Mishandling a grounder off a short hop. A bare-hander just a split second from being a web-gem play if the runner hadn’t slid in. The briefest of fumbles behind the plate blocking a pitch in the dirt.
The stat sheet lists all of these plays as slip-ups. A fielding error. A wild pitch.
But these kinds of plays are the exact kind of slip-ups Michigan coach Erik Bakich wants his team to make.
“We want aggressive mistakes. We don’t want passive mistakes,” Bakich said. “If we’re going to make a mistake, it’s going to be because we’re going for it, we’re taking the chance, trying to make the great play. We’re okay with that.”
As the 17th-ranked Wolverines continue to shake off the rust of their eight-month offseason, they’ve made a few of these mistakes. In the opening series against Binghamton, senior infielder Blake Nelson made five errors at third base over the first two games. Bakich then benched Nelson, moving fellow senior infielder Jimmy Kerr from first to third base.
It’s early enough in the season that these small inconsistencies in Michigan’s infield defense haven’t cost the Wolverines any games. A few issues at the beginning of the season are expected and give the team motivation to work harder and something to work on.
“Physical errors happen. That’s baseball; that’s opening weekend,” Bakich said. “Nobody expected us to come out firing on all cylinders, and we wanted that; we wanted mistakes. We challenge our players to make these aggressive mistakes, and there were some good, aggressive errors that were made.”
Since the Binghamton series, Michigan’s defense has already shown improvement. The Wolverines had no errors in their second series of the season at The Citadel last weekend. Sophomore catcher Joe Donovan caught a runner trying to steal second with an aggressive cross-diamond throw to get the out, and kept any pitches in the dirt well under control. Kerr also appeared to settle into his new starting role at third; he had no errors on the weekend series and made several strong plays off grounders.
But the defense is coming up on its toughest challenges of the season so far. Next week, Michigan will play eight games in 10 days on a trip to California. The Wolverines will face their first two ranked opponents of the year in No. 3 UCLA and No. 19 Oklahoma State in the Dodgertown Classic, which will be played at Dodger Stadium, on March 8 and 10. The Bruins already have scored 45 runs in a season that is seven games old. The Cowboys have scored 48 in as many games, including one where they scored 17.
It will be a trial-by-fire for Michigan’s aggressive-mistakes strategy. But Bakich is confident in his mindset.
“In sports, there’s a lot of talk about some teams getting the breaks and some teams not getting the breaks,” Bakich said. “And you can make your own breaks just by taking more chances, by being the aggressor, and finding those opportunities wherever they are.
“That’s the mindset we want our players to have. We want them to just go for it. We want them to be on the attack. We want them to be fearless.”