The 2002 St. John’s baseball season may be over before it ever begins.
Head Coach Ed Blankmeyer is preparing to lead his crew into the upcoming season without the first baseman who rewrote the St. John’s record book in most offensive categories, and most importantly, its top two starting pitchers due to possible career-threatening injuries.
It’s a recipe for a disaster of Titanic proportions. So how does Blankmeyer foresee the upcoming season? As a success. “Optimistic. We have a talented team; a number of returning players, seniors who’ve been through the Big East [battles],” Blankmeyer said.
The Red Storm (31-22 overall, 13-13 in the Big East) are expected to finish fifth in the Big East this season.
Last season, the Johnnies got off to a tremendous start, but stumbled down the stretch and just missed out on making the Big East Tournament.
The ranking has drawn Blankmeyer’s ire and he was not shy about expressing his distaste.
“In my mind, we made the Big East Tournament. We got screwed out of the deal [due to the additional teams joining the conference, specifically Notre Dame]. We were a double play ball away from making the tournament. We hung with Notre Dame; we hung with Rutgers. I don’t put any heed into any polls or prognostications.”
But the losses of Marc Goldberg and Joe Reid are huge for the Red Storm. Last season, Goldberg, the staff ace, compiled a 5-6 record with a 3.11 ERA. He also struck out 70, allowing only 28 earned runs in 81 innings.
Reid started eight games for the Johnnies and was a respectable 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA. In 53.2 innings pitched, he struck out 47 batters, while only allowing 51 hits and 22 earned runs.
According to Blankmeyer, both Reid and Goldberg injured themselves pitching in the Atlantic League during the summer. Goldberg had to have his bicep tendon mended and Reid had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Blankmeyer said that they were recovering from their surgeries.
The rest of Blankmeyer’s staff must attempt to minimize the losses of Goldberg and Reid.
Geno Orsonga immediately becomes the staff ace. Last season, as the number three starter, Orsonga was 5-2, with a 3.32 ERA. In 76 innings, he allowed 62 hits, 32 runs (28 earned), walked 32, while striking out 42.
Tom Klemm, who was the four or five last season, immediately becomes the No. 2. Klemm has to improve on his 4-3 record for the Johnnies. And Blankmeyer said that both Klemm and Orsonga are up to the task. “[Orsogna’s] got the most Big East experience; Tom Klemm’s got Big East experience.”
Leading the way, offensively, for the Johnnies will be seniors Charlie Bilezikjian and Jason Kane. Bilezikjian’s an outfielder who was named a pre-season All-Big East selection. Last season, Bilezikjian hit .352, with 69 hits, 16 doubles, two home runs, 50 runs scored, 36 RBI and 26 stolen bases. In his St. John’s career, Bilezikjian is 10th and fifth, respectively, in the record book for steals (54) and doubles (36). He also boasts a career .337 batting average.
Kane, who goes by the nickname “The Mayor,” was a revelation for Blankmeyer last season. In his first full season, Kane hit .339, including 62 hits, 11 doubles, one triple, four homers, 26 runs scored and 46 RBI, to go along with a .475 slugging percentage.
Kane and Bilezikjian are the guys that Blankmeyer is counting on to spark the offense. But that doesn’t mean that they alone will carry the offensive load. “They are the most experienced guys. We hope they step up,” said Blankmeyer. “Chad Cambra, Mike Rozema, Anthony DeRosa and Billy Graiser have the talent to play. They’ve got to step up and prove that they are Big East players.”
Bilezikjian’s also going to pitch for the Red Storm, which could be troublesome. Last season, in 10 appearances, he ran up an ugly 7.20 ERA as a reliever. Those numbers could get a lot uglier now that he’s a starter.
Still, Blankmeyer has little choice. “If we were to start the season tomorrow, they would be our starters,” he said.
It’s time to play ball, whether the Red Storm are ready or not.