There’s no place like home.
And after eleven games on the road to start the season for the Michigan baseball team, Wednesday’s home opener against Oakland can’t come any sooner.
“For myself and a lot of other guys, we’re really excited,” senior outfielder Tito Flores said. “(We’ve) been traveling … but there’s nothing like playing at home and in front of Michigan fans.”
A one-off home game for the Wolverines will allow them to regroup after a measly 4-7 record through the first three weeks of the season and many of their games being played on the west coast. Currently, Michigan sits in the midst of a five-game losing streak and heads back to Ann Arbor in a slump.
Michigan coach Tracy Smith even went as far as to describe the travel games as “long” and “grueling” for his team. Each week, the Wolverines would practice in Ann Arbor during the week before flying across the country on Thursdays. When the weekend’s activities finished — often with disappointment — the Wolverines then returned to Ann Arbor late Sunday evenings.
Smith hopes that playing in a familiar ballpark without the added travel will light a spark for Michigan.
“The guys are disappointed after a loss,” Smith said. “… (It will) be good to regroup and I know our guys will be resilient and be ready for the home opener this week.”
Returning and playing at home could be just the morale booster the Wolverines need. Last season, Michigan had a 14-9 record at home and a 12-15 record on the road. Ray Fisher Stadium has routinely served as much more than the team’s home field. The stadium serves as a staple of the Wolverines’ hard-nosed identity, and at this early point in the season, a reminder of what Michigan can be.
Outside of its locker room, the Wolverines have a plaque that reads, “You’ll never get hot if you don’t know the cold.” That mentality is embedded into the program. But to get back on track, the Wolverines need to be able to channel it.
“(Playing in the cold) is what we live for,” senior outfielder Joey Velazquez said Feb. 9. “This is what we do.”
Practicing in Ann Arbor throughout the entire preseason, Michigan is well acclimated to the arduous winter temperatures that coincide with the start of its season. In fact, the weather serves to benefit the Wolverines as it is a distinct home-field advantage that not many other competitors can replicate.
“People don’t understand (the advantage) if they don’t play here,” Velazquez said. “Teams from the south and teams that (don’t play here) don’t have the advantage that we do.”
It remains to be seen whether playing at home will provide a step in the right direction for Michigan, but regardless, the excitement in the Wolverines’ dugout is palpable after so much time spent playing across the country.
“We have a lot of guys from Michigan and it means a lot to play at Michigan and for Michigan,” Flores said. “So we’re definitely really excited to get back home and get back (to) playing Michigan baseball.”
And the type of Michigan baseball the Wolverines align themselves with in their return home on Wednesday — whether positive or negative — could define its young season.