For a team that finished last season just above .500, whileowning a 12-14 Big East record, the St. John’s baseball team’sgoals remain nothing short of a Big East TournamentChampionship.
“Our expectations every year we play is to win the Big East,”St. John’s head coach Ed Blankmeyer said. “Everybody iszero-zero.”
St. John’s has not made the tournament since 1999 but posted a29-27 record last year, finishing sixth in the conference, twospots shy of a tourney appearance.
“We want to rebound from the tough season we had last year,”senior co-captain Anthony DeRosa said. “We want to take it to theBig East, maybe win the Big East and get a Regional bid. That’s ourultimate goal.”
This season the Red Storm will have experience on their side asthey return most of the key players from last year’s team. SJU willreturn six starters, four of which are seniors that includeco-captains DeRosa and Mike Rozema.
“The seniors have to step up,” Blankmeyer said. ” Not justAnthony (DeRosa) and Michael (Rozema) but some of the other seniorswe have in our program. Obviously it’s their last year and usuallyhow the seniors go the season goes.”
The team should have to look no further then their captains forleadership. DeRosa, the leftfielder batted .318 with 50 hitsincluding 13 doubles, good for 11th in the Big East last season. Healso was second on the Red Storm in home runs with six and posted a.385 on base percentage.
While DeRosa had a great season, Rozema had one as good as anyplayer in the nation. The senior shortstop batted .408 last year,good enough for 27th in the nation and the fifth best single seasonmark in school history. He also was the eighth SJU player to post a.400 average or higher.
If that wasn’t enough, Rozema had a 22-game hitting streak lastseason and only committed seven errors. The New Jersey native ledthe Johnnies in every offensive category as well as batting averageincluding hits (80), runs batted in (33) and on base percentage(.460)
“We are asking a lot from those guys, within their capabilitiesof course,” said Blankmeyer, who enters his ninth season as St.John’s head coach with a record of 229-168-3.
With all the success the senior hitting machines had, the SJUoffense did not struggle to get men on base. It was turning theminto runs that was the problem. The Red Storm struggled withrunners in scoring position, stranding teammates on a regular basisin 2003.
“This year we don’t have one guy in the line up that everyonerelies on,” DeRosa said. “We have guys this year who can do itall.”
The Johnnies will once again have an experienced and talentedpitching staff anchored by senior ace Joe Reid. The right-handerfinished with a record of 3-3 with an ERA of 3.75. He also pitchedthree complete games, while striking out a team leading 68batters.
“I might not have gotten as many wins as I should have but ourteam really didn’t get any either,” Reid said. “I don’t really carewhat I get as long as we improve on our team record.”
While SJU lost their leader in ERA, right-hander Mike Tamulionis(2-2, 2.11 ERA, 2 saves) wins, lefty Tom Klemm (5-4, 3.58, 38strikeouts), the Red Storm will have a good back end of therotation to support Reid. The brightest of the bunch could beAnthony Varvaro and Jim Wladyka.
“I think we have good, young arms which gained valuableexperience last year,” Blankmeyer said. “We are going to have tolean on them until we can settle into our offense.”
The two only posted a combined record of 6-9 and a 5.48 ERA, butboth showed flashes of what they are capable of on the mound. In athree game series against Pittsburgh last year the trio of Reid,Varvaro and Wlayka gave up a combined five runs and fanned 30.
“I think as a whole we are going to be pretty solid,” Reidsaid.
The Johnnies will have to replace three key position players,1st baseman Jesus Bravo (.339, 40 hits, 24 RBI’s), outfielder BillyGrasier (.315, 56 hits, 39 runs scored) and catcher Asa Grunwald(.979 fielding percentage, threw out 75 percent of runners).
Replacing Bravo will be sophomore Eddie Shultz, who will also beasked to bat in the middle of the lineup.
“His numbers giving him a full season, I think he will be prettygood,” Blankmeyer said.
In 114 at bats last season, Shultz batted .298 with 14 doublesand 26 runs batted in.
The loss of Graiser will cost St. John’s some speed on the basepads, as the outfielder swiped 25 of 29 bases last season.Sophomore Greg Thompson will look to fill his shoes, after stealing12 bases last season.
While Grunenwald batted only .261 last year it will be hisdefense that will be sorely missed, as he committed only six errorsand threw out 13 of 38 runners.
Junior Blake Hershelman and junior transfer Joe Burke will splittime at catcher depending on lefty- righty match ups.
Junior college transfer P.J. Antoniato will also be asked tocontribute at second base and the DH slot.
The Johnnies went an impressive 19-7 at home a year ago and willhave to expand that success when they play on the road, where theRed Storm was a disappointing 8-18.
“Our pre conference road schedule is very difficult,” Blankmeyersaid “If you play .500 on the road at any level it’s goodbaseball”.
SJU will need to improve its play away from the Ballpark at St.John’s early, as they will spend most of the months of February andMarch down south playing the likes of Arkansas, UNC Ashville andLamar.
“They’re going to have three of four games under their beltbefore we get down there,” DeRosa said. “But we can match up withany of them. “
The Johnnies task does not get any easier when they hit the BigEast schedule having to play teams such as Big East Champions NotreDame at South Bend, Ind. and a home series against Big Eastrunner-up Rutgers.
St. John’s will also face tough road contests at West Virginiaand Boston College. The Storm will play host to Big East rivalssuch as Rutgers and Seton Hall.
Players To Watch
Mike RozemaA team captain, the senior shortstop had one of the best seasons inSJU history last year, finishing with a batting average of .408,which ranked third in the Big East and was 27th in the nation. His196 at bats, 80 hits, 44 runs scored, 33 runs batted in and .460on-base percentage were all SJU bests. He is only the second playerin SJU history to reach 80 hits in one season.
Anthony DeRosaThe other team captain for this year’s squad, the seniorleftfielder will look to build on impressive numbers from lastseason. He compiled a .312 batting average, while scoring 42 runs.He also recorded 50 hits, including 13 doubles, two triples and sixhomeruns, knocking in 33 runs.
Joe ReidThe Red Storm’s top returning pitcher, Reid will look to end hissenior season and career at St. John’s with a bang. Theright-hander finished his junior campaign with a 3-3 record, whilecompiling a 3.74 ERA. Reid’s 77 innings pitched and 68 strikeoutsled St. John’s in 2002-03.
Joe BurkeA junior transfer from Nassau C.C., Burke will share time with St.John’s junior Blake Hershelman behind the plate. The Brooklynnative may also see time as the team’s designated hitter. The6-foot-1 Burke will have to compete with Hershelman’s .325 battingaverage, 40 hits, seven homeruns and 30 RBI in 2003.
Ed BlankmeyerBlankmeyer enters his ninth season as head coach of St. John’s andis looking to qualify for the Big East Tournament for the firsttime since 1999. He has compiled a 229-168-3 record, including the1997 Big East Championship as well as two runner-up finishes, themost recent coming in 1999.