Baseball team gears up for 2016
DYLAN BROCKMEYER | ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR | @dbrock08
After winning the 2015 West Coast Conference regular season title and watching their star alum Kris Bryant take the Cubs to the National League Championship Series, the University of San Diego baseball team is a few weeks away from stepping into the batter’s box and hitting one out of the park.
The Toreros are getting ready to open their season in Nashville when they take on the Vanderbilt University Commodores for a three day series from Feb. 19 to Feb. 21, 2016.
The hype in taking on Vanderbilt, who is ranked No. 3 in the preseason rankings, has our boys in blue extremely anxious and excited to start the season.
Junior pitcher Nathan Kuchta is most eager for the series against the Commodores out of all their match-ups this year.
“I’m most looking forward to our first series in Nashville against Vanderbilt,” Kuchta said. “Not only because it’s opening weekend, but also because it’ll be great test right off the bat to see where we match up against one of the best teams in the nation.”
The team has been working hard both on and off the field in the off-season to prep for this year.
With a lot of new freshmen on the team, there has been a lot of skill and team development.
Head Coach Rich Hill likes to look back on former Torero Kris Bryant’s achievements and use the star player as an example to inspire the team and future recruits.
“He’s a huge proponent of college,” Hill said. “We use that and use him as an example, talk about him all the time, how he trained, why he made the decision to come to USD. It’s helped, to use him as the role model.”
Kris Bryant was a first round draft pick for the Chicago Cubs, the 2013 Golden Spikes winner, the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, and topped the charts as the No. 1 selling jersey in the MLB of 2015.
According to Coach Hill, the influence of his success can’t be immediately measured as to how influential it was on this year’s and next year’s recruiting class.
But it has put USD on the map as a nationally recognized college baseball powerhouse.
“One of the positives is that we use that in recruiting so much when dealing with pro baseball versus college baseball,” Coach Hill said.
“Some of these young guys are making the decision between going to the minor leagues or coming to college. Kris is the poster boy for that. He turned down $1.2 million coming out of high school and look how that turned out.”
In all the seriousness of college D1 level play, Hill and our Toreros still find the little moments of fun that remind everyone why they are all here.
Following along with Bryant’s season last year kept the team energy up and created a lust for competition entering the 2016 season.
“Everybody kind of lights up,” Coach Hill said. “We can look at what he did and what a year he had and it gives me an opportunity to talk about him. His great character and work ethic and how great of a student he was.
Hill was thrilled to watch his former player have so much success on the game’s highest level. Watching Bryant on TV provided a team bonding moment.
“It was fun to follow him last year,” Coach Hill said. “We turned the TV on on his home opening weekend. We were all in there and saw him beat out an infield single, everybody is cheering for him. It’s fun.”
Sophomore catcher Riley Adams believes that throughout all the obstacles every baseball team might face, the Toreros have great character.
While keeping a solid bond might be hard for other teams, our boys in blue have that group mentality.
Overcoming the challenge together is what creates the camaraderie.
“The biggest challenge we’ll face this year is staying together as a team throughout the entire season,” Adams said. “There are going to be ups and downs throughout the season as there is for every baseball team, but we must remain together as a group and not venture off our course.”
Sophomore outfielder Kyle Mercado-Hood is prepared for anything to happen and is looking forward to the new, strong talent the freshmen and pitchers will be bringing to the table.
“I think a big key this year will be to make sure we play sound defense and have people step up at the plate,” Mercado-Hood said. “We have a lot of new guys on the team so it will be fun to see what happens this year. We have good depth this year pitching [wise]. That’s always exciting because you can never have enough pitching.”
This year, the Toreros will be hosting the Tony Gwynn Memorial Classic right here in Fowler Park from Feb. 26 to Feb. 28, 2016.
The Toreros schedule for this season calls for face offs against the normal conference foes in St. Mary’s College, Pepperdine University, and Gonzaga University.
There are also intriguing out of conference clashes with the UC Irvine Anteaters, San Diego State Aztecs, and Oregon State Beavers.
Fowler Park will play host to the annual alumni game on Feb. 14 to get the season going.