Snowballs and baseballs.
Despite two so-called snowstorms that proved to be mere annoyances in our daily routines this past week, it is once again the time of year to dust off the bats and gloves and begin a new baseball season.
The St. John’s baseball team is ready to put the winter behind them and move forward to a promising spring, building off the success of last season.
In 2002, the Red Storm finished the season 29-23, 14-12 in Big East action, failing to qualify for the Big East Tournament on the final day of the season with a loss to Rutgers.
Coming into this season, St. John’s is predicted to finish fifth in the Big East behind national powerhouses such as Notre Dame and Virginia Tech.
However, the Red Storm lost three major contributors from last year’s squad to graduation that were vital to the team’s success – Charlie Bilezikjian, Brian Dorsey and Jason Kane.
“We are very optimistic heading into this season,” St. John’s Head Coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “The three guys we lost off of last year’s team were major parts of our team, but I feel we have the guys to pick up the numbers.”
Despite the loss of offensive production, with Bilezikjian and Kane leading last year’s team with .347 and .368 averages respectively, Blankmeyer feels the 2003 squad will be able to muster up solid offensive numbers to go along with increased pitching depth.
“On paper, pitching is definitely our strength,” Blankmeyer said. “We have a lot of pitchers coming off injuries, but we feel fairly confident that we will have a healthy staff by the time Big East play rolls around.”
The injury situation is not quite as bleak as last season, when several key members of the pitching staff went down with season ending injuries.
However, the current injuries have put into question the role of many pitchers on this staff.
Blankmeyer envisions a three man rotation of Jim Wladyka, Greg Holmes and someone from the group of Tom Klemm, Joe Reid, and freshmen Craig Hansen and Anthony Varvaro.
Blankmeyer would like to use Hansen along with Mike Tamulionis as dual closers.
“I have not solidified the rotation as of now,” Blankmeyer said. “But I would like to begin the year with experience on the staff and eventually slide the young guys in.”
One key pitcher he will look to early on is Wladyka, who is coming off a season in which compiled a 4-4 record with a 3.84 ERA.
“Last season I got a lot of opportunities to be the first pitcher to go on a given weekend which gave me big game experience,” Wladyka said. “And this season I am looking to build off the experience I gained last year and lead this staff.”
Hansen and Varvaro will also be looked at to provide some solid innings. Both enjoyed tremendous high school success in the New York area and will look to continue that success at St. John’s.
The Red Storm are not only getting acquainted with newcomers on the pitching staff but in nearly every position on the field.
This season, more than in years past under Blankmeyer, several positions are open for competition with many new players vying for playing time.
The top returning offensive players from last year’s squad are senior Billy Graiser and junior Anthony DeRosa.
Graiser finished last season with a .290 average, three home runs, and 20 RBI, while DeRosa batted .337 with six home runs and 30 RBI.
DeRosa who was primarily an outfielder last year is also working out at third base to fill the void left by Kane.
St. John’s will also rely heavily on the expected production of three newcomers.
Freshman Greg Thomson, who was named Nassau County Player of the Year last season, will be looked at to possibly fulfill a dual role for the Red Storm.
“I normally do not like to have a freshman serve a dual role,” Blankmeyer said. “But we feel Greg is talented enough to help us both at the plate and on the mound.”
The other two newcomers are junior college transfers Drew Jackson and Jesus Bravo.
“We are looking for Bravo and Jackson to provide our lineup with that much needed middle of the order power,” Blankmeyer said.
However, the one concern that the St. John’s coaching staff has is the ability for this team to play defense. With the expected solid pitching it is vital for this team to catch the ball behind them.
“With the pitching depth we have and the newcomers on offense, the bottom-line is how well we catch the ball,” Blankmeyer said.
With the talent that is in the Big East, the Red Storm are well aware that each and every game will be hard fought.
“Every weekend is a war in the Big East,” Blankmeyer said. “The biggest difference in the conference from when I first came here in 1996, is that not only are the top teams national forces but the lower division opponents have improved their programs and every game is a dog fight. You can barely afford to lose one game so it is vital not to get swept.”
“Team unity has been great thus far and practice has been tough but really exciting,” Wladyka said. “We are looking to be a part of the Big East Tournament this season and our goal is to win it once we get there.”