Erik Bakich walked into the Wilpon Baseball Complex after practice as he does every day. But last Sunday, at Media Day, the Michigan coach walked in wearing a suit — an uncharacteristic look for him.
Looking, sounding and acting like he had done this before at the beginning of each of his past seven seasons as coach, Bakich attempted to create the atmosphere of a team and program with lofty expectations.
Except he hadn’t done it before and didn’t need to create that atmosphere. All the expectations and then some were already there.
Despite all the outside expectations, the Michigan baseball team has not changed its approach to their game or what their program is. Falling one game short of a national title impacted their emotions going into the offseason, but it did not alter the Wolverines’ approach.
“The number one goal every year is to add as much value as we possibly can to an already storied program,” Bakich said. “The thing that we’ve got is the experience and the confidence of making the run that we did.”
Making it to the pinnacle of the sport and falling one win short has motivated the team in the offseason to adopt the mentality of making everything one percent better.
“We were one win away from being alone on the top of the mountain,” Bakich said. “We reduced that ‘one more’ to one more day of training, one more inning better, one more pitch better.”
With added expectations comes added pressure to conform to the evolving trends in college baseball. The biggest shift this offseason has been the adoption of more advanced methods to track data and analytics, spearheaded mainly by pitching coach Chris Fetter. Michigan now has more resources at its disposal to indulge itself in the new-school approach to baseball. Much of the offseason was devoted to tracking new metrics on the hitting and pitching side.
But what the team is focused on is not letting that one percent more mentality turn into something greater than it really is.
“Michigan baseball is Michigan baseball, and Michigan baseball is never going to change their ways of playing the game,” junior infielder Jack Blomgren said. “All the data and analytics is good to make us better, but once it comes compete time, game mode, it’s time to compete and win baseball games for Michigan.”
And still, despite these expectations from what many saw as a near-perfect season in 2019, the team will be the first to say it was far from it. The Wolverines played through ups and downs, especially toward the end of the season when they lost series to Ohio State, Indiana and Nebraska.
“I thought some of the best things for us last year were getting beat,” Bakich said. “There were a lot of lumps that we took but in doing so, we got better because of it and we got back up every time.”
Leading by example, Bakich has instilled the same mentality in his players. Junior outfielder and leadoff hitter Jordan Nwogu was at a loss for words when asked what had been different about this offseason. His silence was powerful, emblematic that there truly was no difference.
When he finally did answer, his response was even more telling.
“People forget that last year we didn’t even win the Big Ten,” Nwogu said. “We kinda just got hot at the right time. We are not going to try and be perfect we are going to try and just go out and play baseball.”
Although Michigan’s expectations — and Bakich’s clothes — are changing, its outlook on the season is not.