ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College baseball team, under the direction of second-year coach John Sparks, returns virtually everyone from last year’s squad that finished 15-28 overall and fifth in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference at 9-15.
So why did the coaches and media pick the Bluejays last in the conference in recent preseason polls?
Sparks doesn’t know-but he isn’t losing any sleep about it.
“I don’t mind being picked last in the preseason poll,” Sparks said. “It doesn’t mean anything, anyway. We’ll just play the role of the underdog and see what happens.”
Helping Sparks with his coaching duties are Brady Marsh and Shawn Winter.
Sparks will count on eight seniors to anchor his squad this season. Four all-conference players return also.
Included in that group is first-team All-KCAC shortstop Tyler Marsh. The senior batted .375 last year with five home runs and 25 runs batted in to go with a .566 slugging percentage and .461 on-base percentage.
Casey Witt, senior right field, is coming off a second-team All-KCAC year. Witt lead the Bluejays in RBIs (41), home runs (10) and slugging percentage (.640).
Seniors Sean Bechtold and Danny Douglass, two honorable-mention pitchers, will form the nucleus of the Bluejay pitching rotation. Bechtold and Douglass were first and second in earned-run average for Tabor a year ago.
Sparks plans to incorporate a four-man rotation, but is still uncertain who the other two starters will be.
Leading the list currently are sophomore Stewart Settle, junior Gerald Goodale, freshman Grant Huck and junior-college transfer Zavien Rivers.
Joining Witt in the outfield will be two more returning players.
Senior Jared Johnson patrols center field, where he boasts a .961 fielding percentage.
Playing left field will be senior Tim Hein, who last season batted .296 and had an on-base percentage of .303, and a slugging percentage of .358. His fielding percentage was .952.
A welcome addition to Sparks team is Jess Tracy, who broke the Tabor RBI record two years ago. Tracy transfers back to Tabor after a year at Kansas Newman.
New to the Bluejay program, but expected to contribute are freshman catcher Mike Fouquet, who has been thrust into immediate action after senior Mark George broke his arm in the opening game of the season.
Freshman Chance Miles transfers to Tabor from Eastern Utah and will play first base and designated hitter.
Sparks said this year’s team possesses a good blend of speed and power.
“We have some guys, like Marsh and (Grant) Brubacher, who can really run, but we also have some people who can hit the ball.”
Sparks sees the upcoming schedule as formidable, but thinks his team is up to the challenge.
Featured this season is a trip to San Diego, and the possibility of playing the University of Kansas, as a rain-out date.
Team goals are lofty.
“We want to be one of the two teams to get a bid to regionals out of our conference,” Sparks said. “Anything less than that will be kind of a disappointment.”
Sparks looks to good senior leadership and old-fashioned hard work to carry his team to its desired goal.
“Our team motto is ‘Everything Counts,'” Sparks said. “Everything from warming up in practice to what we do off the field.
“I hope we’ll be a team that’s characterized by how we hustle. We try to teach the game so the players know how to react to what happens, and are smart.
“I hope we’re a team that thinks out there.”