Monday marks the start of fall ball for the University of Louisville baseball team. Practicing for the first time since participating in the College World Series last June, the Cardinals will be doing so without seven players from that squad that are now playing professionally, while welcoming a number of new faces.
Similar to football's spring practice, fall ball will continue for the next six weeks and will be filled with scrimmages before capping off with the annual Pizza Bowl next month.
Following the team's second defeat in Omaha, head coach Dan McDonnell and the returning players said the goal was to return in 2014. With so many new faces, developing chemistry will be a priority for the Cardinals this fall.
"The team that went to Omaha wasn't a team, it was a family," said senior Jeff Gardner. "If we can get that going with this
team then I think we can do something special."
The team has been together since the start of school last month, getting to know each other off the field. Spending time
together on the diamond will help solidify the new relationships.
"It's been a little different at first because of how many new faces we have," said junior outfielder Mike White. "Once team
practice starts we'll mesh fine and get more comfortable with each other. Our goal is to get back to Omaha. The young guys
clearly want to be there and the old guys want to go back, so I feel with those two mindsets that we'll have a pretty good sense of what we want."
Now an upperclassman, White is prepared to fill the role of a leader this fall.
"For me it is kind of nice because my freshman year I had a lot of older guys to help mold me, so hopefully I can be that same type of figure for these younger guys," White said. "I want to show them the ropes, but at the same time kind of push
them a little bit and set the bar high so they know what we expect here at Louisville."
Cole Sturgeon and Gardner have been named captains for the new team and will be leaned on to teach the Louisville way to
their new teammates. Part of that task will be to help them overcome the excitment of joining a team that last played in Omaha.
"There is a little bit of excitment and you come in thinking that you are part of something special," Gardner said. "The
point that we want to get across to the young guys is that just because you are at the University of Louisville doesn't mean
that you are going to do something special. You have to put in the work for it."
The Cardinals will spend the week practicing before squaring off for two intrasquad scrimmages this coming weekend.
"It's a lot of fun," said junior Zach Lucas of the start of fall ball. "There's a lot of competition, especially this year
because we have a lot of really good infielders and outfielders and that's just going to make us better. We've got some good talent out there, that's for sure."
Despite the new faces, the goal for the program remains the same.
"The mindset is always the same and that's to win a national championship," said Gardner. "Each and every day, that is what we are working towards and until the last out is recorded on the 2014 season, the goal is going to be a national
The Cardinals are tentatively scheduled to scrimmage on Friday, Sept. 13 at 3 p.m., ET and Sunday, Sept. 15 at 3 p.m., ET at
Patterson Stadium. Both scrimmages are open to the public.
The departure of juniors Adam Engel and Coco Johnson has opened two spots in the Cardinals outfield. Senior Jeff Gardner and junior Mike White are strong candidates to fill the openings.
"That's all I did last year was practice outfield," said Gardner, who spent his junior season filling the role of designated hitter. "We had Coco out there and he had a great year, so there was no reason to move him. We lost some guys, so there are some spots opening up, so hopefully I'll be out there."
White, who made five starts last season, is looking forward to competing for the spot.
"Every time a new opportunity opens up its very exciting," he said. "I'm really excited to looking forward to seeing what happens and I love competition, so it should be fun."
U of L has found success bringing in junior college players in recent years. Last season two former junior college standouts, Nick Ratajczak and Coco Johnson, were crucial members of Louisville's CWS team. The Cardinals welcome another junior college transfer to the roster in Iowa Western infielder Grant Kay.
Kay is a proven hitter and is solid defensively at either shortstop or second base. He hit .406 as a freshman on a national championship team and .381 as a sophomore. He was a named a Perfect Game First Team Summer Leauge All-American in 2012.
Kay, a native of Omaha, Neb., is a strong candidate to fill the void created by the graduation of Ratajczak.
Cardinal Authority will introduce the many new faces throughout fall ball.
A pair of Cardinals are sporting new numbers. Sutton Whiting is now wearing #1 (was #17) which Ratajczak wore last season.
Zach Lucas now wears #11 (was #2), which became available when pitcher Joe Ceja left the team.