Erik Bakich sees a lot of benefits to practicing outside in the wintertime. Even in Michigan.
“We’re trying to get as many reps outside as we possibly can,” the Michigan baseball coach said after another practice in 33-degree weather last Thursday. “So even on nights like tonight where it’s probably too cold to scrimmage, it’s still great weather to get out and do some team defense, get some swings, things like that.”
That said, the Wolverines will be more than happy to exchange Ann Arbor’s erratic, often-freezing weather for the sunny warmth of Port St. Lucie, Fla. when they play their opening series of the season against Binghamton this weekend.
Expectations are high for Michigan. The Wolverines had a promising 2018 season and advanced to their sixth straight Big Ten Conference tournament. On Wednesday, the team was selected second in the 2019 Big Ten Preseason Coaches Poll, behind Minnesota. Furthermore, they are the only team in the conference to be featured in every national top-25 ranking, coming as high as No. 17 according to D1Baseball.com.
This fact is by no means lost on the Bearcats.
“(Michigan) seems to be very deep in a lot of different areas,” said Binghamton coach Tim Sinicki in a phone interview. “And I think the country is recognizing that with very nice early season rankings for them.
“We expect to see as good of a team as we’ve ever opened up with.”
Sinicki’s evaluation is probably correct. Michigan will arrive confidently in the Sunshine State with much of last year’s high-performing offense returning to the diamond, now with another year under their belts.
“I see a group of kids who’ve had another birthday, who’ve gotten stronger, who’ve become more physical,” Bakich said. “I would like to think we’re capable of hitting for more power this year.”
This, paired with improvements on the mound, has the Wolverines poised for a successful opening weekend. But the Bearcats have made their own improvements in the offseason.
In Binghamton, Michigan will find a determined opponent with an appetite for a comeback. The Bearcats’ 2018 season was more than disappointing. After back-to-back seasons winning the regular season conference title and a No. 1 ranking in America East in the preseason, they posted a lackluster 18-30-1 record and sat out the postseason.
“Last year we struggled offensively,” Sinicki said. “We had a great group of seniors who had won some championships in their time here, but for one reason or another we couldn’t get things going and we struggled to score runs.”
Burned by that experience, Binghamton is now approaching things with a different mindset.
“This year we’re hoping to have a bit of a different philosophy,” Sinicki said. “We’ve moved some guys and are looking to play a bit more aggressive baseball.”
Michigan will have to contend with a reinvigorated Bearcat defense and a deep pitching staff. In addition to reliable pitchers Nick Gallagher and Reid VanScoter, Binghamton sophomore Ben Anderson –– who posted an impressive 1.60 ERA in 2018 –– will move into the starting rotation on Saturday.
This weekend will be the first-ever matchup between the Wolverines and the Bearcats. They approach their inaugural meeting with different states of mind. But with everyone accustomed to the bitter cold of the Midwest and Northeast, both teams will be sure to enjoy the Florida sunshine.
“Just like Michigan,” Sinicki said, “we’ve got more than our fair share of weather issues in Binghamton.”