Baseball program looking to take a step forward

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Coach Gary Myers is hoping this year’s team will bring the baseball program at Tabor College a step or two closer to its former glory days.


Myers’ teams won several KCAC titles in the 1980s and 1990s, but fell on hard times after he stepped away from the program for two years after the 1997 season.


He returned to the helm last spring to guide the Bluejays to a 9-30 record overall and a 2-18 mark in KCAC play.


“We’re trying to put the pieces of the puzzle back together where we can have a good, competitive team and be one of the teams in contention in the KCAC,” Myers said.


“We had it going for a while, but the last few years have not been good for Tabor College baseball,” he added. “We want to get it turned back around. We’re getting closer, but we still have a way to go.”


Through last week, the Bluejays were 0-4 on the new season with doubleheader losses to Saint Mary and Sterling. But Mother Nature has been the bigger threat. Wet and cold weather has forced the cancellation of games against six teams.


“I’ve got a lot more to learn about my team,” Myers said. “I think I have a pretty good idea who can play in the field and get the job done. Right now we’re just looking for answer about who our best pitchers are.”


Myers expects his staff to be deeper than last year, when he depended on the able arm of senior Randy Ables, who threw 56.1 innings with an impressive ERA of 2.98.


“He pitched as well as anybody I’ve ever seen pitch at Tabor College,” Myers said.


The Jays will have two hurlers returning: sophomore Austin Frantz (33.1 innings, 7.57 ERA) and senior Mike Feltman (27 innings 9.85 ERA). The staff will be bolstered by newcomers Kyle Thomas, Graig Carlson and Gerald Goodale.


All are right-handers.


Thomas played golf at Tabor but is coming out for baseball his senior year. Carlson is a junior transfer and Goodale a promising freshman from Loveland, Colo.


“Pitching is 90 percent of baseball, so pitching is always a concern,” Myers said. “I think it will come around, but we’ve got rained out of so many games that we haven’t had a chance to get in any work.”


Myers expects his team to battle at the plate as the season progresses. So far, though, the hitting, with a few exceptions, is off to a slow start.


He said returners Chris Stucky (.376 last season) and Jerrod Ryherd (.290) have been the most successful hitters so far.


“I think we have the potential to be pretty good at the plate, but right now we have a few guys who are kind of lagging,” Myers said. “Usually, the hitters are a bit behind the pitching at the beginning of the season anyway.”


He looks for returners Kris Haynes (.379) and Jared Johnson (.153) to contribute a lot once they find their stride. Myers’ top newcomers are sophomores Tyler Marsh and Jess Tracy. Marsh will play shortstop and Tracy will play third once a hamstring injury heals.


“Jess Tracy will be an outstanding third baseman for us,” Myers said. “He’s a good hitter and a very good fielder.”


With the addition of Marsh and Tracy, Myers likes the defensive skills he has in the infield. That pair will be joined by Ryherd at second base and Stucky at first.


“I think our infield is going to be very, very good,” Myers said.


The outfield is set at left and center with Haynes and Johnson, respectively. But rightfield is up for grabs between Chris Hill Jr., Mendoza and possibly Carlson, when he is not pitching.


Catching is the biggest question mark for Myers, who has to fill the huge void created by the graduation of Ash Jones. Jones caught every inning of every game last season.


Myers wasn’t able to bring in a recruit to step in behind the plate, but has two former infielders, Dante Santillian and Mark George, both sophomores, working into the position.


“I think they’re going to be OK,” Myers said. “They’re doing a pretty good job of calling the game for our pitchers and doing a pretty good job of catching the ball. But we’ve got to hold the runners on a little bit better and be able to throw people out at second base once in a while. Right now teams are stealing pretty much when they want to.”


The Bluejays were picked to finish sixth among the seven schools that play baseball in the KCAC. Opening the season with two losses to Saint Mary, the team picked for seventh, didn’t help the Jays, but Myers looks for his team to improve as the season progresses.


“If we come together and play the way we’re capable of playing, I think we can be in the middle of the pack somewhere,” he said.


Helping Myers with coaching duties this year is his oldest son, Grant, a Tabor alum who played for his father while at Tabor.


“I’m real happy to have him,” said the elder Myers. “Grant is real knowledgeable in the game of baseball.


“It’s kind of fun,” he added. “You don’t often get a chance to coach both of your sons in the game of baseball and then have one of your sons come back and help you coach. That’s kind of a neat privilege that Lord has allowed to happen.”


Steve Berg, alumni director at Tabor, is helping as a part-time volunteer assistant.

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