In his opening remarks at Friday night’s Leadoff Banquet, Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich said, “Teams that win together stay together.”
These words rang true at the event, as several members of the 1953 and 1962 national championship teams were present, decades after they won their titles.
The quote also applies to the 2015 Wolverines. While they did not win a national title, they did capture Michigan’s first Big Ten Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008 — a winning team by any measure.
And, for the most part, the squad has stayed together for the upcoming season. While the Wolverines lost multi-position star Jacob Cronenworth to the Major League Baseball draft, key contributors such as junior left-hander/first baseman Carmen Benedetti, junior left-hander Brett Adcock, senior left-hander Evan Hill and sophomore shortstop Jake Bivens have returned.
At the banquet, Bakich also spoke of how each Michigan team has built off the Wolverines’ 150-year history.
“Bill Mogk and Paul Fancher (in 1953) paved the way for Dick Honing, John Kerr and the rest of the 1962 team that’s back there. I mean, what an honor it is to be with you guys, to hear your stories. For you to share your experiences, that’s something that I know every one of our players, every member of Team 150, is privileged to share the room with you guys tonight. As we carve out our journey, we hope to follow in your footsteps.”
Many people already feel that last year’s Michigan team paved the way for the 2016 edition.
Baseball America placed the Wolverines 15th in its preseason rankings, making Michigan the the sole cold-weather school in the top 25. Consequently, the Wolverines are the favorites to win the Big Ten, a big jump from last year, when most projections had them finishing third or fourth in the conference.
But Michigan’s goals don’t end with the conclusion of the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines are looking to appear in the College World Series for the first time in 32 years, a feat they accomplished five times from 1978 to 1984.
One banquet guest, former Michigan coach Moby Benedict, played multiple roles in jumpstarting Michigan’s success during that era.
“Coach Benedict epitomizes Michigan baseball and this proud tradition of ours,” Bakich said. “He was the head coach here from 1963 to 1979 and an assistant coach on the 1962 national title team. The accolades, the championships, the trips to the (College) World Series, are all on the wall at Ray Fisher Stadium.”
Yet in spite of the Wolverines’ success last year and the expectations for 2016, Bakich insisted that accolades aren’t everything.
“(The 2015 Big Ten Tournament) wasn’t about getting a ring, or a trophy or a title — even though those are great things to get,” Bakich said. “It was more about, ‘How much fun can we have on a baseball field?’ and ‘How can we best represent the University of Michigan?’ It was an easy message to deliver to the team because we’ve talked about it all the time.”
Michigan’s senior captains, Hill and catcher Domenic Jamett, echoed Bakich’s sentiment.
“There’s a quote in the bulletin board in the nutrition lounge from the 1953 national championship team,” Jamett said. “It reads, ‘We are proud by the high standards that are set and the successes that we achieved. They’ve inspired us to perform with confidence and behave responsibly.’ I think that’s a quote that not only summarizes that team, but also our program.”
The Wolverines will have their first chance to prove that they are deserving of the preseason praise this weekend, with a four-game series against Canisius. It is part of a stretch of 19 games on the road for Michigan before it returns home to face University of Illinois at Chicago on March 25.
“I’m excited for what’s in store for Team 150 as we dig our toes into opening day in a week,” Hill said. “I’m honored to share the field with these guys I call my brothers.”
The sentiment of “teams that win together, stay together” rang true for the 1953 and 1962 squads. The 2016 Wolverines will have to wait and see if they will be remembered as a squad that won together and stayed together.