One step at a time: Jaksa, baseball team look toward small goals first
A wood plaque hangs next to Steve Jaksa’s desk in his office displaying a quote from former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
It reads: “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why ... I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”
The CMU baseball coach, now in his eighth year at the helm of the program, always tries to stay positive when it comes to baseball. He subscribes to the philosophy that you must take one step before proceeding to the next.
And for his team this season, that means walking before running.
“It’s like anything else in life — you do it a game at a time,” Jaksa said. “And then a game becomes a weekend and, after that weekend, you reflect on that series and where that leaves you. Our goals are similar — at the end of the road, (we) want to win the MAC championship.”
After winning its first Mid-American Conference Tournament game in four years last season despite a 28-30 overall record, CMU returns six seniors and nine juniors to the lineup this season. Comparatively, the team had three seniors and seven juniors on the roster in 2009.
“Everybody talks about experience. Experience only helps if you learn something from the experience you had,” Jaksa said. “You have got to be able to make that change. Generally, baseball is more of a mental change than anything else because of the ability to put the last at-bat behind you and be fresh the next one.”
BATTING AND FIELDING
Senior center fielder Billy Anderson is one of those returning seniors, poised to lead CMU to its goal of a conference championship.
Anderson is batting .356 through 21 games at the leadoff position, with a team-best on-base percentage of .451.
“Because of guys being dinged up, the lineup has been in a bit of fluctuation,” Jaksa said. “But we do have some consistency. We think we’re pretty solid with Billy as the leadoff guy — he seems like he’s honed in to that and has done a nice job of getting on base.”
Anderson said players have to come into their own — not try to be a type of player they are not.
“We have guys kind of figuring out who they are as a player,” Anderson said. “The biggest thing is that we just have got to get everyone to realize what kind of player they are and just become that. As long as everyone knows their own identity, I think we’ll be all right.”
While beginning to work his way back, injuries to senior James Teas a few weeks ago resulted in shuffling the infield. Senior catcher James Cornstubble, batting third in the lineup with a .351 average and team-leading 18 runs batted in, has played third base in recent games. As a result, sophomore William Arnold and freshman Jordan Adams have gotten some work at the catcher position.
Jaksa called Arnold valuable and said he can be used at multiple positions on the infield.
With the return of junior shortstop Robbie Harman, who missed the first 10 games of the season while finishing up the basketball season, senior Ricky Clark and freshman Jordan Dean have shared duties at second base.
Said Jaksa: “We think our approach is getting more and more solid. The lineup is kind of solidified (now) ... We got a couple guys who aren’t hitting really well numbers-wise, but we felt they’ve had some good bats lately and hope some of those hits start falling.”
In addition to holding down first base, sophomore Nate Theunissen also got off to a good start with the bat, leading the team with a .385 average and three home runs in the clean-up spot.
Senior Jesse Hernandez (3-1, 4.45 ERA) leads a pitching staff that includes sophomore Rick Dodridge (2-1, 1.64 ERA) and junior Jake Sabol (2-3, 4.91 ERA). Junior Matt Faiman and junior Bryce Morrow have filled in when needed in the spot.
“I’m just happy with the way I’ve stayed focus,” Hernandez said. “I’m just taking everything one inning at a time and not letting that one big inning that hurt us get to me. I go out there with the same attitude every inning, knowing that I have to throw strikes, get my ground balls, and things have been working out.”
Juniors Mike Nixon and Morrow and freshman Dietrich Enns have stepped up and received the most innings as relievers early on. Sophomores Zach Cooper, Matt Looms and Reid Rooney, redshirt freshman Brock Guetzke and freshmen Scott Mariner and Josh Cok round out the bullpen.
“The biggest thing is consistency,” Jaksa said. “If they stub their toe, we just got to make sure we have another guy ready to go. If we can throw strikes out the pen, and we think they can and they think we can, then we’ll develop that consistency.”
A former starter, sophomore Trent Howard (1-2, 4.76 ERA) has been moved to the closer role after a couple of rough starts early on. Howard is 2-for-2 in save opportunities since being moved, allowing no runs in 3 2/3 innings.
HELPING EACH OTHER
Without looking too far ahead, Jaksa said the team’s goal, first and foremost, is working toward a division title.
“You have a club that’s been through it a little bit,” he said. “They understand the intensity, they understand how the games are going to be, but they also know that if they can just stay in the moment and have the good at-bat, if they don’t worry about the situation, we have an opportunity to do good things.”
Players have bought into Jaksa’s mindset of taking one at-bat, inning and game at a time. In fact, Anderson said the team can thrive as it garners little respect to start the year.
“We’re not picked to win anything, so nothing’s expected of us and I love that,” Anderson said.