
Mullen was 22-6 over the course of his career at St. Joseph's Prep, leading his team to a pair of Catholic League titles. For his efforts, he was named the Philadelphia Pitcher of the Year in 2009.
Hamburg expects a number of pitchers to solidify the middle relief role and even make the occasional spot start. In addition to Barnathan, senior Adam Rivera and junior Bryan Penalo could get the nod when the Hawks take the field for mid-week games, and will be the first men out of the bullpen in the middle innings. Another option is versatile 6-foot-4-inch freshman southpaw Shane Carey. He should have opportunities to perform both out of the bullpen and as a starter.
Monaghan made just two appearances early last season, and his role is yet to be determined. He had a strong offseason, according to Hamburg, so he could find himself throwing anywhere from the middle innings to the back end to possibly even a midweek start.
Simendinger rejoins the team in 2010. He made nine appearances in 2008, striking out 16 against eight walks in 19 innings, while Burum was named a consensus All-Conference First Teamer as a high school senior.
Senior lefthanders Doug DiSandro and Quentin Farr will serve as the lefty specialists and setup men in 2010. DiSandro was one of six Hawks with 15 or more appearances last season and, as a team captain, will have the opportunity to lend his senior expertise to the younger members of the squad.
Farr has been both a reliever and an occasional starter in his time at Saint Joseph's, making two starts and eight relief appearances last year before an injury cut his junior season short.
At the back end of the bullpen, Kemp and senior Mike Boyland will be called upon to shore things up for the Hawks. Kemp made 15 appearances on the hill as a freshman, holding hitters to a .235 batting average while striking out 18. He also hit .500, notching seven hits in just 14 at bats in nine appearances in the field.
Boyland has split time the past three seasons between third base and the mound, but in his final campaign will focus on providing stability in the late innings. He made just four appearances as a pitcher last year, but struck out better than a batter per inning in those outings.
As was the case in his first season on Hawk Hill, the reigning Philadelphia Big 5 Baseball Coach of the Year aimed to create a challenging schedule that provides both the opportunity to win games and allows the Hawks to face off against strong opposition in preparation for the increasingly competitive Atlantic 10 conference slate.
"We'll be challenged, right from the first weekend," Hamburg said. The Hawks start of the season in The Charleston Crab House Shootout in South Carolina. SJU takes on tournament host The Citadel in addition to games with Radford and Marshall. After the home opener March 2 against Delaware, it's on to New Mexico State, where Hamburg spent one season as an assistant coach in 1995. On the way back from their western swing, the Hawks will head to Tucson to take on the University of Arizona.
"It will be a nice opportunity for the guys to see a different part of the country," Hamburg said. "With the challenge of pitching in the altitude [at NMSU] and with the wind, it's not a great place to play. "And then playing at Arizona...early on, it's definitely a tough stretch. But once we get through that, the game should slow down a little bit once we get home," he added.
Once the Hawks return home, they will face Northeastern, Cornell, Hofstra, Villanova, Lehigh, Pittsburgh, Youngstown State, and Marist in succession. Over the course of the season, SJU will also take on Penn, Temple, and Rider in non-conference matchups.
In conference play, the Hawks will play host to Massachusetts, Saint Louis, La Salle, Fordham, and Xavier. Saint Joseph's will travel to Duquesne, St, Bonaventure, Richmond, and Dayton.
Last season, the Hawks started conference play 7-4 before falling off the pace, so everyone is keenly aware of the importance of getting off to a solid start and then keeping it going through the later portions of the slate.
"I think we'll be challenged down the stretch with Dayton and Xavier back-to-back at the end of the season," Hamburg commented. "We need to get off to a good start, being at home the first two weekends against Massachusetts and Saint Louis."
Speaking of home games, after two decades at Latshaw-McCarthy Field, the Hawks will make the full-time move to Campbell's Field in Camden, N.J. for 2010. Last season, SJU played six conference games at the park, and this season the Hawks will play their entire home slate at the home of the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League. The Hawks and Riversharks will face off in an exhibition contest on April 21, and the 2010 Atlantic 10 Baseball Championship will be held at Campbell's Field from May 26-29.
"It's a great venue," Hamburg said. "It's a terrific surface, just like playing in a major-league park. It really lifts us into the top of the conference when it comes to facilities."
The new home of the Hawks will also provide benefits on the recruiting trail.
"Kids want to play in nice ballparks," the coach said. "Facilities are a major issue in the recruiting process."
Hamburg didn't forget about those already wearing the Crimson and Gray, however.
"Not only is it nice for recruits, but it's also nice for our players," he said. "Until we get a field on campus, this is the best thing that could have possibly happened."
All told, 2010 is shaping up to be a coming-out party of sorts for Saint Joseph's baseball under Hamburg. With a core group of veterans prepared to lead both on the field and off, it's time for the rest of the conference, and the nation, to take notice.
"This group has worked very hard and we're all looking forward to that work ethic translating to the game," Hamburg said. "This is a fun group to be around, and there's a lot of team chemistry, commitment and drive. We have a lot of guys who are ready to make a move. "I'm excited about the club we have."
If the Hawks start to make some noise in the Atlantic 10 in 2010, he won't be the only one.