The Michigan baseball team will start its season on Saturday, taking on Iowa in a four-game series in Round Rock, Texas. As the Wolverines start the new season, a change in mentality will be key for this team to realize its potential, especially during these unprecedented times.
The Wolverines started last season hot in the opening week, rising to the No. 1 national ranking on February 17th. Michigan took down pre-season No. 1 Vanderbilt in a World Series rematch in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then beat No. 3 Arizona State as part of a flying start to the season.
“We had a great opening weekend, we played in an unbelievable environment in Scottsdale,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “I thought our guys played very consistently.”
But the Wolverines quickly faltered after the opening weekend, dropping multiple games to UConn and eventually finishing the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season at just 8-7, a far cry from the expectations of a team coming off a national title series appearance in 2019. And Bakich points to the mentality the team had and how it reacted to the setbacks it faced as one of the key factors in that team not reaching its potential:
“We went out to Port St. Lucie, and we were supposed to play all the games at this new stadium there, and it wasn’t ready. We got sent over to this back field that had no scoreboard, no music, no flag, I mean they had to bring the benches in from somewhere else. And I felt like it affected us too much,” Bakich said. “We almost lowered our level of play to the uncontrollable. It was a rare cold day, after being at 70 degrees in Scottsdale, and we had this rare cold snap in Florida, and it just affected us and I thought that wasn’t a good sign that we allowed something outside of our control to affect our level of play. We didn’t play well, so we got a little bit rattled by that.”
In a season that is almost guaranteed to bring more uncertainty and changes to the routine, being able to adjust and refocus when needed will be key. The team will need to adapt its routines and adjust to whatever the season brings. As the Wolverines prepare to start the new season, Bakich has reiterated that the team will need to adjust to the hurdles they will face as they look to settle into a rhythm and compete for a Big Ten title.
“This year, we’ve talked about from day one of treating each day as an opportunity,” Bakich said. “March 12 last year, we thought we were playing Canisius the next day, and then all of a sudden we weren’t. Really it’s just staying in the moment now, is what we can learn from 2020, treating each day as a gift, just leaving everything you got out on that field. You don’t know if it could be your last game of the season or not, so not letting any uncontrollable affect us, just we can control the energy and the effort and the attitude that we have and everything can just be reduced down to trying to play pitch to pitch and one deep breath at a time and in doing that as many times as we can, over and over.”
The players seem to have taken up Bakich’s hungry mentality, too, as they are eagerly awaiting the start of the season and a chance to get back on the diamond.
“These next 44 games and the run to Omaha, that’s what we’re focused on,” redshirt sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Hajjar said. “(Getting shut down last season) was a wake-up call. … Knowing that, every game we go out there, it’s 100%, give it everything you can because you don’t know if it’s gonna be your last one.”
Added fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems: “(Bakich) has pounded that into our brains, just the importance of every pitch, not taking a game lightly, not taking a team lightly.”
The experience this team has will shape its journey this season, as past failures and lessons learned will drive them to high levels of focus and drive them to get the most out of every game and every pitch.
“We missed winning the World Series by one game, so that’s still on the front of everyone’s mind. … We still have that mantra of ‘one more,’” Hajjar said. “Every game is really gonna count, so we’re gonna come out hot this year, and we’re gonna be going after people.”
This season, the message is clear: no distractions, no excuses — the Wolverines plan on laying it all out on the field.