Despite thirteen losses and many injuries, the Chicago Maroons baseball team managed to put together a successful season marked by impressive offensive and defensive performances. Chicago finished with twenty-four wins, giving the graduating fourth-year class 24-, 25-, and 26-win seasons and a total of 89 wins over four years. This makes the eight Maroon seniors the winningest class of players in the one hundred and eleven-year history of Chicago baseballsurely not a disappointing run by any means.
The team's wins this season had a lot to do with their outstanding production at the plate. For most of the campaign, Chicago led all Division III teams in runs per game. This was no surprise, however, with the experienced offensive weapons Chicago had in its lineup.
Two such threats, fourth-years Nick Kocinski and Jim Raptis, began the season chasing batting records and looking to contribute consistently, as they have their whole careers. In the season finale against Trinity Christian, each Maroon collected his 61st hit of the season, matching the school record for hits in a single season set by All-American Mark Mosier in 1996.
Raptis also topped the record for doubles in a season, slugging 16 for the year, and is third on the all-time list for home runs in a season with six. Kocinski tied 2003 graduate J.P. Bauman's record (51) for runs scored in a season. He also moved to second all-time in career RBI.
Fourth-year Ben McCown and third-year Steve Ruh contributed consistently to Chicago's offensive powerhouse, coming through with pivotal RBI in tight games. McCown's 50 RBI in 2004 is the second-highest total in school history.
Chicago's defense became the object of scrutiny as the offensive continued to pull the team through games with its prolific hitting and scoring. The pitching staff took a lot of the heat, as the Maroons often fell behind after having leads going into the fourth or fifth inning. Yet as the season wore on and the bats occasionally slumped, the pitching staff was able to step up its efforts and keep Chicago in games.
"The pitching certainly got better by the end of the season," head coach Brian Baldea said.
Baldea cited stellar performances by third-year pitchers Matt Altomare and Dan Harrington. Altomare pitched his second shutout of the year in the Maroons' first game against Trinity Christian last Saturday. The first came against Hamilton during the team's Florida trip in March.
Altomare's most impressive outing, however, came in a 1-0 loss at Rose-Hulman. He pitched 7.1 innings, giving up one hit, a run, and only one walk.
Injuries became the primary hindrance to the 2004 Chicago squad and to the defense especially. Fourth-year Andrew Hacker, the ace of Chicago's pitching staff heading into the season, left the rotation early in the season due to an elbow injury.
"Losing Hack was a huge blow to the team," Harrington said. "Not only was he a talented player, but we missed his senior leadership."
Other crucial injuries included a stress fracture to fourth-year shortstop Brent Consiglio, who gave the Maroons incredible depth at the bottom of the order and a steady glove in the infield, and a concussion suffered by first baseman Justin Garrett after being hit by a pitch.
A knee injury also delayed McCown's season, and second-year pitcher Dan Yeksigian and third-year outfielder Mike Costello dealt with nagging arm injuries all year. The injuries greatly reduced the Maroons' depth in the field, and various players had to be shuffled around to best fill the positions.
"The low-point of the season was really all the injuries. The injuries contributed to the offensive-defensive inconsistency," Baldea said. "I just wish we could've put things together at the same time more often than we did this season. At times we would put up big numbers but generate no runs."
To the Maroons' credit, the players who filled in did give a tremendous effort and were willing to help the team wherever they were needed. Ruh performed especially well at the end of the season after shifting from centerfield to shortstop to replace Consiglio. Ruh hadn't played shortstop since high school.
Defense remains the focal point in looking ahead to next year. Chicago will lose some good hitters in Kocinski, McCown, Raptis, and fourth-year Tracey Neubrand, so the burden will be on the defensive side of things to keep games tight.
Next year our defense needs to step up," Altomare said. "We won't have the heavy hitters to make games 15-2; it will be more like 5-2."
"Going into the season, I thought pitching would be our strength," Harrington added. "We didn't perform up to our potential, so it leaves room for improvement that I am very excited about."
Next year the team will look to their younger pitchers, second-year Brian Olson and first-years Robert Wilson and Dan Cozzi, who got significant mound experience against Chicago's tough schedule this season. Chicago has also picked up a couple promising pitchers and position players from the incoming class of recruits.
Yeksigian also expressed confidence in his fellow pitchers, and he stressed the importance of the team's returning outfielders, which includes the talents of third-year Frank Brown and second-year Ryan Denton. Chicago will have to fill the vacancy in left field with the graduation of Raptis, and they aren't sure if his sweatbands and eye black will be a prerequisite.
There is no doubt that the seniors had outstanding careers, and it is difficult to pick out one who shone above all.
"This is maybe the most unfair year to pick an MVP," Baldea said. Even so, the team MVP will be voted on by the players to be announced at their end of the year banquet.
Chicago baseball will undoubtedly continue its success despite the graduation of so many valuable veteran players. However, the players and coaches admit that they will be missed for reasons other than their work on the diamond.
"It will be sort of odd next year to look up and not see certain seniors on the field who have been with us for three or four years," Baldea said. "We might see a pretty different-looking team."
Denton agreed, knowing that he and other underclassmen will miss the energy that some brought. "I think I'll miss Ben [McCown] the most," Denton said. "You can't beat his dugout morale."