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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Beacon Baseball, Baby! Booyah!

Beacon Baseball, Baby! Booyah!

Right around this time every March, the Celtics cut the engine and spiral downward and the Bruins remind us all that there’s still a whole two months left of hockey season. The times are difficult, but New Englanders pull together and remind one another that baseball season is finally rounding third and coming home.

That optimism can only make it through so many blizzards and windy, single-digit nights before baseball fever strikes with a (green) monster appetite. Instead of getting a salad or a chicken Caesar wrap for lunch, the thought of sprinting to the subway station for one of those shiny hot dogs becomes more than just an option. You begin interrupting your teachers and asking for a seventh-inning stretch. Sunflower seeds and doughy pretzels take the place of breakfast, and occasionally peanuts fill in for a nice brunch. But none of this quenches the addictive realism of being there with your team down by one with two outs and a runner on third.

Thus, the beauty of spring ball.

The UMass Beacons took the field over spring break down in sunny Florida and popped the cork off another season. The Beacon bats took some time to thaw out but salvaged a two game win streak after starting 1-4. The rough start can be attributed to the fact that this season’s squad is full of new faces up and down the lineup. Last season, head coach Brendan Eygabroat led the Beacons to their first-ever win in the Little East Conference Tournament in his first season as head coach.

This season, Eygabroat has some huge holes to fill with the departure of second baseman/pitcher Evan Turdugno and outfielder/pitcher Pat Donovan. Turdugno was second team All- Conference last year, with a .321 batting average and threw five complete games. Donovan hit nine homeruns with a .539 slugging percentage and pitched in 48 innings.

A few everyday players from the 2005 roster return to the lineup this spring, notably outfielder/pitcher Bob Kniffen, (.286 BA, .969 fielding percentage, 2.45 ERA in 2005), third baseman/pitcher Derrick Plante (.235 BA), pitcher Nick Conway (5.87 ERA, 1 complete game, 46 innings pitched), and pitcher Jaime Soto (1-1, 7.63 ERA, 2 saves). Eygabroat will also have the leadership of three seniors, first baseman Alex Gang, infielder/pitcher Jose Morales, and pitcher Ryan Blanchard. All three seniors will help bring experience to the six freshmen on the team.

The maturation of the Beacons will have to come quickly because the Little East Conference pre-season Coaches Poll has them coming in sixth out of eight teams, right where they finished last season.

The news doesn’t come as a complete loss of hope. Last year’s conference tournament ended with Rhode Island College winning the championship despite entering the tournament as five seed. The Rhode Island Anchormen, in Cinderalla-esque fashion, eliminated regular season champs Eastern Connecticut State University, who finished the regular season with a record of 30-13. The underdog performance of Rhode Island sends hope to the bottom half of the league, especially the Beacons, who were only two wins behind the Anchormen at seasons end.

Teams to watch out for this year are Keene State with 2005 coach of the year Ken Howe at the helm, and pre-season number one Southern Maine, who edged out Eastern Connecticut with 58 first place votes.

With the season ending in early May, the month of April can mean do or die for most clubs. This year’s schedule seems profitable for the Beacons, who have eight home games. The possible home field advantage will depend on the UMass fans, who will have to drive to Yetten Field in Waltham to cheer on their team. Directions can be found on the UMass athletics page, www.athletics.umb.edu.