Spring is here. I'd like to point out that when I say spring is here I don't mean that it's past March 21. Spring is finally here in the sense that its more than 50 degrees outside and more importantly, baseball is back with full force. The Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox have already begun seasons charged with unusually high expectations. Sure, the Cubs last loss to the Mets yesterday dropped them to 2 and 6 while the White Sox are right at the .500 mark with a 4 and 4 record after series with Seattle, Kansas City, and the Tigers. As is obvious to see, neither team has really darted to a magical start, but then again, we are just getting started.
Many people also anticipate positive performances from a team who plays their home games much closer to us than Comiskey or Wrigley, our very own University of Chicago Maroons. Coming from a whopping 26 and 8 season last year, a year in which a much-deserved NCAA Tournament bid didn't materialize, coach Brian Baldea's boys have drawn much interest from the U of C population, as they eagerly await the Maroons' first home game.
As has now become tradition, the Maroons started off the year with a week-long trip to Fort Myers, Florida, where they battled through ten games against top teams to return home with a five-and-five record. The first four games of the season posted impressive performances by second-years, as outfielder Jim Raptis, second baseman Brent Consiglio, and shortstop Andrew Hacker led the way offensively for the Maroons. Raptis homered in the first and third game, Consiglio belted a decisive grand slam in the second game against Clarkson, and Hacker went 3 for 5 with three RBIs in the fourth game against Babson. The first-years blossomed rapidly as starting pitcher Dan Harrington and relief pitcher Matt Kotheimer showed impressive stuff on games against the previously mentioned East Coast teams. Starting pitcher Matt Altomare, another first-year, displayed brilliance early as he recorded the first complete game of the season for the Maroon staff against Plymouth State. Other key players of the trip to the Sunshine State were fourth-year pitcher Charlie Galbraith and second-year infielder Nick Kocinski. Galbraith fanned a total of 11 batters over six innings in a solid Maroon victory over Kalamazoo while Kocinski contributed with four RBIs in a victory over Clarke that ended the trip on a positive note.
The Maroon squad has played four games in Illinois since their return from Florida, all of them on visiting grounds, and have split them into two victories and two defeats. The first of these games was played in Naperville against North Central, where this time Hacker made a marvelous appearance as a starting pitcher. Hacker went ten complete innings and got the victory after Kocinski drove in two runs with a clutch two-out double in the top of the tenth. Despite only striking out two batters in the first nine innings, Hacker put the finishing touches on his personal gem by striking out the side in the bottom of the tenth, in that way earning his first victory of the season.
Chicago afterwards headed to Aurora to face the seventh-ranked Spartans in a double-header program. The Maroons dropped the first game of the day by a score of 4-3 on a tough loss for third-year righthander George Schade. He also went the distance, striking out three batters over six innings. Of the four runs scored by the Spartans, only one of them was earned, the rest coming after errors committed by the Maroon defense. Chicago jumped to an early 3-0 lead in the first couple of innings on RBIs by third-year Sam Kass and Galbraith, yet they were not able to sustain any further offensive attack against the Aurora pitching staff and fell by the slimmest of margins.
The nightcap was a completely different story. The Maroons provided an offensive outburst on the second game, scoring multiple runs in every inning but the fourth. Hacker once again got the nod for the start and pitched back-to-back complete games for Chicago. He might have given up seven runs (only three of them actually earned), yet the offense supported him with 16 runs of their own to allow the Maroons to return home with an overall winning record and their biggest offensive game of the year thus far. Experienced fourth-years Brian Gutbrod and Joe Russo provided most of the offense for our boys, putting up a terrific offensive display. Gutbrod went 3 for 3 with a longball and three RBI's while Russo hit a homer of his own as he went 3 for 4 with two RBI's.
The Maroons then went on to visit the University of Illinois-Chicago and fell victim to a serious blowout by the score of 14 to 1. They were limited to only six hits over nine innings while committing four errors. Galbraith took the loss after giving up nine runs in an inning and two thirds. The Maroons could never mount a successful rally, as their only run came in the fifth as Hacker brought Consiglio home with an RBI single.
Coach Baldea has recruited a considerable amount of new players in the hope of assembling a potential all-star lineup in a couple of years. Out of the 28 players in the official Maroon roster, 18 of them are either first-years or second years. One of the bright promises for the future is relief pitcher/infielder Kotheimer. When asked about his experiences on the team thus far and what his opinions are on team chemistry, Kotheimer stated: "We've still got to come together. We've got a great team and I'm very confident we will. Coach Baldea's an excellent coach and I'm happy to be able to play for him. We practice pretty much every day and we work pretty hard, so I'm very confident in what we can accomplish."
Although the Maroon season is practically in its midpoint and their record shows them at the .500 mark with seven victories and seven losses, great things are still expected of the squad. They play nine out of the next 13 games at home, where they compiled an 8-0 record last season. The first of these home games will take place on Tuesday, April 16 at 3 p.m., when they take on Wheaton. Yours truly wholeheartedly encourages the student body to come down to the field and cheer on our team, in hopes of an even more impressive home record.